"Big Four" Highlights


The ‘Presence’ That Keeps on Giving

By ‘being there,’ dads give their families a great gift

By Bill Dodds

My dad wasn’t big on giving advice, but he was a star when it came to living advice. This became clear to me recently when my thoughts turned to my childhood and my father after reading Pope Francis’ two talks on fatherhood. Both are part of the pontiff’s series on the family in preparation for the World Meeting of Families this September in Philadelphia.

Dad never said, “This is how to be a good husband and a good father.” He demonstrated how it was done. He was a good husband. A good father. A good man.

Pope Francis would have liked my dad, and vice versa. Francis' advice to fathers would have resonated with my father, just as it resonates with me today. Here are a few of my favorite teachings from two addresses the pope gave.

His first talk was on how fathers aren’t as domineering as they were in the past but now, too often, they are absent. The second talk zeroes in on the essentials of being a good father.

A few highlights from the first:

“In our day, the problem no longer seems to be the invasive presence of the father so much as his absence, his inaction.”

“The absent father figure in the life of little ones and young people causes gaps and wounds that may even be very serious. And, in effect, delinquency among children and adolescents can be largely attributed to this lack, to the shortage of examples and authoritative guidance in their everyday life, a shortage of closeness, a shortage of love from the father. And the feeling of orphanhood that so many young people live with is more profound than we think.”

“Sometimes it seems that fathers don’t know what their role in the family is or how to raise their children. So, in doubt, they abstain, they retreat and neglect their responsibilities, perhaps taking refuge in the unlikely relationship as ‘equals’ with their children. It’s true that you have to be a ‘companion’ to your child, but without forgetting that you are the father! If you behave only as a peer to your child, it will do him or her no good.”

Pope Francis says in his second talk:

“The first need, then, is precisely this: that a father be present in the family. That he be close to his wife, to share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And that he be close to his children as they grow: when they play and when they strive, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they take a wrong step and when they find their path again; a father who is always present. To say ‘present’ is not to say ‘controlling’! Fathers who are too controlling cancel out their children, they don't let them develop.”

“Fathers must be patient. Often there is nothing else to do but wait; pray and wait with patience, gentleness, magnanimity and mercy.”

“ A good father knows how to wait and knows how to forgive from the depths of his heart. Certainly, he also knows how to correct with firmness: he is not a weak father, submissive and sentimental. The father who knows how to correct without humiliating is the one who knows how to protect without sparing himself.”

Now as I look at my own grown children, and my young grandchildren, I wonder what they will remember of me. I pray that my presence in their lives, the example I set, will be a present that keeps on giving them strength and comfort. I want them never to forgot they’re deeply loved by the father who learned so much from his own father.

Bill Dodds and his late wife, Monica, founded the Friends of St. John the Caregiver, an international Catholic organization that promotes care for family caregivers.