"Big Four" Highlights


Father Philosopher

Classic book on the spirituality of being a dad republished

Since it was first published in 1961, Clayton Barbeau’s Father of the Family: A Christian Perspective has never been out of print. It’s easy to see why. Filled with the wisdom that comes from rearing eight children—for a significant time, by himself—the book looks at fatherhood from several Christian aspects. Chapter titles include The Father as Creator, The Father as Lover, The Father as Priest, The Father as Teacher. The final chapter is very challenging: The Father as Saint.

Sophia Institute Press recently brought out a new edition of the classic.

Author Clayton Barbeau with his eight children.

After serving in the Korean War and graduating from the University of Santa Clara, Barbeau began a career as a marriage family therapist, and still has a private practice in San Jose, Calif. He had eight children with his wife, Myra, who died in 1979, when the children were still young.

Barbeau, who has also written books on marriage and family, as well as several novels, spoke recently with FFG correspondent John Burger.

Fathers for Good: What are the keys to a father’s role as teacher?

Clayton Barbeau: The teaching role of a parent is much more important than ever. Our children are beset on all sides by the example of teenage idols, whose lifestyles are often drug- or drink-based, whose stage gyrations used to be kept inside. Their language used to be reserved for the barely educated. So if fathers don’t make a concerted effort to model civilized manhood and Christian values by word and deed, then children will become simply members of the teenage market, and it’s really dreadful.

I’m very proud of all my kids. As far as I can tell, they’re all very happily married, and the ones who are parents are better parents by far than I was. I have four young men and four young women. They just handle their children so much better. My father was not necessarily a model. At the time I arrived —seventh out of 10 in the family — he was an alcoholic. So there was very little creative or positive modeling going on.

When the book first came out, I dedicated it to a “my natural father, two teachers and a childless uncle, all of whom fathered me.” My uncle and his wife didn’t have children. When they came through town once a year, he’d say, “Clay, how would you like to go for a walk?” And we would just chat. And sometimes he would come to my room and just sit on the edge of the bed in my room and just chat — for 15 or 20 minutes. And that man became my model of a man. It was just a powerful force, more powerful than my drunken father. He and the two teachers would constantly bless my good efforts and help me decide between two choices and things like that. They were just models — and very good ones — of manhood. And they did it by deed as well as by word.

FFG: What can fathers do right now to improve their family life?

Barbeau: Their very treatment of the child — creating time for the child, by their very manner of being toward that child — they are modeling what is good human behavior. I can’t very well ask my children to respect me if I don’t respect them as persons. There’s nothing phony about it. When I devote 10 full minutes, for example, to a child, focusing on them, paying attention to them, that is a basic sign of love. It tells them they are worthwhile. A while is a little bit of time.

FFG: How did this play out in your family?

Barbeau: If one of my young children came to me and wanted to talk, I would never say, “I don’t have time.” If I didn’t have time, I’d be dead. If I was preoccupied with something I had to do immediately I would say, “I want to listen to you completely, so I can talk to you in about five minutes. Let me finish this task first.” And they would do that and take note that I hadn’t ignored them. They knew I was not putting them aside. I’m not putting myself as a model; I’m just saying that was crucial from my point of view because the moment I’d say “Not now,” well, “now” is all there is. When it comes to that, heaven is one grand glorious now. “Not now” to a little child means never.

It’s really a challenge these days because of all the distractions that kids have, but also the basic fact comes down in my therapy work — I run across it all the time — that the quality of being towards one another comes down to that pattern of focusing our attention on the other and, as my late wife put it, “We have to be the people we want them to become.”