“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when”
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then.
Cat’s in the Cradle, song by Harry Chapin
I wonder how many children—and let’s talk about households with the father in it —have the kind of time and relationship with their father that they really need. We can speak about this frankly. No pointing fingers, blame game, or self-flagellation. It’s about the children.
The fact is that even conscientious fathers find it difficult to make the time and the contexts for a rich relationship with their children. Many of us know this from both sides of the situation. While blame, regret and guilt are not the answer, neither is an implicit acceptance with a shrug of the shoulders. What can I do to improve—this is the question.
Yes, life is very busy. And various common aspects of our contemporary context are serious complicating factors: such as, separation of our profession from homelife, and the unnatural segmentation of life into too many areas demanding attention, to name just two. These are not challenges unique to you or me; they are endemic to our age. When we consider further endemic factors that heighten our children’s need for us while simultaneously isolating them (think, e.g., social media—even for those not ‘on it’!), there is no surprise that our children face a crisis.
A practical approach will not pretend that these challenges can be ignored or eliminated. Rather, it will ask how to make the most of our situation, mitigating negative factors to the extent possible, and especially focusing on positive things that remain in our power. Here is where the possibilities are truly exciting.
The basic contexts for us fathers really to connect with our children remain in reach if we are savvy and intentional in actualizing them. No one can do it for us, no one can replace us. We need to be systematic and consistent.
The most obvious natural context is the household meal. Perhaps its most powerful feature is its regularity. Dinner together at home can be an anchor of presence and connection—if we choose to make it such. Throwing the ball in the backyard, working together on projects, reading a book out loud, going for a walk: these are precious and powerful, but realistically they are also intermittent. Dinner together can provide a foundation and backdrop that vivifies these others, in part by saving them from feeling like dad is playing ‘catchup,’ making up for his not being around much.
Eating together is the cradle of civilization. But more to the point for us, it can be the cradle in which our relationship with our children—not to mention our spouse—takes root and flourishes. They will feel the difference today, and every day. And whether they grow up to be just like us, or not, we can make many good times, now. Together.
ANNOUNCING Dinner at Home, a series of four brief, practical videos. View all four. Become a LifeCraft member and take it as mini-course, with written reflections, resolutions, and related readings. Also, view, like and share at Youtube:
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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.
My jobhad me home by 6pm, and no traveling. We and our 5 ate dinner at the table all the time. It was terrific.
Ah, the domestic altar of the dinner table.
As our Sunday obligation anchors our weekly schedules, so the dinner table fixes order amid the tumult of our daily duties.
As the grapevine is fixed to stakes so it may grow to bear more fruit, so, too, does how we keep the feast orders the labor for a greater feast.
I raised eight children and had demanding jobs during that time and now I find the time I spent with my children was worth more then all the gold on earth. Because I spent time with them knowing God would be there, He always took care of my family and I didn’t deserve it. I published a book Tenderness Kindness Forgiveness,. the boob is about Family, Religion and Politics. But most of all how we receive favors and graces when trying to follow God’s way. I’m 80 now and you can see how God was always there for me even when I sinned.
Raymond T O’Donnell