© ROBERT COCQUYT/DREAMSTIME.COM
WE LEARN ABOUT the things
most important to us in the oddest
ways, it seems. I was once
on a very long trip when a helicopter
engineer, fascinated by
how airplanes work (maybe it's a guy thing),
caused me to consider my own sense of fatherhood.
We were on a plane to Australia. From San
Francisco, it's a 14-hour flight, a long time to be
suspended between the heavens and the deep
blue sea. Next to me was a Canadian engineer,
on his way to work on helicopters used in Outback
mining. About three hours into the flight,
he pointed out the window.
"Look at the wings!" the Canadian engineer
I looked out the window.
"See how they flex!" he said.
To my non-engineering eyes, "flex" seemed to
mean a disturbing tendency to whip up and
down like an antenna.
"Most people think airplane wings are stationary,"
he continued. "But on a plane like
this they actually have a 24-foot range of motion,
12 feet on either side of the stationary axis."
As I looked, I saw he was right. I wasn't sure
what the stationary axis is, or where it might be,
but the wing certainly jerked up and down and
twisted in ways I would not have expected.
"You don't know the kind of stresses involved
in mechanical flight, especially for these big
planes," he said. "It's amazing the wings can
He seemed genuinely enthralled with the
engineering feat of modern wing construction.
I was less thrilled. It was interesting, I'll admit.
I didn't know airplane wings were designed for
When we ran into turbulence, I couldn't stop
myself from looking out the window. The wings
were shaking and gyrating vigorously and pumping
up and down like a goose trying for liftoff.
Just when I most wanted to believe the little cocoon of my existence was gliding
effortlessly above the vast emptiness
of the Pacific thousands of feet below,
I saw my survival was actually dependent
on a patchwork of metal sheathing
and rivets flapping wildly to stay aloft.
The lesson that the friendly engineer
at my side taught me wasn't something
I was eager to learn at that
particular moment. It would be one
thing if I were on the ground, contemplating
the dynamics of aeronautical
engineering in the abstract; in a plane
hit by turbulence above the Pacific with
a long way still to go, it was something
Life itself seems to work that way,
though. Living is not a theoretical exercise.
It's very concrete, and we have to
live with circumstances that usually
aren't as we might choose them. That
certainly rings true for fatherhood.
Going With the Flow
Once, when our daughter was four
months old, I was going to be taking
care of her for the day. Before my wife
left, as we ate breakfast in the morning,
I started making a plan. My wife
watched me scribbling activities on one
side of the page, times on the other
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Making a schedule for the day," I
"What?" I innocently asked.
"Nothing," she said with a smile.
See I did. Babies and schedules, I discovered,
rarely converge. Our daughter
ate when I had nap time scheduled.
She napped when we were supposed to
be going out for a walk. And big holes
were punched all throughout the schedule
for the constant, unplanned diaper
changes. By the time the day was
over, little was left of the schedule but
the paper it was written on!
So now I do less scheduling and more
going with the flow.
There are many circumstances I'd
like to rearrange all the time. Diapers
certainly rank high, but even more
than that, as most fathers (and mothers!)
agree, would be sleep.
At times the calling to the vocation of fatherhood feels like God's call to
Samuel: a voice that woke him from his
sleep (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Eight hours of
uninterrupted sleep every night would
be heavenly. I've forgotten what it feels
like not to be tired. But the baby wakes
up at night, so we do too. I tell myself
I'm learning patience. It's a virtue, after
all, and I shouldn't complain about the
chance to acquire a virtue.
Still, if it were up to me, I wouldn't
be working on patience at 2 a.m., while
trying to soothe a teething baby. Personally,
I really think I could make a lot
more progress on patience after a good
night's sleep, a leisurely breakfast and
a few cups of coffee.
But we don't get to choose our circumstances.
We just get the call. All
that's left up to us is the way we
Learning how to respond is where the
Bible can help. Scripture is full of people
called by God. They were engaged
in all sorts of works, at times when
embarking on a mission from God was
less than convenient. They didn't think
they were ready.
Consider people like Jeremiah, Sarah,
Zechariah, Jonah and Moses. When
God called Jeremiah, he attempted to
demur, saying, "I am too young" (Jeremiah
1:4-10). Sarah thought she was
too old (Genesis 17:17ff) as did
Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5ff).
Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh
(Jonah 1:1-3). Moses didn't think he
was worthy of the mission to Egypt
(Exodus 3:4-14). None of them thought
circumstances were right when God
called, but God thought differently!
There is an amazing thing common
to each of these stories. It's the wonder
God works when people are faithful,
when they carry through with the work
God has given them. That's true even
if they need a little prompting or a second
God worked through Abraham and
Sarah for the birth of Isaac, Zechariah
and Elizabeth for the birth of John the
Baptist, Jonah for the repentance of
Nineveh. Through Moses, God worked
many miracles and delivered Israel from
bondage. Great things happen when
people are faithful to God's call.
It's reassuring. Those of us called to
fatherhood have important work to
do. When the angel visited Zechariah,
it was to deliver a message: You will be
a father. That's when Zechariah questioned
the call he was receiving, saying,
"I am an old man" (Luke 1:18). The
angel said to Zechariah in reply: "I am
Gabriel, who stand before God. I was
sent to speak to you and to announce
to you this good news" (see Luke 1:19).
The power of that angel's statement
sends a shiver down my spine: "I am
Gabriel, who stand before God." When
I first read that, I thought, Better sit up
and pay attention! If Gabriel's got something
to say, it's probably worth listening
to. Gabriel was announcing the birth of
John the Baptist, about whom Jesus
would say, "I tell you, among those
born of women, no one is greater than
John" (Luke 7:28).
Gabriel had told Zechariah that John
"will be great in the sight of the Lord"
(Luke 1:15), and went on to enumerate
some of the things that would make
John so great. One was that John would
"turn the hearts of fathers toward children"
Fathers turn their hearts toward their
children. That is important enough for
Gabriel to care about, important
enough for Gabriel to be sent to come
and announce, important enough that
it made John great in the sight of God.
That points to how much fatherhood
So we fathers have been given a special
task, a task that ranks high in the concerns
of the likes of Gabriel, John the
Baptist and, as Scripture tells us, the
One who sent them both.
We know that fatherhood matters,
maybe more than anything else we
fathers will ever be given to do in this
life. We know, too, from living the calling,
that it's hard work.
Sometimes I'm tempted to think
that, if I could just change the circumstances
of my life, I could do a lot better
as a father. That's the sort of wishful
thinking I have when I wake up to get
our daughter at night: I'm sure I could
be a lot more patient if she would just
conform her sleeping to my schedule!
Sometimes, like Jeremiah, I think
I'm too young for the task God's called
me to—and to the responsibility that
goes with it. But then sometimes I feel
like Zechariah, thinking I'm too old
for the demands of a high-energy baby.
Sometimes, looking at another messy
diaper, I feel like Jonah: I just don't want to tackle this one! And sometimes
I feel like Moses, thinking God could
have surely found someone more worthy
to nurture the amazing young soul
entrusted to my care.
Those are times when it's good to
take a step back and listen to Jesus.
Fathering can be tough. Worries and
frustrations pile up, but Jesus tells us:
"Do not be afraid." God loves us, and
God is watching over us. "Even the
hairs of your head have all been
counted," Jesus said, so "Do not be
afraid." As Jesus reminds us, "Can any
of you by worrying add a moment to
your life-span? If even the smallest
things are beyond your control, why are
you anxious about the rest?" (see Luke
12). He advised us to "seek first the
kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,
and all these things [food, clothes,
a roof over our heads and our other
material needs] will be given you
besides. Do not worry about tomorrow;
tomorrow will take care of itself"
God made us, in this time and this
place. Living is now. It was God who
calls dads to our vocation of fatherhood,
even with all the obstacles we
face, and God will help and sustain us
in our work.
It's good to remember that, amid all
the difficulties we face, it's no accident
that we were put here and charged with
raising our kids. It's good to remember
that we are not alone in our work.
We have also the examples of our
fathers in the faith to show us how to
be steadfast in our mission, fathers such
as Zechariah, Jonah, Moses. As hard as
the road may be at times, each of our
fathers in the faith teaches us again
and again one of the constant messages
of Scripture: We can make this
journey if we go with faith. All of the
people in Scripture faced their own
challenges, just as we face ours.
So, too, our fathers in the faith show
us that there is a purpose to our trials,
even if we can't always see that purpose.
Just look at the obstacles Moses faced:
They were a key part of his mission,
whether he knew it or not! It was
through the hardness of Pharaoh's
heart, along with all the other difficult
and perilous situations Moses faced,
that God revealed God's nature and
strength, the reality of our absolute
reliance on God—and so many other
Through the witness of how he lived
and responded to God's call, Moses has
passed on the faith and taught countless
generations of people about God.
Often when we face difficulties, we
wonder, What am I supposed to learn
from this? There can be many things
we're supposed to learn, but sometimes
the lessons aren't for us alone. Maybe
other people are supposed to be learning
something from our example, just
as we all learn from Moses. Those other
people may just be the ones who watch
us most closely, for example, our children.
It's one of the great opportunities of
fatherhood: to bring the faith alive for
our children through how we live day
by day. By handing on the treasure of
faith to our children, we can be fathers
I've been blessed to know the power
of that example in my own life. My
parents say the Rosary twice daily, once
in the morning before Dad goes to
work, and again in the evening before
Mom and Dad go to bed. When my
parents face tough situations, they
reach for their well-worn rosary beads.
They reach for God through prayer.
For example, in all the economic
tumult of the past few years, Dad was
informed his job was being phased out.
Facing unemployment, Mom and Dad
started a novena. The day the novena
was completed, Dad got a call and had
a job! Then Mom and Dad started a
novena of thanks. Whether or not they
learned anything new through that
whole experience, I certainly did. When
children—grown or not—see their parents
put their trust in God, especially
when the chips are down, it makes an
It's a small example, maybe, but life
is made of small moments. These are
when faith and character are formed.
Each act of faith is like a stone dropped
in a pool of water, sending out ripples
that touch many lives.
If we fathers can live with faith, in
moments great and small, we can hope
that our acts of faith will touch our
children, inspiring them toward their
own acts of faith. Twisting and turning
as we soar through our more difficult
moments, we are held aloft by the grace
of God, by the faith of our fathers. For
dads, it's a guy thing.