The father's role in today's world:
an interview with a traditional Catholic father
Angelus: What was your family background?
Father: My mother and father married in 1953. My mother was raised Catholic and my father converted to the Church shortly after they were married. I am the oldest of six children. My parents obliged us kids to attend Mass every day walking several blocks to and from church.
Angelus: Regarding your parents and their family life, what are you most grateful for?
Father: I am most grateful to my parents for passing along the Catholic Faith, saying the daily family Rosary, and teaching me how to work. I am also especially grateful for their example in living a simple life—not being caught up in materialism. My father provided for the family with modest means. He did not believe in purchasing items that could not be paid for. Thus, other than a home mortgage (which did not last too long), he was never in debt.
Angelus: Define the family heritage which you sought to preserve as you went on your own path.
Father: Definitely reciting the daily family Rosary, frequenting the Sacraments—especially the Mass, frequent reading of the Bible and of the Lives of the Saints, the Catholic education of my children, and adorning our home with religious pictures and statues. I would also add the collection of good Catholic books, subscribing to good traditional Catholic publications, and establishing good Catholic friends were exemplified by my parents. Fortunately, these practices were also strong in my wife’s family, thus making it more natural for us to continue these habits in our own family.
Angelus: What was your ideal of the family then? How good or warped was it?
Father: My ideal of the family was to have as many children as God saw fit to give us. Like most traditional Catholic families, my wife and I never discussed how many children we should have. My wife was the oldest of 14 children and I was the oldest of 6 children so it was a foregone conclusion that our family would, God willing, consist of several children. In the early years of our family I would say that I considered the ideal family was one that said its prayers, went to church on Sunday, and lived good lives. Looking back, I don’t think this was necessarily a good or warped ideal. I would say, however, this ideal was incomplete. Now I would add that for a family to be ideal its members should be formed to be good in the sense that they understand and fulfill their duties of state during the course of their lives using the means available, and they should be reminded that they will be held accountable before Almighty God on how well they fulfilled or failed in their duty of state.
Angelus: Was it easier to found a Christian family then?
Father: Without a doubt, it was not easy. If young adults today think it is next to impossible to find a good Catholic spouse, it was even much more difficult in the 1970s. For all practical purposes there were virtually no social venues to bring young traditional Catholics together (other than an occasional weekday Mass every once or twice a month in someone’s house). No pilgrimages, no conferences, no soccer, volleyball or basketball tournaments. Without a spouse, no founding of a family. My mother used to encourage me by reminding me to ask Our Lady, who would surely find a spouse for me. My mother was right, and Our Lady responded with the perfect spouse—the one who would help me and our children to go to heaven some day.
Angelus: What qualities did you look for in your helpmate?
Father: I looked for a young lady who took her faith seriously, who was not materialistic, was near my age (preferably younger), knew a little bit about raising a family (i.e., hopefully from a family with several siblings), and who I could beat in tennis.
Angelus: What dreams did you have regarding your children’s future?
Father: My hope was to emulate the positive things from my parents and my wife’s parents to help nurture my own family. Similarly, my hope was also to not continue certain practices from my own and my wife’s family that seemed to work against the proper nurturing of the family.
Angelus: Today, do you think that you have been able to realize your ideals?
Father: Yes, many of my ideals have been met. My oldest children have married traditional Catholic spouses and have started families of their own. One is a traditional Catholic priest. All of our children are still practicing their faith. All of these ideals are solely through the grace of God and one courageous bishop, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and the many good traditional Catholic priests that continue his work.
Angelus: Do you recall any problems you had to face as a new dad?
Father: The only thing that I distinctly remember is the sudden realization of responsibility for a helpless little baby. It was not about me anymore, or about my wife and myself. It was a sudden awareness. You grow old right away.
Angelus: Did God get it wrong by allowing for large families? Aren’t large families more difficult to run than those today typically with one or few children?
Father: God did not say “be fruitful and multiply” only if it is convenient, affordable or socially acceptable. I would say, in general, as the family grows it is definitely more difficult (physically, financially, emotionally, etc.) to run.
There are corresponding challenges to any growing society, and the family, which is the most basic society, is no exception. However, there are certain benefits that naturally arise with a growing family. What 3-year-old does not want to “help” mommy or daddy? As the children grow and mature, they certainly take the load off the parents by chipping in and helping with household chores both inside and outside the house, including taking care of the toddlers and babies, and even helping school age children with their homework.
When I was once asked “how in the world does my wife manage with nine children,” I simply replied that they weren’t all in diapers. When my wife and I went out for dinner, we were able to eventually “employ” the cheapest baby sitters we ever had—our older children. In large families, good clothes can often be handed down to an eager younger brother or sister, which helps the clothing budget. One of the hardest financial challenges for large families is sending the children to a Catholic school. My answer to this challenge is that it is certainly a huge sacrifice. But that is what God demands of all of us: sacrifice.
It is the duty of Catholic parents to see that their children are raised Catholic. On judgment day, we will be held accountable for how well or poorly we fulfilled this duty. Objectively, it seems to me if a traditional Catholic school is available, this must be seen as God’s will for traditional Catholic parents to enroll their children there even if the financial means seems inadequate. I have seen too often that God will provide no matter what the obstacles might be to those who trust in His Providence. If there is no traditional Catholic school available, then other means must be pursued to provide a traditional Catholic education to their children.
Angelus: Is it assumed that the man is the boss at home? How does he fulfill this role? How can he be a failure and leave the position?
Father: I would say in most families the man is considered the head of the house; yes, the boss. He best fulfills this role by being a leader who cares for the good of his household, both spiritual and temporal. When he fails to lead, the family will suffer.
Angelus: What value makes one really the ‘head’ of the family: the vision, the financial support, the time with the children, the direction given to Mum and kids?
Father: I think the value that makes one really the head of the family is a man’s leadership. The head is at the top of one’s body, and what goes on at the level of the head leads the rest of the body. The head has the eyes and ears to perceive, the mouth to talk matters over with others (especially the spouse and those from whom one wishes to seek counsel); the head encloses the brain to process information, evaluate, consider alternatives, and make decisions. The specific values of vision, financial support, time with the children, and direction to Mum and the kids, it seems, are all under the larger value of leadership.
Angelus: How do you define authority? How does one exercise it?
Father: For parents of a Catholic family, I would define authority as the God-given power to exercise his or her duty in a complementary fashion of nurturing, educating, and leading their children to become beneficial citizens in this world and saints in the next world. It seems to me the best way to exercise this authority is by educating one’s self on raising a family (good books, tapes, conferences, etc.) and putting the education into practice without forgetting the importance of one’s good example, perseverance, and patience.
Angelus: How does your wife see you?
Father: My wife often tells me that I’m a good Catholic father and husband. I tell her she needs to go to confession. Deep down I know her unfailing prayers and support are behind anything good that may be attributed to me.
Angelus: How do the children (all or some diversely) see you?
Father: I hope they would say what I would say about my own father, that “He was motivated by trying to do what he thought was right.” They would probably question some of my tactics and vow to exercise more patience than me when they got older and had their own families, but I don’t think they would ever question my sincerity.
Angelus: What did they consider to have been your strong point as father?
Father: I hope they would consider among any strong point they may have observed that my only real desire for them is to learn the faith, continue to grow in the faith, and die in the faith.
Angelus: How would you define the role of a father to children?
Father: I would define the role of the father to (especially younger) children as the helpmate that God gave to their mother to take care of and form them into good Catholics and citizens.
Angelus: Is he firstly a teacher, a doctor, a psychologist, a crisis manager?
Father: Again, I think his first role is a leader because if he is a leader, he will care for those under his charge in multiple ways, whether it’s in the role of a doctor, psychologist, crisis manager, etc.
Angelus: Is dad always solicited or does he have some time of rest and peace?
Father: Younger children often solicit (not much rest here). The older children seldom solicit (not much rest here either because the older children solicit with tougher—more difficult issues). There is some rest as the children fly from the nest—there needs to be because the grandchildren are the next to do the soliciting.
Angelus: Does fathering consist firstly in preserving from the world or preparing for it?
Father: I think the best answer here is that both are of extreme importance. In the early years while the child is being formed, it is imperative to preserve him or her from worldly danger much like a young child needs to be safeguarded from touching a hot stove or running into a busy street. In later years the child can be given some liberties because he or she has been both protected and prepared for certain worldly dangers.
Angelus: How much trust did you put in the SSPX priests, and did it make a difference for your family?
Father: In 1991 I went on my first Ignatian retreat preached by Society priests in Ridgefield, Connecticut. I was about 35 years of age and already had five children. At the time, our family was attending the Ruthenian (Eastern) Rite Catholic Church because there was some disagreement amongst our respective families whether the Society was, without going into details, legitimate. As a compromise, we started attending the Ruthenian Rite, were married there, and had our first five children baptized there.
Anyway, in 1991 my wife suggested an Ignatian retreat for my birthday—preached by Society priests in Ridgefield. I’d always wanted to go on a retreat but really didn’t have a clue what a retreat was like. Without a doubt, this was the most incredible experience of my life. It changed everything and, for sure, it made a huge difference for my family from this point forward. After returning home I told my wife to schedule her retreat. As important as it is for the husband/father to go on a retreat, it is also important for the wife/mother to go on a retreat so that the spouses are in harmony.
To describe an Ignatian retreat to someone who has never been on one is almost impossible. One has to experience it for oneself. I would recommend it to all Catholics and not to wait until their mid-thirties. I would recommend it to post high school and early college-aged young adults. It is the right way to get one’s public life started, especially before making big decisions, especially as it relates to one’s vocation. For those that have already started their vocation in life, it helps them re-assess one’s life and make changes where necessary. So, to answer your question, my family’s direction was greatly influenced by the Society’s priests beginning with the Ignatian retreat. The trust element grew from that point onward.
Angelus: Was there a time when you questioned some of their acts if not altogether their spiritual authority?
Father: Yes, I can say there was a time when I didn’t fully understand their acts (i.e., the consecrations by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988 and the subsequent consecration of Bishop Rangel in Campos, Brazil, in 1991 by two of the newly consecrated SSPX bishops). It seemed to me the archbishop might be suffering from some type of dementia to want to proceed with consecrating bishops without a papal mandate.
As I studied the crisis in the Church, read Michael Davies’s Apologia trilogy, and went on the above-mentioned Ignatian retreat, it became more apparent that the archbishop (together with his co-consecrating bishop, Bishop de Castro Mayer) were, in fact, the only sane bishops in the world, and their actions were, without question, motivated by their love of the Church and fulfilling their duty of state.
Angelus: Any last comments?
Father: The only comment, which is really an observation, is that I believe the next generation of fathers will be faced with challenges related to advances in technology that will inevitably work their way into the home. Each past generation has had to deal with these advances. There was the radio, then the black-and-white TV, then the landline telephone, then the color TV, then the cordless phone, then the Internet, then the cell phone, then the smart phone…
Like all advances in technology, they can be used for good purposes; but, as sure as original sin exists, the devil will find evil ways for these advances to be used with the hope of gaining more souls for hell. It will be up to the next generation of fathers to be aware of these advances and their potential harm—not only for themselves but for the impressionable souls whom God has entrusted to them.