By Cory Busse
In his poem “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden writes about how he failed to appreciate the hard work his father did day in and day out — an expression of his father’s love for his family. Hayden finishes the poem with the line, “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Lent is a time for us to grow and to learn. And for those of us who are fathers (or father figures), to teach our children about our Catholic faith.
A lot of dads I know struggle with prayer. Praying — especially in front of our kids — makes us self-conscious. We’re too locked into stereotypical (aka traditional) roles of breadwinner and disciplinarian and Dad (with a capital “D”). Prayers of thanksgiving make it seem like we had nothing to do with the blessings we have. If it’s a petition, then it’s helpless and shows weakness. And don’t even get me started on acts of contrition. The truth is, though, that kids learn a lot from seeing their dads pray. They learn that it’s important to thank God for our blessings, that it’s OK to ask for help, and that saying we’re sorry is universal. If we teach them by example, we can show them that prayer is a lot more than reciting words in a monotone voice.
This Lenten season, pray with your kids. At Mass, really concentrate on what you’re saying during the Profession of Faith, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Say them as though they are part of an ongoing conversation with your Father, and encourage your children to do likewise.
Fasting during Lent is a difficult thing for children to grasp. In a society of instant gratification, forgoing a meal — or even meat on a Friday — seems old-fashioned. Overt displays of religious custom raise eyebrows, especially if they don’t square with social mores or jibe with peer pressure.
If we don’t equip our kids first, they’re going to forget, intentionally blow it off or feel like they have to lie to fit in. Equipping them first means teaching them why we fast during Lent; setting our minds on God and taking an intentional approach to what we consume form the basis for this tradition. The second part is helping them follow through. Recognize that they’re going to complain about it. Don’t get frustrated; use it as an opportunity to remind them that they are in solidarity with a great many people who go without every day, and that experiences like these bring us closer to God.
My dad has been a contributor to Boys Town over the years. For as long as I can remember, he has been asking us to give to this charity rather than to give him gifts at birthdays and Christmas. And for the life of me, I can’t tell you why. Except for a handful of years in the Air Force, Dad spent his entire life in a quiet suburb in Minnesota. To the best of my knowledge, he has never known or been close to an “at-risk” youth. Still, it is a given that a contribution to Boys Town is an acceptable gift for any occasion. He doesn’t make a show of it; he just gives. And his children and his grandchildren know he gives. And even though we don’t know exactly why, we know it’s important. So we give, too.