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Am I a Good Father?

by Brian CaulfieldEvery man who has a child wants, deep down, to know the answer to this question. And he wants the answer to be: Yes, I am a good father.But how do we dads find the answer we are looking for? Fathers come in all descriptions, with different temperaments, gifts, abilities, habits, virtues and ways of relating and getting the job of fatherhood done. There is no single or simple definition of a good father.Yet this can be a good thing. We are free to be a good father in the way that we think best – hopefully, in the way that God calls us to be – and we can use our uncertainty to always seek improvement. If we’re a good dad today, we can be a better one tomorrow. We can always be open to learning more and changing for the better.To help you with the job of reflection and self-assessment, Fathers for Good has put together an informal survey. The 14 questions, culled from input from a wide range of fathers, are designed to help you figure where you are as a father, and how you can grow in your role. You can find the survey here. Don’t worry, this is a self-evaluation. No one else will see your score, and we are not collecting responses. One father who took the evaluation said it was like going through an examination of conscience. That’s the idea.It might be helpful to go over a few of the questions to highlight some of the virtues needed to be a good father, and the pitfalls that can wreak havoc on your life and the life of your children.Let me start with a little self disclosure. The question I score lowest on is: “I control my temper when disciplining.” When one of the dads I asked for input suggested that this be put in the survey, I said, “Ouch!” I am usually a pretty even-tempered guy and not too much can get me riled. But when one of my boys is persistently disobedient or simply does not listen, I can lose my cool, and send out flares of anger. I would never get that angry over the bad behavior of another child, or even the betrayal of a long-time friend. But when my own children act out, it hits me in the gut – they are the offspring of my own flesh, a reflection of my soul – and I sometimes react without thinking; the very thing I tell them not to do.This is not to say that fathers should be totally emotionless when correcting or disciplining. Sometimes a little controlled anger can get the attention of your kid and force him to think twice before misbehaving again. But the key word is “controlled.” Your anger should not become the dominant message in the discipline, so that the actual corrective message is drowned out by the shouting or the bile rising in your eyes. Your child should not feel demeaned or belittled by your anger. Rather, your child should sense the fairness that tempers your discipline, so that he develops his own internal control through witnessing your example.Another absolutely vital issue is pornography use. All men should avoid porn, but fathers should be especially careful in this area. Studies have shown that a large majority of children older than 10 have been exposed to porn, many of them by discovering racy magazines stashed away at home, or happening upon their dads viewing porn on the internet. Not only can porn harm your child’s self-image and sexual development, it also harms your wife. It is, quite simply, a form of infidelity that has no place in family life.Another challenge on the survey is: “I pray with my children, and for them.” St. Katharine Drexel, who was born to a wealthy Philadelphia family and founded a religious order dedicated to serving Native and African Americans, told this very moving story about her father. When she was a girl, she was looking for her father, who was a successful businessman. She was very disappointed when she couldn’t find him in the large house, and wondered what he could be doing that was more important than being with her. One of the servant girls took her by the hand, brought her to the maid’s entrance to her parents’ room and silently ushered her in. Her father was on his knees, his head on the bed, praying fervently, still dressed in his fine business clothes. This quiet witness impressed the young Katharine, and was a strong influence on her decision to use her inheritance for founding a community dedicated to the poor.Sound too pious or impossible for an “ordinary” dad? Let’s not fool ourselves. God has called us to be the father of our children, knowing each hair on their heads as he entrusts these immortal souls to our human care. This is serious business, and we need to pray often and earnestly. Am I a good father? The answer begins with prayer.pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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