This post mentions religion (Catholicism). If it is going to offend you, please skip it. Thanks.
When I was young, I went to a traditional church where the priest preached hellfire and brimstones in his heavy Irish brogue. Later, I went to the church in my mother-in-law’s hometown, firstly out of duty to her, and then I began to love going to church. It became a family thing for me.
Yesterday was the Feast of St Joseph. The Bishop who gave the homily did not mention the bible at all, and he hardly mentioned God. In fact, his rather long homily was confined to the role of fathers in family life.
Irrespective of religion, do we teach our sons to be good fathers?
Children learn by example: monkey see, monkey do. Research has shown that abused children have a strong likelihood of becoming abusers themselves, because our parents’ norm becomes our norm. How we speak to our children becomes their inner voice. So it is of no surprise that there are many memes floating around that go like this:
To be the best father, love the mother of your children.
Indeed, they learn by example. How our parents parented us becomes our template, which we tweak a little here or there in adulthood, but I believe the die was cast a long time before, namely in their formative years.
My children are lucky, because their father put all his energy into raising them instead of a career. He had a strong sense of what he wanted, which was to recreate his happy childhood where though there was not much money floating around, life was good. I think it also helped that he grew up in a household of women who were very close – they were Spanish migrants who spoke very little English and brought their ways with them that defied modernisation, Men had to behave like men, real men, like in the ‘old world’.
We often remind our sons that they are the physically stronger sex, and with that strength comes a responsibility of looking after others. From a young age (old-fashion as it may sound), my boys learned to offer their seats on swings to little girls and open doors for people.
“That’s what brave knights do,” we told them in all seriousness. It was a game that became their characters.
Their father always reminded them, too, that they have to rake care of their mother and sisters, the way he does his. Drip drip drip, the same message. By example and whenever they forget, a reminder, and in time, it took hold.
My eldest son has the same girlfriend since he was sixteen and he looks after her very well – something very important for her, because she lost her mother young and had lived an itinerant and unsettled life until my son set up home with her.
My second son, who is single, has taken on the role of ‘second father’ to our youngest child. She has a permanent room in his modest house, with her things there ready and waiting for her. From wherever he is in the world, he calls up regularly to check up on her.
My youngest son lives with his older sister. He helps out with her finances and protects her fiercely.
I think my three sons are well-prepared for fatherhood, should they be blessed with children. It’s taken them years to get here.
This is what I believe: we are too focussed on academic achievements in this competitive world. In his speech a while back, Pope Francis talked about fatherhood in crisis, how the world is so busy these days that fathers have no time.
We push our kids out to learn from “the best” (be it the best school, the best tuition teachers, the best enrichment class), and often struggle to pay for “the best”, when in actual fact “the best” they get is from home. Teaching a child how to bake a cake transmits a lot of good things to the child: family values, closeness, love. Home is a far better place to learn this from than the dark web, especially when it comes to sex and relationships.
Even as I struggle to teach my youngest child who has a razor-sharp intellect and a brain far superior to mine, our lesson times teach us a lot about each other and the universe that is beyond straightforward learning. I learn to see the universe through her eyes (and it is exciting!) as she learns patience and the value of old ways from me. This is why I elect to teach her, despite the huge commitment and pressure.
“Throw a stone in this town and chances are you’d hit a doctor or a lawyer,” my friend said, but we can never have too many good, solid fathers upholding the family way in a world that has lost its values. Society needs good fathers more than ever, and these have to be raised, not left to chance. We have to raise good fathers for the next generations, not more CEOs. Thus, parenting is the most important job you’d ever do, the most fulfilling one, too, if it is done with love and kindness.
The growing up years: old photograph of my children’s father and I with our four children in our garden in Harrietsham, Kent.