I lost my own father to a sudden heart attack some 30 years ago, but despite being without his earthly presence since my 20s, he had a profound impact on my life. I saw many echoes of my own dad’s influence in the stories contained in a fine book that I recommend all of the fathers of the parish read. It is entitled, Because of Our Fathers (Ignatius Press). It’s a collection of very short, readable stories from 23 Catholics (some converts) about how their fathers helped form them into Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ.
Some of the authors are famous, some not, they are from varied walks of life (athletes, bishops, writers, and more). They are all inspiring and show the example of concrete ways that men can be good fathers. I’ll be happy to get you the book if you want to read it.
In that vein, just a few reflections on how my own dad, Clifford John Reutter, helped me to learn to follow Christ. Dad knew and believed with every fiber of his being that everything the Church taught was true. The universal Catechism of the Catholic Church did not come out until around the time of his death, but before then there were many good catechisms written by priests who summarized the faith well. The bookshelf in the living room was full of them. If I said something wrong or had a question I couldn’t answer, he would make me look it up and find it. (Usually, he knew the answer himself, but wanted to make sure I knew how to find the truth when he wasn’t there).
He didn’t give us lectures on what the duties of a Catholic man were (the lectures he saved for history, which he taught at the local Jesuit college!), but just lived them out. For example, he helped out at the local St. Vincent de Paul to help the poor, he would go on the Christmas caroling nights for the parish shut-ins (even though by his own admission he had a terrible voice), and so on.
While never obnoxiously trying to force his faith on anyone (he believed the truth was ultimately self-evident), he was not the least bit shy about sharing it with others. We had no air conditioning in our home, but we did have a big front porch on which, if you were lucky on muggy summer days, you might be able to catch a breeze. On weekends and after he retired, he liked to sit out there and listen to his transistor radio. Since we were in an urban neighborhood, we would often get Jehovah’s Witnesses or others ambling door to door, trying to get people who didn’t know their faith to join them. We almost felt sorry for those who were hapless enough to come up to our porch. Dad would patiently explain why all of their points were wrong, and bring out his Bibles in the original language if needed to drive each point home.
Dad loved languages (he was a translator in the Second World War) so would try to make sure we were precise about our faith. Since he knew Latin and Greek reasonably well (key languages in the Catholic faith), a favorite phrase was, “If you’d studied Latin (or Greek), you would have known that!” I did take Latin in high school, after being urged to do so.
He didn’t tolerate laziness (he was up by 6:00 a.m. every day himself) so would get after us to get out of our pajamas on a weekend morning and get busy. If we were dawdling too long in getting to a chore or task – or not getting ready for Sunday Mass fast enough, he would clap his hands together (loudly) and bark, “Mach schnell” (German for “hurry up!”). Being of German background, he knew some key phrases we children needed to know.
He never complained about the countless material sacrifices he and Mom had to make to raise thirteen children. My parents rarely went out to eat, or went on expensive vacations, for instance (frequently vacations were to visit family). He knew what marriage and family life were for: giving us the gifts of brothers and sisters to love, rather than fleeting material pleasures of little importance.
When it came to attending Mass, with the exception of the days that he was in the hospital for some serious illnesses, I don’t remember him ever missing a single one. He went to daily Mass after his early retirement, believing sincerely in the power of the holy sacrifice of the Mass to save his family.
Even though he was rock solid in his faith, as was Mom, they taught us to respect people of all faiths and nationalities (this all long before it become fashionable to talk about “diversity” and “inclusion”). My dad studied ethnic history and, in the many times they invited guests into the home that didn’t share our faith or culture. Dad always seemed genuinely curious and interested in finding out everything he could about his visitors’ beliefs.
He had extremely little concern for what others thought of him. As long as he knew what was right, he would do it, whether it embarrassed us children or not.
A father teaches his sons how to show love and respect for women. He never spoke ill of Mom in any way, and made sure he thanked her in our presence.