Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic lay evangelist, speaker and creator of Me & My House, a DVD series that offer advice to parents who are raising their children in the faith. He and his wife, Kyla, have eight children. With Father's Day around the corner, we asked Patrick to share his top Catholic parenting tips.
1. What are your top tips for raising a child in the faith?
The first tip is more or less a reminder that though our faith is something we all hold in common, faith is also deeply personal. This means that although it is extremely important for parents to pass on the faith (its creeds, its liturgical life, its salvation history), our children also need room to meet God in their own way.
Which leads to tip number two: Ask your children often, "Who are you praying for and how are you praying for them?" The first question ensures that your child understands your fundamental belief that a child's prayers matter. And the second question drives home the point that there are ways to communicate with God outside of the usual time and prayer method.
So you might say to your three year old, as we do with our Caleb who just turned three this past May, "Caleb how do you pray for grandpa?" And when he is not sure what I mean by 'how' we follow-up with an example like, "When I pray for Hannah, I like to walk around in our garden and say, 'thank you Jesus for my little girl.'" Now at his age, Caleb may still follow that with a physical prayer action — such as squeezing his hands together and closing his eyes or any number of things — but our child is now learning slowly and effortlessly that the Catholic faith requires a personal response from each one of us, and he is free to explore that with the help of those who love him.
2. It's Father's Day this weekend. What do you think fathers, in particular, offer to the family?
Fathers have the awesome gift of revealing a truth about God that is little discussed today: That God is both powerful and playful. Think about what this means. Through their relationship with the mother, especially in the early years, the child is already learning that there exists a love that is all encompassing, an ever-present comfort, which of course speaks volumes about this Trinitarian God.
But, through a child's eyes, the father's love can sometimes be more intimidating. His love comes through a lower vocal range and it is 'rougher' as both the body and possibly calloused skin leave fewer places to 'cuddle-up' than that experienced with mommy.
Be that as it may, as the child grows and experiences daddy through many playful interactions, countless acts of tenderness and care, the child learns that this love is also powerful and playful.
It is through fatherhood that we once again have a chance to encounter what the ancients saw quite clearly: That the divine life (and, indeed, the divine One Himself) is dangerous. And yet, as Abraham learned millennia ago, everything we love, everything we are and hope to be, even our very lives, are safe with God.
So this is what every dad offers the family. Simply by being himself, simply by loving his wife and children in the way that he understands and feels in his bones, he teaches the next generation about the love of God in a truly paternal way, and that is an awesome gift.
3. What advice would you give to someone who feels he is struggling to be a good father?
I would say, "You're not alone." When we realize the immense privilege of being a dad, the task can seem overwhelming and sometimes nearly impossible. But remember, God has chosen you for these particular children. Being a good father is not about letting your strengths outdo your weaknesses, or about becoming a 'better' father than those around you. It's about finding ways to show your kids that you love them. Do that and you will be a dad after God's own heart.
4. Do you have a favourite Catholic dad joke?
There are so many good jokes that Catholic dads tell. Here is one I love sharing with the little kids:
A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt."
His son asked, "What happened to the flea?"