God bless Catholic women. If not for the dedicated efforts of millions of women - married and single, professed and cloistered, young and old -- our Church would be a shadow of what it is today. Women fill 80 percent of the parish positions. They are the overwhelming majority of volunteers. They catechize the next generation.
Yet our Church's reliance on women to keep the whole enterprise on track and moving forward can belie the critically important role of men, particularly dads, in handing on a strong Catholic identity to the next generation.
A growing body of research is stressing the importance of dad when it comes to passing on the faith to children and increasing the likelihood that they will practice their faith in adulthood.
Dad research is just now starting to attract attention. Fathers who are present and engaged in their children's lives are more likely to produce happy, well-adjusted sons and daughters with a strong sense of self-worth and identity, and research shows, better odds according to almost every social indicator.
But research is also showing that one of the great determinants of what it takes to be a successful dad is whether he practices his faith. Indeed, recent research suggests that if dad practiced his faith before he had children, he is much more likely to be actively engaged in his children's lives after they are born.
In a 2007 study, Richard J. Petts found that men who became more religious after their children were born did not have a significant improvement in their levels of engagement. Men who got less religious after their children were born were more likely to divorce the mothers and play a diminished role.
Other studies suggest that whether the father practices his faith in front of his children is the greatest determinant of whether his children retain religious beliefs when they themselves become adults.
No pressure, dads, but this is one responsibility you can't delegate. If you want your children to grow close to the Lord and to keep their faith, then you have to live it in front of them. Kids need to see their dads at Mass -- participating, not counting the change or having a smoke outside. Kids need to see their dads praying with the family, even if it is only grace at meals. Kids need to see their dads practicing what they preach, though we think they also need to hear their dads preach on occasion also.
It is not easy being a dad these days. Sitcoms turn them into idiots. Pop culture and biotechnology seem to make them extraneous to the whole parenting process. Society has made it easier and easier for dads to walk away from their responsibilities. Statistics suggest that more than half of all U.S. children will live apart from their fathers at some point during their childhood.
But faith offers a lot to fathers. Dads who practice their faith have stronger, happier marriages and deal with stress better, as well as have closer relationships with their kids.
Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz suggests that the greatest gift a father can give his children is to show them that he loves their mother. This is a source of great security. But it is just as important that the father shows his kids that he loves God and he loves his Catholic faith.
This Father's Day, let's give a cheer for dads: May they nurture the seeds of faith, hope and love in the hearts of their sons and daughters.
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