by John Clark
As a father, one of my responsibilities is to help my children stay out of trouble. But as the years go by, I wonder if it is the other way around.
Last Saturday, I spent the day like a lot of other fathers were spending their days: getting my children to and from various activities. Athanasius was having a violin day-camp from 9:30AM until 3:30PM in one city; Demetrius had a baseball game scheduled at 1:00PM in another city; and Veronica was having a ballet practice and recital from 3:00 to 5:00 PM in yet another city. Clearly, I had some planning to do: getting three children to three different cities and watching all of their performances was going to be difficult.
So I grabbed my GPS, plugged in the various locations, and began to navigate and triangulate my driving path. (Feel free to use that word on your next spelling exam.) As I did so, I began thinking back to, oddly enough, Saxon Math. When I was growing up, I used to complain to my mom about those bogus math problems like: John begins to drive his car at 3PM traveling west at 60 miles per hour; two hundred miles away, Sam travels the opposite direction at 5PM traveling 35 miles per hour; what time are they at the same location? I realized that having to drive around like this was my personal contrapasso for questioning my mom and her choice of math textbooks.
As I drove back and forth, watching my children undertake their various performances and playing my own version of “Beat the Clock,” another thought struck me: fathering keeps me out of trouble because it makes me use my time staying devoted to others.
Home schooling is rewarding, but to say that it’s time-consuming is an understatement. There’s a saying in the sales profession: sales is the easiest poorly-paying job in the world, and it is the hardest, best-paying job. In other words, if you work hard, you’ll probably do well financially, and if you don’t, you’ll probably struggle. Fatherhood is similar. Simply becoming a father does not require much work, but to be a great father requires tremendous effort, and time.
Many men regard this time commitment as a negative. Don’t. When you start lamenting the fact that you have no free time, remember this: what you lack in free time, you probably make up for in grace. Driving your child to a baseball game might consume an hour, but improves you, your child, and the world. As I go to Little League baseball games, and ballet and violin recitals, I notice that many fathers are missing. No doubt, vital work commitments can prevent devoted fathers from being at events, but many fathers consider some things more important than watching their children. However, as a father, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than watching my sons play, or watching my daughters dance.
These things are supposed to occupy us as fathers—these are the things that are meant to use our time. There is a saying that an idle mind and hands are the devil’s workshop. As a home schooling father of eight, I have my share of problems, but being idle isn’t one of them. A few years ago, I went to confession, at the end of which the priest asked me if I was finished. The thought that went through my mind was: “Father, that’s all I had time for.”
It’s not just the dedicated time that helps you as a father, it’s the dedication itself. Active fatherhood isn’t just time consuming, it’s consuming, period. Being a father causes you to see things in a different way.
I don’t know what it says about me that as a 38-year-old American male, I don’t have a favorite beer, but I do have a favorite brand of diaper. I used to get excited looking at sports cars—now I save my “ooh’s” and “ah’s” for 15-passenger vans. Other men my age might be looking forward to getting a new pool table or a game console for Father’s Day. My hope is for a new set of Royal Daulton cookware.
Recently, I was at Mass without my family, which is rare. At the time of the Gospel, the entire congregation customarily stood. About halfway through the Gospel reading, I noticed I was doing something that must have seemed odd to onlookers: swaying back and forth. So accustomed to swaying while holding a small child in my arms while listening to the Gospel, I was now doing it without the baby. In a contraceptive world, I have reached a stage in which I feel out of place without children.
It may be true that “Time and tide wait for no man,” but they are rewarding to those who use them well. It’s hard to know what I’d be doing if I weren’t a father. But I hope, and I believe, that fatherhood is making me a better man. And fathers, I believe it is making better men of you, too.
For the record, Athanasius turned in a virtuoso performance of Haydn, Veronica enthralled the audience with her impression of classical ballet, and Demetrius worked a walk in the bottom of the sixth inning in a critical at-bat.
And I was there for it all—right where I belonged.
Happy Father’s Day!