[Adapted from a letter written by Peter who has been a true father and mentor to me. This letter was sent to a younger dad and shared with me. In this Year of Faith it is a template for all Father’s seeking to evangelize their children.]
Happy and blessed Christmas!
I hope you and yours will have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!
I think of you often, especially since, judging by the number of conferences you go to and are influential in, I've been there and done that that, but it's incredibly hard to balance all of that with being a good husband and father. Good luck with that! No matter what anyone says, career and family is always a high-wire performance.
Overall I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people. But today I'm interrupting my work to pass on a tip, something that happened in our family accidentally, but that I believe is important for fathers. I do hope you don’t mind or think I'm telling you what to do. But I am convinced that this trick is certainly a key factor in why all my adult children are still open to the church, even if some are not solidly connected.
We always had a problem with the whole wacked-out "let's-protect-our-children-from-the-world" so common among many families.
As Catherine Doherty said at one point, and I am paraphrasing, "It is not right for the parents to choose poverty and impose that on their children -- they will grow to hate the Church!"
The flip side of that was obviously "It is not right for the parents to choose riches and impose that on their children -- they will grow to hate the Church!"
What to do as a father?
I was pondering that for quite some time when, one year at Christmas, Catherine had to go out for an afternoon to do errands in preparation for the 27 people expecting to be fed at our Christmas feast (I never figured out why they criticized us, to our face, for having so many children when we were so poor, but never offered to pay for anything they ate at the feast -- I guess I'm still an innocent on some things!).
Anyway, Catherine was out and what to do with six kids aged 14 to 2 years old?
Religion is a way of living, a community thing, long before it's an idea or Catechism thing, or way of thinking, and yes we could do some more cleaning, or, we could do something else ... but what? Cleaning, teaching, fatherhood, leadership, kids 25 years from now, what to do?
Anyway, because of all the kids we always had rolls of newsprint in the house -- 11 inches by 500 feet or something similar. Inspiration hit me -- the solution had to do with the newsprint, but weirdly enough I had no idea what the solution might be. So I got the newsprint roll and rolled it out across the kitchen and dining room. Still didn't know what I was doing, but Dad messing the place up attracted attention from everyone. "Dad, what are doing?" Still had no idea what was going on, but this is what came out of my mouth "Do you guys know the Christmas Story?" Some said yes, some looked bored, so I said "There are animals in the story! Let's draw it! Somebody get me a pencil or a crayon!"
So I got down on my hands and knees and drew out the Christmas story, including the animals. The kids didn’t like my rendition of the donkey and people and so "improved" them (I'm terrible at drawing ... "DAD! Donkeys have four legs!").
Anyway, we did it again for Easter, and again for the next Christmas and again for the next Easter.
By then Tina was sixteen and we never did it again, for reasons you cannot understand until you've had a sixteen year old girl in the house.
So, what did the kids get out of all that?
1. Dad never gets down on the floor to draw things for us. This story must be really important.
2. It's a story, more than an idea or an entry in a catechism. Stories are more important than anything.
3. Dad may have gotten the story wrong, but that's OK. It's a story and interesting and I'll get it right someday.
4. The story is a communal story -- it's part of our family story and we fit in with the story as individuals and as a family.
5. I can tell the same story to my kids.
6. Going to Church is about stories, and stories are more important than anything because stories make sense of the world.
7. Church is relevant and is always relevant, it has something to do with the story. Hey! This Sunday they said something about that story that Dad drew for us ... must be worth listening to closely.
8. etc. etc. etc.
Anyway, I think it was one of the top five best things I ever did to teach the faith, and not "my" faith but the "Faith", to my kids. It made them open to the capital "F" "Faith" and the possibility of making it their own. I think many parents misunderstand this aspect of passing on the "Faith" ... you as the parent simply cannot pass it on to your kids. What you can pass on is the openness to your kids appropriating the "Faith" and making it their own.
And drawing pictures on the floor is an incredibly effective way of doing that.
I have no idea why I told you this today. Probably never will. Maybe so you could pass it onto someone else?