Husband & Wife Articles


Journey Back to the Father

A reflection for all dads on Father’s Day

By Tom Wehner

Lost amid the commercialism of automobile, tool and lawn care product sales, Father’s Day is actually a great time for me to appreciate and give thanks for the tremendous gift of fatherhood that God has bestowed upon me.

Fatherhood will always be the most treasured “job” I will ever have, and it is sadly something that our society truly needs to reclaim as many continue to redefine marriage and the family.

Tom and Lynn Wehner with their daughters Allie, Leah, Julia and son Zachary.

Tom and Lynn Wehner with their daughters Allison, Leah and Julia and son Zachary.

There are so many good men who, since childhood, helped to form and prepare me for the road ahead, b ut I want to focus here on three men in particular who taught me the most about temporal and spiritual fatherhood: my father Robert, Blessed Pope John Paul II, and St. Joseph.

The passage in Proverbs applies every bit as much to us today:

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (2 7:1 7).

I was blessed to have my own father Robert Joseph Wehner in my life for 36 years. After being raised by his devout father and aunt in Roxbury, Massachusetts , he enlisted in the Army Air Corps when he was 20. Disproving his instructor at flight school who thought he would never become a pilot, he succeeded and flew B-29s during World War II and the Berlin Airlift. After 20-plus years in the Air Corps/U.S. Air Force, he settled down in western Massachusetts with his wife and seven kids and taught at a local college until he retired in 1988.

When it came to the Catholic faith, my Jesuit-educated (and fourth-degree Knight) father did his best to teach me the true faith during those groovy times of confusion and unfortunate innovation in the Church in the 1960s and 70s. From him, I learned the importance of commitment, perseverance and service. A very patient man, he tried and failed to impart to me the wisdom of his favorite spiritual authors Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (my namesake). I’m still trying to make up for that shortfall — but I am convinced that during my missing years from the faith, my father’s prayers were instrumental in keeping the embers burning.

The man who bridged my father’s common-sense tutelage and was the conduit through which the Holy Spirit brought me back to the sacraments and the Church was Blessed Pope John Paul II, a true spiritual father and renewer.

Elected pope when I was 18, John Paul was a novelty for me at first, a non-Italian and a relatively young cardinal who wasn’t afraid to talk about the faith to young people. Society was telling me it wasn’t cool to love Jesus and the Church — but this young pope proved society wrong. He wasn’t a liberal Catholic or conservative Catholic. He was Catholic.

I took more notice of his continuous example of holiness in the face of societal modernism. That spurred me, a father of two young children by that point, to truly take my faith seriously, stand with both feet firmly in the Church, and live my faith in public. Longtime colleagues in the secular press — who knew me well in my prodigal days — certainly had a front-row seat for the changes in my life.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Last but never least, St. Joseph is the man I honor above all fathers right now because of his unwavering faith in God. He was the only non-perfect member of his family, yet the Bible tells us Jesus and Mary trusted him with their lives — and he trusted God with all that he had.

In my own imperfect way, I learn from the examples of these men ultimately to mirror the Father of us all. As Pope Benedict XVI shared, our Father is a father who “never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, forgives, saves, with a fidelity that immensely surpasses that of men, opening onto the dimensions of eternity. … We can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of crisis and of times of pain, supported by our faith that God does not leave us alone and is always near, to save us and bring us to eternal life.”

Helped by many earthly fathers, I was led to examine my own fatherhood in a new way. Helped by many earthly fathers, I was guided back to God the Father himself. And, I’m happy to say, Father’s Day can never be the same.

Tom Wehner is managing editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper, published by EWTN.