A precious waste of time

On most nights at our house, despite the occasional protest from our boys who would rather eat in front of the television, we still sit around the dinner table as a family. Call us old-fashioned.

Grant, our 9-year-old, sits (I’m using that word very loosely) at the head of the table. Clockwise sits my beautiful, devout wife; Olivia, our pious, sweet 12-year-old; then me; and lastly Jacob, the 5-year-old. Generally during dinner, Dominic, the 2-month-old, sways happily nearby in his swing.

The other night, after our usual “what happened today at school?” chat, my wife asked us all to think about what we want to do (or give up) this year for Lent, which is rapidly approaching. She had two ideas: 1.) We give up television; Netflix, DVDs — all of it; 2.) We stop yelling.

The first would be a piece of cake for Erin and me. I don’t think we’d miss the binge-watching marathons of mindless Disney shows that the kids have seen over and over again.

But the second option, not yelling? That would be borderline impossible. In fact, as we were sitting around the table just talking about not yelling, I’ll bet I yelled at the two older boys 15 times. And it’s the same most nights. If I compiled an album of my greatest hits, here would be the track titles:

  1.       “You have a chair, use it”
  2.       “Leave your baby brother alone”
  3.       “That isn’t burnt; they’re grill marks”
  4.       “Macaroni and cheese isn’t finger food”
  5.       “Seriously, sit down”
  6.       “If you ask me again ‘how many bites?’ I’ll make you eat the whole thing”
  7.       “You liked it the last time we made it”
  8.       “Wipe your hands on your pants again and see what happens”
  9.       “The baby can’t try your spaghetti”

While I love my kids very much, I don’t know if I have it in me to ask them, very politely, “Son, pretty please, for the 10th time tonight, sit nicely at the table, if you wouldn’t mind.”

So, we’re looking at a month and a half of no TV.

And then I read what Pope Francis told his general audience at the Vatican this week. In his latest in a series of talks on the family, he focused on the role of fathers. But it was more than that; he called us out.

“When children feel neglected by fathers who focus only on their problems, on their work or their own personal realization, this creates a situation of orphans in the children and youth of today, who live disoriented, without the good example or prudent guidance of a father.”

I think (I hope) I’m a good example to my kids, and I know I provide guidance (especially at the dinner table). Ducking and weaving like a defensive boxer, I was able to dodge that jab thrown by the pope. Arrogantly, I said, “I don’t think he’s talking about me.”

And then he landed a knockout punch.

When he was in Buenos Aires, he would ask fathers if they played with their kids, “if they had the courage of love to waste their time with their children.”

That comment hit home and knocked me to the ground. As much as I tried to examine myself and my role as a father, my priorities, and as much as I tried to justify being tired after work or having a lot to do around the house, it made me think, “What’s more important? My kids or those dirty dishes; my kids or checking Facebook; my kids or my fantasy football team?”

I’m tremendously lucky. My wife pointed out the other day how excited our kids get when I pull into the driveway each afternoon. And I’m excited, too. I miss them while I’m at work. I get and give hugs as soon as I walk in the door.

And then I spend the rest of the night shooing them away and telling them to be quiet.

So this Lent, though I’ll try to do it less, I’m going to continue yelling. And while the TV is turned off, I’m going to play with them more, laugh with them more. I’m going to have, as Pope Francis put it, the courage of love to waste time with them.

Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.