To the good dads

(OSV News) — “Call if you need anything.” That’s how my dad said goodbye to me when my family dropped me off at college. A few hours later, as I was settling into my dorm, contemplating whether I was going to venture to the dining hall with my new roommate, my dad called. “You OK? Need anything?” After visiting a few minutes, in which he told me my mom cried most of the six-hour drive back to Lake Charles from Irving, Texas, he reiterated his instructions again. “Call if you need anything, Katie. I mean it. Call when you need.”

Not if. But when. Because he knew I’d need him.

I always have, in fact. We all do. Need our fathers. Not “if” we need them, but when.

So much of the world today tells us that fathers are dispensable. Replaceable. Unnecessary. Whether it’s the bumbling doofus of a dad in a TV show or the deadbeat no-show in a movie, or the weirdly popular belief among online Twitter personalities that dads aren’t capable of doing the most rudimentary and menial of parenting tasks, there’s a vibe in society, a chill in the air toward fathers that announces, “they aren’t needed; heck, they aren’t even here.”

And yet, time and again, the need to see good fathers, have good fathers and be loved by good fathers is evident in a broken, hurting, often fatherless world. And it’s never “if” we need good fathers but when we need them, and whether or not we have the humility to call upon them.

The popular show “Ted Lasso” (spoiler alert here) ends with the title character returning home to Kansas after three years abroad, all so he could be with his young son. After fathering a team of disjointed, talented but directionless soccer stars, transforming the football club into a Champions League team with nothing but success and rising prospects, Ted goes home to father his own child, the ultimate perfect ending to a show that, again and again, reminded viewers what happens when dads are bad, dads are good, and dads are simply part of the conversation.

So why, then, does it seem there isn’t much appreciation for fathers and fatherhood? Or, why is it that the culture frequently dismisses good dads, thinking of good fathers as the outlier rather than the norm? Is it because the “bad dads” have been portrayed too often in pop culture? Is it because, sadly, some people have had distant, aloof, checked-out fathers, so they can’t possibly fathom a good one existing? Could it be that so many have a disordered understanding of God the Father, thinking of him as a miserly tyrant issuing rules to limit our behavior rather than inviting us into a relationship with his merciful heart, that we then think of earthly fathers as mere taskmasters and duty assignors and arbiters of family rules?

I think all of the above, to be quite honest. But also, perhaps we don’t appreciate and celebrate fatherhood quite as much as we should because the good dads aren’t asking for accolades. They’re just being good dads. No fuss. No muss. They simply are good fathers, and they need no prize, applause, recognition or award. They just need a family, willing to be served, loved, cared for, protected and delighted in. The good fathers are the ones doing the fathering, not the ones complaining about the lack of appreciation they or any other fathers are getting.

In some ways, the same way there’s a humility needed to call upon good fathers, there’s a beautiful strength found in the humblest dads who go about “dadding” in unseen yet necessary ways. There’s a tender strength in the good fathers that deserves to be acknowledged. But it isn’t the acknowledgement they seek. It is more opportunities to be a good dad that the good dads hope to find.

Years ago, on my way home from running an errand early one morning, in a rush to get to work, my tire pressure light came on. I quickly pulled off into a Wendy’s parking lot and frantically called my father.

“I think I have a flat tire!” I yelled into the phone.

“Calm down, baby, I’ll be right there,” my dad calmly replied.

Within a few minutes, he arrived, pulled up in his giant Ford Excursion, popped the trunk, unloaded his tools, and set to work changing my tire.

As he worked, I asked him if I could run in to grab him a coffee or soda. Louisiana, in early September, might as well be the Sahara desert with a healthy dose of swampy air.

“Yeah, sure. My wallet’s on the front seat. Grab some cash,” he said.

“Oh, I can pay for the drinks, Dad. You’re changing my tire.”

“Don’t be silly. I pay.”

I knew not to fight him on it, so I grabbed a fiver from his wallet and planned to make the difference myself. But, as I walked past him, he quietly called out: “You best’ve grabbed a $10. Five won’t cut it. Get me the big Coke.”

Good dads. Showing up to change tires, and paying for their daughter’s coffee at the same time.

It’s a beautiful blessing to have a good father. Perhaps it’s the thing that can lead to a deeper appreciation of the love of God, our Father. And, perhaps, it’s the wound that hurts the most, when fathers are lacking, absent, distant, cold, rigid or even gone. To fathom the love of God the Father, but having never experienced good earthly fatherhood, is hard. But God the Father invites us to know him intimately, gently reminding us that he is never lacking in love or presence. He is never absent, always there for us. He is never distant, asking us to draw closer to his mercy. He is never cold, but standing in his light is warm, healing, a comfort. His rigidity is never a rod but a boundary to guide us. He is not gone. He is more present than anything or anyone else.

Perhaps the only way to heal from a father wound, or even appreciate the good fathers we’ve hopefully known, is to draw closer to God, our Father, who invites us to call him Father in the first place.

This is what I appreciate most about fatherhood, in fact. That there’s a tender strength in the father who has embraced his role in the family. That he is a servant to his children, a guide to deeper faith, a provider of guidance, material needs and necessary fun. It’s the father who has seen himself as vitally important to the culture of his family that is able to humbly, joyfully and lovingly dive into the great responsibility of loving and leading the people he’s been given.

And it’s a beautiful thing to witness a man grow into his fatherhood, to be loved and cared for by a man who has embraced this remarkable vocation, and to know that good, humble, tender fatherhood is what can change the world.

Watching my own husband become a dad, and be better and better at loving our girls and serving our family every day, challenges and inspires me to be a better mom. His fatherhood shines forth when he plays shopkeeper and restaurant with the girls, or takes them for a walk while I cook dinner. His fatherhood radiates the love of God when he gently corrects, explains or encourages our daughters to be the best version of themselves. His fatherhood sets our girls up for deep faith, as he models for them how to pray, how to look at the Lord with love and joy. I’m never more amazed at his fatherhood than when I see my husband holding our daughters at Mass, praying to the Lord as he holds the children that will help sanctify him so he can one day be with Our Lord in heaven.

This is the fatherhood to appreciate and encourage: fatherhood that seeks to humbly give, and fatherhood that we boldly proclaim our world needs to see. A world that does not hold up the good fathers will not inspire more men to embrace good fatherhood. A world without good fathers is a world that not only has no one to come and change their daughters’ flat tires but is also a world without men and women who cannot fathom the love of God the Father, who always shows up to provide for us.

So here’s to the good dads. May we have them, celebrate them, love them, be loved by them and pray for more of them.

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Katie Prejean McGrady is a speaker, author, and host of “The Katie McGrady Show” on the Catholic Channel on SiriusXM. She lives in Louisiana with her husband, daughters and a grumpy old dog, working on podcasts (“Ave Explores” and the OSV Original podcast “Like a Mother”), writing and occasionally traveling to share the Gospel.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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