by John Clark
As I sat down to write this article, I kept wondering what I should write about to inspire home schooling fathers for yet another school year. Let’s face it, I don’t care how much you believe in home schooling, you never look forward to Labor Day. When trips to the beach or to amusement parks give way to math books, pencil sharpeners, writing tablets, and flash cards, there’s a note of sadness. So whenever I’m tempted to dread the thought of home schooling, I try to remember why I’m doing it in the first place and what I like about it.
I like that on work days when I go home for lunch, all my children have lunch with me. I like watching Demetrius help Dominica with her reading. I like following the ups and downs of the continuing saga of Lisa helping Veronica with her math. I like giving Athanasius articles from Sports Illustrated to correct stylistically. I like watching Bonaventure trying to trace the letters A, B, and C for the first time with those enormous children’s pencils.
I like the fact that home schooling makes me want to be a better man.
When you are a home schooling father, you are a significant influence on your children’s lives. If you react well to that fact, it influences the words you use, the movies you watch, and the music you hear.
When Lisa announced that she was pregnant with our first baby, I put away The Beatles, Journey, and the rest of the rock groups that I’d rather not mention in print. I didn’t want my children to listen to rock music, and I knew that if I did, they would too. I wanted them to like classical music, so I trained myself to like classical music. Now I go to classical music concerts, and I love them. (I still listen to jazz, one of America’s two great contributions to the arts—the other being baseball.)
But music is only one area of our lives. There are many areas that have been quietly affected. After having children, I go to confession more, I say the Rosary more, I think I have grown closer in my relationships with Jesus, Mary, and St. Joseph. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not delusional. I know I’m a sinner like everyone else. In fact, I have recently considered designing an “examination of conscience” app for the iPhone as a way of expediting my penitential process.
But the desire to be better is there, and my children, along with the choice to home school them, are largely responsible. A story may illustrate my point. We Byzantine Catholics have always been fond of icons. These little representations of Jesus and the saints adorn our homes as constant reminders of heaven. We believe that the icons on the walls help us to fight temptation because we don’t want to commit sins which these icons will “see.” At the liturgy, the parishioners are blessed with incense along with the icons, because we Catholics should be icons to the world, and should be a witness to others.
Lisa and I are fortunate, because we have nine little icons running around the house all the time.
I also like home schooling because it seems to slow down the “growing-up” process. It seems like students at brick and mortar schools are always coming or going. I don’t know about other fathers, but I feel like someone keeps pressing the Fast Forward button on my life. I guess it’s better than pressing Stop. And just to continue the “my life can be summed up with a VCR” analogy, what I really want is Pause. I’m almost forty, which either seems really old (if you’re a teenager of mine), or really young (if your name and face has been superimposed lately on a Smuckers Jar on the Today Show).
This morning, after saying a Spiritual Communion with my children, I walked over to make the sign of the cross on Mary Katherine’s little forehead, and she looked up at me and giggled. I remember how much she looked like Veronica, now 15, at that age. It’s been fourteen years but it seems like last week. Time has moved quickly, but the consolation is that I’ve been a big part of her life, and a big part of all the children’s lives, not just in quality of time, but in quantity of time—an underestimated factor in child-raising.
I believe that time matters, and I think it has made me a better father. It is said that if a parent does his job properly, he becomes obsolete. As time goes by, I think the opposite is true. As a parent does his job better, he becomes more needed, and the more the children recognize the value of friendship with a parent who loves them.
What would my relationship be like with my parents if I had never home schooled? I can’t imagine we would be closer. It is said that no one, on his deathbed, regrets not spending more time at the office. Does any child regret not spending more time in the classroom? I doubt it. Home schooling may be defined in many ways, but the simplest definition might be this: home schooling is time spent with parents.
So instead of looking at this as just another year of home schooling, let’s look at it as a “new year.” Let’s recognize the opportunity of the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings that this year will bring. And embrace it.