As I started thinking about what to write about this month, I kept drawing a blank. That is rare for me. It’s not as though nothing important has happened since I last checked in with the readers of this column. On the contrary, on September 25, 2009, my wife and I were blessed with our ninth child on earth. I wanted to think of something profound to say, because new life deserves profundity.
But as I sat down to write about my new fatherhood, I couldn’t help thinking about the time when I first became a father. Back in 1993, as my wife lay in her bed a few hours after giving birth, cuddling our own newborn son, Athanasius, I went into our bedroom and found her crying. I asked, “Lisa, the baby’s fine; you’re fine. What’s the matter?” She looked at her new baby, gently resting in her arms, and blurted out: “One day, he’s going to leave us.” I smiled and consoled Lisa with the reality that it would be a while until that happened. “He’ll be with us for at least eighteen years, Sweetie,” I assured her. “You’ll have a lot of time with him until then.”
Well, sixteen years have passed. As your children go through the last few years they will spend with you, you begin to be panic-stricken. “Have we taught him enough?” “Have I prepared him adequately for a world that is hostile to Catholicism?” In the home schooling world, grades are given out to students all the time, but it seems like the parents are given the most important grade the moment their children step out the door. All parents probably go through this, although no one ever warned me about this moment. The consoling part is that, as important as the parents are to the family, we are not all-important. I believe that God will always be watching my children and granting them graces, and just like accepting a new life requires faith, so does letting children go. And in the grand scheme of things, we never really let our children go. Hopefully, the family Rosary we say every night is only a precursor of speaking to Mary in person as a family.
In the meantime, we fathers must enjoy the presence, the innocence, and the experience of our children. I know that I am living at a time in my life that I will later refer to as “the good old days.” I know there will come a time when I would pay a million dollars to travel back in time to have the pleasure of reading The Cat in the Hat to Philomena and Dominica in their Christmas pajamas. I’ll miss taking Veronica to the shoe store downtown to pick out pink ballet shoes. I know I’ll miss hugging Bonaventure and feeling his sticky fingers on the back of my neck. I’ll miss playing computer golf with Demetrius and Tarcisius on the XBox. I’ll miss singing to Immaculata before bedtime. Now I know I’ll miss the gentle cooing sounds of Mary Katherine (or “Baby Kay” as the children call her) as she lies in her mother’s arms.
I’ll also miss home schooling my children: giving them history quizzes, checking their math, or asking them what they learned in science. All those things that seem inconvenient to us fathers now, will mean so much later. These little wonders that occur in our lives should remind us fathers that we need to be generous with our time in the lives of our children. Speaking of generosity, over the years, some Catholics have complimented Lisa and me for our generosity, the generosity of having children. But as I look at Mary Katherine, accidentally smiling as she wafts off to sleep, the last thing on my mind is my generosity. It is the generosity of God that is overwhelming. For God, eight wasn’t enough. As I think about what God has blessed me with, mine is an embarrassment of riches.
But this comment about generosity has made me appreciate my own parents and the generosity they showed their children, and the generosity they showed God: taking the time to teach us the faith, enjoying time spent with us, home schooling us (before home schooling was cool, by the way). Our recent addition has left me thinking about how many times I’ve missed the opportunity to pray for my own parents, just like I want my children to pray for me.
We fathers need to pray for our parents more. One friend of mine in particular has taught me a lot about praying for our parents. In the years I’ve known him, he has gone to Mass almost every day to pray for his father, who passed away much too soon. It’s the quiet kind of spiritual heroism we should all practice for our parents, and that we too often forget. Thirty-eight years, nine children, and two parents who love me have taught me that you never stop being a father, and you never stop being a son, or in the case of Mary Katherine Siena Clark, a daughter.
Thank you to all those who offered their prayers for my family during this pregnancy. We can feel the strength of those prayers. May God bless you.