I wish I could say I had “one” lesson that is most important to me as a dad and husband. The lessons, at least for me, are many and unending! The minute I feel like I have one lesson down here comes another one. From the moment I said, “Yes,” to my wife twenty years ago, until now, I’ve been learning lessons. Over the sixteen years since we brought our first of four children home from the hospital, I’ve been learning lessons. Many of these lessons have been simple (how to change a diaper or help with math homework) but admittedly many of them have been difficult and complicated (dealing with fear, failure, and control). I wish there was a manual on being a great husband, but I haven’t found one! I’ve searched for a step by step guide about how to be an amazing dad and haven’t discovered that one, either.
We all know that the job of being a husband and father is hard; maybe the most difficult job we will ever do. Yet more than hard, it’s by far the most important job we will ever have. Jesus makes it clear what is important in our lives. He tells us in all three of the synoptic Gospel (Matt, Mark, Luke), “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself (Luke 9:25)?” I believe for us, as husbands and fathers, the most important thing we are entrusted with is our family. When I study this verse from scripture I see it through the lens of my primary Vocation as a husband and dad. I read it this way; “What profit is it for husbands and fathers to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit his family?” It sounds like a strong statement, but really this is what we are created for; we are made to be husbands and dads. We’ve all been given gifts and talents. We’ve figured out how to make money and do our jobs. But the thing we are created for…the thing that is most important…the thing that is written into our DNA as men, is to be husbands and fathers. Yet, as much as this is written into our hearts, it’s not easy and we can often feel like we are falling short.
I’d like to mention one of the important things I’ve learned, and something I see that keeps men from being the father and husband they are created to be.
Don’t allow regret to define you
The first time I can vividly remember regret hitting me square in the face was when I began dating my future wife. I had experienced regret before, had made mistakes in my life up to that point (and since). And often, I wish I could have done some things differently, better or not at all. But I had moved on from those failures, asked forgiveness and thought regret was in the rearview mirror; until I fell in love with Gretchen. I thought, “why is this coming up again, and why now?” Then it became apparent why regret was creeping back in the picture. It was because I was in love, really in love; and the reality that my past, present and future choices would effect someone I love, hit me hard. Regret was staring me in the face, dragging me down and pulling me to a place I didn’t need to go. Regret was defining me and reminding me of who I’m not.
We all have regret. Regret is human and none of us are void of being human. Regret is the feeling of loss, disappointment, dissatisfaction, remorse, fault, or act of sorrow from the past. We can all make a list of regrets in our lives! Yet, regret doesn’t just linger in the past it has the ability crop up in the present and to define us if we begin to identify with what we’ve done or what we do instead of who we are!
Regret also has the ability to steal our joy and peace as husbands and fathers. Why?
Regret is even more powerful when we it affects the people we love the most. We can regret getting in an argument with someone at work and saying things we shouldn’t; but we can make amends and move on. Yet we have an argument with our wife or kids and say something we shouldn’t, the pain cuts deeper. We see the affect our words and actions have on them. We can regret not spending time with a friend, but missing a date with our spouse or missing a kids ballgame or dance recital hurt much more; especially if our excuse is, work. When we fail as a husband and father our tendency is to retreat, back away, and become detached. Just as Adam in the Book of Genesis stood idly in the shadows as his wife Eve faced the enemy, so too, do we tend to fade away when we have wronged someone we love. Regret pushes us to the fringes and keeps us on the sidelines. But, this is not who God calls us to do. We are not defined by Adam’s mistake, nor or we defined by our mistakes. We aren’t called to be bystanders in our own story!
I find that regret paralyzes us and spins us into a pattern of fatherhood we aren’t made for, a pattern that allows regret to determine our future as dads and husbands. Regrets push us into the past and allows us to be defined by our mistakes, and they can determine our future, too. Just as the enemy trapped Adam and Eve into regret, the enemy seeks to do the same to us. Sometimes I mess up and have regrets as a husband and father, but those mess-ups aren’t who I am. I’m the first to admit that I’ve said things I wish I could take back, but that’s not who I want to be. I’m the first to say that I’ve missed out on time with my family, but that’s not how I want to keep living. I know that my record as a “perfect husband and father,” is nonexistent, but those things can’t and don’t define who I am. God has made me and you for much more.
Saint John Paul II states, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us.” Our future as husbands and fathers starts each day by allowing our identity to be found in God not in our regret. He alone defines who we are. We aren’t the sum of our past mistakes or current patterns of behavior. We aren’t even the sum of our successes. We are the sum of God’s love for us; and our identity is found in knowing who we are in Him. He’s calling us out of the margins and wants to write a new story for us as husbands and fathers!
1. Confess - The first major hurdle for getting rid of regret is coming to grips with our mistakes. Confess your sins to God! Adam eventually took a step out of the shadows of being hidden and reconciled with God. We too must take the bold and frequent step of reconciling our hearts back to God. God searches for us and longs to be in relationship with us. Scripture says, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” Jesus came to reconcile us back to God, and through His death and resurrection, we are set free. Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness continues today through the Sacrament of Reconciliation where He heals, restores, loves and forgives us. We are invited as husband and fathers to bring our failings and all that we are and leave them at the cross of Jesus so we can experience His healing mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
2. Ask - Authentic reconciliation leads to action. Ask for forgiveness! This is why we are given penance during confession. A sorrowful and repentant heart is moved to action…to change! It is important for us as husbands and fathers to ask our spouse and our kids to forgive us when we fail them. This is a true exercise in ridding us of our pride; but the fruit of humility is essential to being the man God wants you to be. I apologize often and I find that when I humble myself and admit to my wife and kids that I’m wrong, they are more forgiving of me than I am of myself. St. Paul personally asked the people of Corinth to forgive him. “Forgive me this wrong! Now I’m ready to come to you this third time,” he said (2 Co12:13-14). I believe that after the words “I love you, “I’m sorry,” are the most important words we can speak to our family.
3. Deal - Ridding ourselves of regret requires real change; and for us, as men, it asks us to make important decisions. Deal with repetitive behavior! As I was preparing to get married I was not only faced with regret, but I knew I had patterns of behavior that required change. I confessed. I asked forgiveness. Now it was time for a new way of living. I sought out counseling, wisdom from mentors and surrounded myself with Godly friends. These things helped me change old behaviors and figure out new ones. It was hard. It took time. But it was necessary. Don’t be afraid to face your challenges head on. Be proactive. If you regret the the lack of time you have with your family, make changes, real changes, in your schedule. If you deal with anxiety, stress or depression, seek help for it. As men we are asked to fight the battle for our families; yet, the fight starts with us, me and you…allowing the battles within ourselves to be won so I can help fight the battles for our family. “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God (Mark 10:27).”
4. Be - Too many men today are wandering the planet looking for meaning, purpose and identity. Be defined by God! God alone satisfies a man’s heart. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated. How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you. God alone satisfies (CCC 1781).” Our true identity as men is found in God. He alone satisfies, and He alone identifies us. If we don’t allow ourselves to be identified by Him, we will be identified by someone or something else. When our identity is found in being a son of God, it’s a game-changer! St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” The world we are first charged with setting on fire is the world in our homes.
5. Never - I’ve gotten stuck in the trap that it’s too late to change or make a difference. Never is it too late to be the husband or father God made you to be! If you’ve had a bad day, a bad week, a bad year or a bad twenty years, it’s not to late to start over. We can own up to those mistakes and the reality of the damage done. But our wives and kids, no matter what age, are still waiting for dad to take his rightful place. Don’t get caught in the trap of it’s too late; because it’s never too late to start anew. St. Paul said, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold new things will come (2Co 5:17).”
Be who God made you to be. Be his son and be the husband and father he made you to be.