Five ways to be a 'Hero'

Starting with No.1: Know that your most important job in life is your family:..... 

1 September 2017 General Interest

I remember quite vividly as a young teenager, walking past the open door of my parent’s bedroom and noticing my father kneeling down beside his bed in prayer. This may not seem that extraordinary in the larger scheme and machinations of life, but as a young adolescent it made a particular and lasting impression on me and I would say, contributed to who I am today. It wasn’t that I’d never seen my dad praying generally, it was just that he was, in this instance, making an intentional decision to go to his room and spend time by himself in prayer and, especially, in the ‘midst’ of the busyness of his life. Personal prayer in the midst of all the noise and sometime chaos that goes hand in hand in the raising of a family of eight children. I’d never realised that this was ‘important’ to my dad or that he actually ever set time aside to do this.

Impressions that we carry forward from childhood have a very profound effect on who we are as adults and it is in this frame that I write the following reflection on being a ‘Dad’. Yes, dads do have a great influence on the future lives of their children and the memories that they do leave them with have a lasting impact for good or for bad on their lives. The good news, I mean the really great news, is that from this very moment we can choose to start making memories for the good… right now!

One of the most liberating captions that I have come across as a dad is from the book by Dr Meg Meeker entitled, ‘Hero – Being the strong father your children need’. This caption reads: “Even ‘Bad’ dads can be great”. This phrase can sound quite harsh and accusing in its tone, but for me it did strike right at my ‘heart’ and resounded within it with an air of freedom. I have spoken to many dads who very often look back on the way they have brought up their children and negatively reflect on what they neglected to do and what they are, in the present, not doing quite right or are doing quite ‘badly’.

So in light of this, I would like to say with great joy and gusto… it is time to be the ‘Hero” our children and wives want us to be and to actually believe that we really can be ‘great’ dads. Let us throw away the mediocre and strive to be the best and greatest dads ever for our children and the best and greatest husband ever for our wives. Ok, how to do this or better still, where to start. Here are five very practical ways in which we can start this transformation right here and right now.

1. Know that your most important job in life is your family:
Very often we can get carried away with the notion that the most important facet of our life as men is to provide well for our families ‘financially’. This is of course ‘very’ important and will always remain so. But we have to realise that the most important job every dad has to do, is to be ‘present’ to his wife and children in the ‘sanctuary of the home’. This means giving our children and wives our deliberate attention; actually turning away from our phones and eBooks and TV programs and looking into the other’s face and ‘hearing’ what they have to say. To do this, that is to give time and attention to every member of our family, may mean changing the way we work, what we do in our spare time, where we go and sit when we get back from work. We have to be intentional in this regard because our children will not be in our homes forever…. this is a time to treasure.

2. Love your wife and be prepared to “lay down your life for her”: This can sound overly dramatic but for dads, it honestly is the best advice that St Paul gave us all those 2000 years ago. We all know that he didn’t mean this in the literal sense when he wrote his Letter to the Ephesians, but he did mean that we have to give completely and totally of ourselves to our wives… literally to make ‘a gift of ourselves’. Our children see this ‘gift’ we make and learn from it. These are the key impressions we leave on ‘their lives’. Sometimes I enter the house after work and with one look from my wife Stella, I know that I have come in with all the baggage of my work day and have allowed it to influence the home environment. “Laying down my life” can be as simple as making an intentional decision to come in and sweep my wife into my arms much to the giggles of our younger children and to the embarrassment of our teenagers. But we know deep down that the love and this show of affection between dad and mum gives them great assurance that things are OK and that home is a safe place to be.

3. Be the spiritual leader of your family: Dads are called to be the icon of God the Father in their homes. When our children look into our faces, they need to see and experience the love, the immense love, of God the Father. Devin Schadt, one of the preeminent speakers today on the critical importance of ‘fatherhood’, encourages dads to embrace fatherhood as their identity and as their inherent call to greatness. He proposes that this ‘identity’ reveals not only our own destiny but also the destiny of our family. God is the greatest of fathers and it is this identity that we must take on. We must introduce our children to their Heavenly Father in prayer. We need to kneel down with our children and to pray with them. This can mean deliberately making the time and gathering the family to say the rosary… every day. We must be the first to form in our children the habit of going to Mass and to actually take them there. We must help our children realise that it is ‘normal’ to stop and pray for others when we hear of their needs. We need to ‘bless’ our children and instil in them the understanding that they are body-soul persons who are destined for life in eternity. This is everyday heroism… this is our path to greatness… on our knees.

4. Forming habits of ‘virtue’ in our own lives… first: Pope Francis often turns away from his prepared speeches and gives practical gems for how to live life better in the reality of the family situation. One that has impressed itself on me is his advice to say the following words and to say them often: ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘Sorry’. Wow! So simple but so profound! This is what it means to be the spiritual leader in the home. These words have the ability to change our ‘hearts’ and the lives of our children. To use these words is to make an act of the will. It often goes against our instinctive feelings. It means that we often have to slow down and make a concerted effort to suppress our first and often ‘wrong’ response. We are called to build up and to give the ‘best’ example to our children. To say these words often helps to form our children in this habit. It certainly makes our wives happy… happy wife, happy life! Children learn more from what they see than from what they are told. To use these words can be the best life lesson that we can ever impress upon our children.

5. Know that you are loved by the Father and be a father who loves: Sometimes we don’t know how to love because we have never experienced what love looks like in the form of personal attention, affirmation, pats on the back, kisses and hugs. These are the important, nay critical and fundamental, human and bodily experiences of love. When we have missed out on this experience for one reason or other and often through no fault of our own, we have to meet that yearning that lies in the innermost recesses of our heart. We can only ever know that we are loved infinitely through an open relationship with our Father in heaven. As dads, we need to open ourselves to this love so that the Father’s love can flow in abundance through our own lives and then into the lives of our children and our wives. Dads need to again be intentional in this regard. Let us smother our children in affection. “Love them and let them know that they are loved” is the advice of St John Bosco. “We need to touch them with the Father’s touch” says Devin Schadt.

Ok… so it’s taken a little bit of time to get through the five ‘secrets’ of being a great dad. I am sure that there are so many more ‘secrets’ that we can add to this list, but I know in my heart that by continuously trying to put these five into action in my own life, it has certainly changed who I am as a dad, the lives of my wife and children, and has certainly enhanced their wellbeing and future happiness. I have come to the realisation that whenever I have felt the despondence of not being a good father, there is always another chance to change this... the right here and now! There is always an opportunity to make a new start and to begin anew on the challenge of being the ‘greatest dad’ to my children. Yes, this is a challenge of a lifetime, but using the catch word of Dr Meeker, isn’t this what a ‘hero’ is called to be and do?


Steven Buhagiar is the LIfe Marriage and Family Team Leader in the Diocese of Broken Bay.

Catholic Diocese of
Broken Bay

Building 2, 423 Pennant Hills Road
Pennant Hills NSW 2120

PO Box 340
Pennant Hills NSW 1715

Phone 02 9847 0000
Fax 02 9847 0001

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