I’m a dad with six kids. You’d probably think that’s enough to be able to write about Father’s Day. To be honest, I still think I have a lot to learn.
I met my wife Claire while living abroad in Malta and we relocated to Australia in 2013 with our two boys, a 2-year-old and a nine-month-old. We soon found ourselves living in Lake Macquarie. We were 3 hours’ drive away from my family and half a world away from Claire’s family. And we were learning to parent two little boys in a new home and a new community.
I think like most new parents, we learnt by doing. Parenting is very much a responsive relationship. Often through trial and exploration, we found that our children were the ones guiding us to meet their needs. A lot of times, we’d be completely off the mark – making mistakes, getting frustrated and finding ourselves on the verge of desperation. The saving grace in these times was the community that we found ourselves in. The care and support that they showed us, in many ways, became the model for our own parenting. Other mums and dads were becoming a part of our lives and that circle became bigger when we started attending playgroups, pre-schools and eventually ‘big school.’ As the old saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Perhaps even more than that, it takes a village to grow a family – parents included! There is an art to accompanying young parents and helping them realise their potential. I am grateful for those who have accompanied me.
Looking back on those early days of parenting, I can now appreciate the gift of other dads (and mums!) around me. I often found myself asking the tricky questions around certain aspects of fatherhood and being genuinely interested in the answers. I began to watch other dads – how they interacted with their wives and children – began reflecting on my life as a dad. What kind of father was God calling me to be? What example am I setting my children? Am I sharing my gifts as a father not just with my own family, but with the community and with other families as well?
As I learnt from others and began to share of myself in return, I discovered that there is much joy in being on the journey together. We weren’t meant to take on the responsibilities of parenthood in isolation. I began to look forward to the Sunday gatherings of community where others could share in the unfolding story of our family and in return we got to share in the lives of others. When there were other families gathered there too, we found joy in knowing that the children our kids played with were the ones they had just prayed with. Life was being shared. Blessings and challenges were being shared.
There is another dimension to this journey as well. As I grew as a parent, my understanding of God changed. Every time I found myself looking upon one of my children and feeling that natural affection – I got a glimpse of the supernatural love that God has for me. And it has nothing to do with what I have done (or haven’t done). God loves me just because. As I built a relationship with each of my children - marvelling at their uniqueness, their joy at discovering the world, holding them through their difficult nights, and the inevitable clash of wills – I realised that God wanted that kind of relationship with me! God wants to accompany me just as a parent does! I found myself wanting to share more of my life, more of my story, with God. And then I found myself wanting to share life and story with others too.
As we begin to journey in this post-lockdown world, I see many new opportunities to accompany young families within our communities. Pope Francis calls us to practice this art of accompaniment in all walks of life. The one gift that our Church has in abundance is the gift of relationship – the sharing of life and story. It is something our world is hungry for at this time in history. We are being called to come alongside others and share in their journeys - wherever they may be heading.