Get Involved: Give the Gift of Yourself

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Richard Fitzgibbons, M.D., is a psychiatrist and director of the Institute for Marital Healing ( He spoke to Fathers for Good about how fathers can get involved and stay involved with their families.


Fathers for Good: How important is it for a father to be involved with his family?

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons: It’s important that we Catholic married men make a commitment daily to give ourselves to our spouses and our children as protectors and leaders of the family.

It’s important that we, first, give ourselves to God. Secondly, to be good fathers we have to be good spouses, so we must love our wives and show our children how to love our wives.

FFG: What are some of the ways that a father can become more involved?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: I think it's important for men to understand themselves. Many of us men as fathers have certain weaknesses which can be overcome by growth in virtues. We’re called to be strong leaders, but not controlling or dominating. We should try to control our anger by being forgiving.

It tends to be more difficult for us men to praise than women. It’s important that we commit ourselves to praise our wives and our children. It’s also essential that we correct our children. We should avoid giving into the cultural pressure and not be permissive fathers who foster selfishness in children.

Many fathers are permissive, too involved in sports, and don’t focus enough on teaching their children virtues which are essential to good character development. For males having a healthy character is more important than physical strength and it’s more important than beauty or body image for females.

FFG: What are some factors that might stop a father from getting involved with his children and with his wife?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: My experience over the past 32 years working with thousands of fathers is that most of us want to be good fathers, basically, but one of the major things that hurts us is stress. Different types of stress turn us in upon ourselves as husbands and fathers.

These stresses include worrying about finances, working too hard with a lack of balance and not trusting God with one’s work and giving into selfishness, which is an epidemic today in our culture and a major cause of divorce. Other problems are a lack of male friendships that men need from other men and a prayer life.

FFG: How important is a man’s wife in supporting his involvement?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: Well, again, the primary calling in marriage is to God first then self-giving to your spouse. Unfortunately, there are a number of women who have been deeply wounded before they even marry because of their parents’ divorce, or alcoholism in the family, or a history of abortion.

These factors turn wives in upon themselves, and limit the ability to trust her husband. Trusting is essential, it’s the foundation for self-giving. Many wives have this weakness and they can really benefit every day by thinking, “I really want to trust my husband. I want to treat him with respect and model respectful behavior; not to try to control him, but to trust him and love him.”

FFG: How important is the family meal?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: We know from numerous research studies that the family meal is associated with significant psychological health in adolescents and adults. And, on the other hand, those youngsters who are deprived of a family meal have far greater problems with excessive anger, poor school performance, depression and substance abuse.

The family experience at the dinner table cannot be overestimated. Here we can all experience mutual support and love, learn to refine our expression of love and sensitivity, grow in faith, express gratitude and cheerfulness, learn how to deal with those outside the family and correct weaknesses. Fathers need to look carefully at their work schedules to try to be home with their families for dinner every night.

FFG: How a father can balance the demands of his work and family?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: Well, this is an enormous challenge today because of the pressures men are under in their careers and because of growing financial stresses in many families.

We need to try to set reasonable limits to our work day, avoid working in the evenings if possible and trust the Lord with our work and family responsibilities. Acts of trust can diminish our anxieties and help us have more balance.

Also, a close friendship and romantic relationship with our wives can help to refresh us. We should try to have a date night with our wives several times a month - even if it’s just going for a walk. A healthy marital friendship can help us with balance and protect us from falling into the trap of feeling overly responsible for one’s work and family life. Also, meditating upon giving to the Lord our responsibilities is of great value to fathers.

FFG: We have a podcast on the Fathers for Good website by Dr. Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia about the importance of a father being a spiritual leader in his family. What is your view?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: Manliness and prayerfulness go together. Our children must see us and respect us as spiritual leaders.

The reality is that every man wants to be strong. It’s one of the major desires of masculinity. And one of the major things that makes us strong — it’s not muscles or sports, though these things are very important. The more important thing is faith; faith strengthens men.

FFG: What do you find is the effect of absent fathers?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes divorce as a plague. And we have a plague upon us. One of the most painful aspects of my work is seeing so many young people — children, teenagers, adults — with severe divorce wounds. Mistrust, sadness, anger, insecurity. Absent fathers are causing havoc in our culture today.

FFG: To the men and even some of the women who may be reading this, what is your final bit of advice to fathers?

Dr. Fitzgibbons: Well, I think we need to grow. I think the reality is we have in this culture an epidemic of selfishness in the sacrament of marriage. We need to recognize that and fight against it.

We need to commit ourselves to be generous as fathers — generous in the number of children we have, generous in doing God’s will. But to do all this giving we need support, because the well runs dry.

As Catholic men we need a prayer life, time alone with the Lord. If one can receive the Eucharist frequently, do it.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is “A brother who is strengthened by a brother is like a fortified city.” The Knights of Columbus can be a great source of support for men. We all need other men to help us become good Catholic fathers and husbands.