“Let me live here ever;
So rare a wonder’d father and a wise
Makes this place Paradise.”
Shakespeare, The Tempest
*Video below: 4 Tips for Men at Home*
Our current situation is unprecedented in the last century, perhaps more, in several ways. It is an utterly unique opportunity for fathers to say ‘yes’ to their fatherhood, and for society to choose to reinvest in life in the home.
Here I will not directly address the corona virus and the spreading infections. With prayers for all those infected or affected, in a special way for those on the front lines in addressing this crisis, I turn to reflect on a dramatic collateral effect: that in great numbers, families are now at home together.
We all have a civic duty to participate in addressing the serious public health situation caused by the spread of the corona virus. For many of us, staying home will be an essential part of what we do. This means that at levels unprecedented in any of our lives, husbands and wives and fathers and mothers will be at home together with their children for whole days, for an extended length of time. Any way we look at this, it will be a challenge. It is also a gift, and the opportunity of a lifetime.
If we re-examine and re-invest in our home life during this crisis, who knows? Perhaps one day many people—especially children—will be able to look back on this time and find that despite the fear, the suffering, and the tragic sickness and deaths, this was a time of a life-changing blessing. It was when their home really came back to life. Maybe it was when they really discovered their father.
I will focus here on men and fatherhood, leaving for another consideration the essential and astounding role of motherhood.
Shakespeare’s Ferdinand mouths an unforgettable testimony to the power of true fatherhood—its unique role as a cause of happiness, as making most any place, any home, a paradise.
But many of us men find ourselves suddenly face to face with some hard realities: am I able to work remotely? if so, then how many hours and which hours do I work, and where in the house? if I’m out of work temporarily, do I look for other work, but how? what about my wife and children who are facing a similar jolt to their lives—what can I and should I do to accommodate their needs and desires? The list goes on.
Perhaps the hardest reality we must face now is that we are not yet the husband and the father we want to be, or even thought we were.
At root, being a father is a gift to be received. And to be given. It is also a choice: a choice we can make again and again. Starting today. Sometimes starting over. It is not too late.
I would like to suggest a few principles that can act as a basic guide for addressing the challenges for men now at home in the household.
1. Start with a good attitude and a vision of the big picture.
My attitude will be key in giving the overall tone in the home. By it I can convey to my family: We’ve got this. We’re in this together. In fact, this can even be a gift. This can strengthen us because it moves us to remember the most important things: our faith, our love for one another, and our commitment to live well in all circumstances of life.
So as husband and father, my confidence and conviction can be a life-giving cornerstone. I can keep informed, and exercise careful foresight in protecting ourselves and our loved ones, and aiding those in need, all the while assiduously avoiding fear-mongering and woe-is-me. I must remember that fear and discouragement can be more contagious than germs, since they can be projected by inner feelings and by words.
As the concerns and pressures are real, I will need to remind myself and check my attitude regularly. This too shall pass, and we can thrive and grow through it. By feeling this, saying this, and living this, I pattern it for my loved ones. I can truly lead, and be a man. Now is the time, beginning at home.
2. Choose to live with and for my wife more than ever.
Start with her; listen to her. Plan together. She might be worried. I can be her rock, as she can be mine. Don’t let anything divide us now. Yes, there will be flareups, disagreements, and tension. As always, a true friendship can bend and sway. Don’t let it break. Ask forgiveness, and offer forgiveness. We can be a team. No, rather we can be a married couple, like never before. Now is the time.
3. Choose again to be a father, being present to my children more than ever before.
Whatever I have done up to this point, I can start again. It’s not that I show up and pretend everything is great. I can tell them I love them now more than ever, and I want to be here with and for them, more than ever.
I must be vulnerable. I can tell them that even now I’m not quite sure how to do it. But I’m willing to keep trying. We can find a way to live together in close quarters, and be creative about how to do it, while turning to time-tested forms of living together. (Which brings us to the final suggestion…)
4. Schedule blocks of time for various essential things.
Here is where good intentions are given flesh and made real. This is where we show them we mean what we say. We can be hard-nosed and practical, according to the situations of our own households. Over-committing is not the answer. There is a plan that fits for each us. Here are five things that should have some place in any plan.
a) Professional Work. Economic necessity might demand many hours of tending to my profession. I should give it the time it requires, but not more, scheduling it carefully. Then when it’s done, it’s done. My professional work should not hover over each moment of the day. I must try to give my best energy, my best time, to being with the family.
b) Wife time. This is essential in our common life. Maybe it’s just in the evening after children have gone to bed, or first thing in the morning. My wife needs to know that these minutes are precious to me, that ours is always a joint-life, and that she ever has my ear.
c) Meals. Eating together is the most obvious, concrete way that we live together each day. It calls for my being intentional. Can I take two meals together with family? Maybe three; at least one. I can reinvest in these meals as sacred time, time set apart for the family. I have the opportunity right now to rediscover the joy of ritual, appropriate formality, family traditions, and serving others through cooking and doing dishes.
d) Household Work. Household work is a challenge. It’s also an art and a treasure. In these home-bound days I need to be creative. What one or two work projects can I undertake with the family? Start a garden this year? Landscape and improve the yard? Build a bird feeder? Rearrange and redecorate rooms? Organize the basement? Cook together? A key will be taking the lead myself; it often makes all the difference.
e) Real Leisure. Leisure too is a challenge, sometimes even more than work. It can make me vulnerable as I wonder whether people will enjoy it. Unlike mere entertainment, real leisure takes cultivation. This in itself is an important life lesson. We learn that the richer things in life are worth the effort we must put into them.
Prayer time is the ground for all leisure, as culture is rooted in cult. Reading together and story times are an irreplaceable bond, and font of shared life. Listening to great music, or making music by singing or instruments (even when not so great) is healing and nourishing for the soul. Games don’t always turn out as we hoped, but they offer life lessons in addition to real fun. And again, in each of these, my taking the lead will be, if not the assurance of success, at least a uniquely powerful and fruitful gift I give the whole household.
The principles enunciated here are probably things we already know. They are the stuff our life can be made of. My purpose is to suggest that an utterly unique opportunity has presented itself to us, though in a menacing and difficult guise. We have been forced into a situation that calls us to re-focus on the essentials of life, especially in the home. Today we can start again to receive the gift and to offer the gift, of being a father in my household.
HERE IS MY VIDEO.
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.