One late Friday afternoon, 4-year-old Joe opened his bedroom door, ran through the hallway, careened down the stairs, and practically flew out the front door, repeating, “My daddy’s home! My daddy’s home!” For years, Joe kept a bag packed with a flashlight, books, underwear, socks and pajamas underneath his bed—just in case Daddy decided to take him camping. Joe, and his three brothers, loved the call of adventure in the wilderness, the nearest park or the backyard. But most evenings, you would find all four boys “camping” in their bedroom, listening intently to my husband, Mike, read and discuss stories of adventure, filled with heroes and villains: “The Hardy Boys,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Encyclopedia Brown,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and more. Undoubtedly, evening storytelling was the boys’ favorite time of the day and a most cherished part of their childhood.
We often forget or ignore the enormous impact fathers make in their children’s lives. As pediatrician Meg Meeker writes in her recent book, “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need,” “A lot of good and bad habits that I’ve seen in kids can be linked in some way to their interactions with their dad.” Meeker stresses the super power of fathers: “Children see you, their father, as their HERO. Let me put it another way: Fathers need to see themselves the way their children see them. You are, whether you know it or not, the center of their world, the hub of the wheel that is your family, the hero they depend on.”
The importance of fathers does not, in any way, diminish the role of all the amazing women out there: single mothers doing an incredible job raising children; mothers caring for children in heroic ways; women juggling work and parenting and keeping family as the priority. You know who you are: Wonder Woman! In so many ways, women rule, yet a study by Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2013, Vol. 5/1, found, “Emerging adults tend to match the level of religiosity of their fathers particularly if they are attached to their fathers.” Therefore, loving and engaged fathers (grandfathers and father figures), who show interest in faith, pray with their families, and attend Mass on a regular basis are critical for passing on the faith. Like the saints, these men are superheroes: brave, faithful, sacrificial.
As a member of the greatest generation and WWII veteran, many people have called my own father a hero. But whether he is a hero to others, Dad will always be a hero to me—even at 93 years old and piloting a walker instead of a B-24 bomber. At his 90th birthday party, he spoke of immense gratitude for his family and faith, never failing to attend Mass and leading prayer at mealtime.
Our sons and daughters, now all grown, would readily claim Mike as their superhero, recognizing how he has laid down his life: day after day working to provide camping trips, sporting equipment and Catholic education; night after night reading books and helping with homework; week after week leading the family on adventures, beginning with Mass.
We are in need of courageous men, who are willing to live out their fatherhood as heroes of faith and family. Meeker encourages fathers: “I want you to know that you, Dad, are hard-wired to be exactly what your children need. They already see you as the strongest, bravest, most incredible man in their world. They believe that nothing is impossible for you and that you would conquer all evil to protect them and your family. Your children have already given you this role! You just have to step up to the plate and be the very best father that you believe you should be.”
Once fathers, and father figures, decide to sport their capes, they will be granted the superpowers of God’s grace to complete their mission. It won’t always be easy living as a superhero, but after a long day’s work of saving the planet, a superhero may just receive the greatest reward of all—hearing his child exclaim, “My daddy’s home! My daddy’s home!” Happy Father’s Day to all you superheroes!