My son Caleb insists on calling me “dad.” He used to call me “daddy,” but recently it’s just “dad.” I knew there would come a day when he was too cool to call me “daddy.” I had hoped it would come much later than 2 years old.
Don’t misunderstand me, being called “dad” is the greatest privilege of my life.
And the privilege goes beyond the title. This morning I was trimming my mustache over the sink. Caleb stood there and watched my every move. “Ow, dad. Hurts your face?” “No, Caleb, daddy’s not hurt.” Of course, I decided not to leave hair in the sink. My son was watching and I didn’t want him to think it was ok to leave a mess for someone else. He does the same with Mom. I’m constantly amazed at how much of her I see in him, both in appearance and manner. He watches everything we do, listens to everything we say, and copies it. By the way, I never realized how much we must say “no” and “mine.”
I only say this half joking. I know it’s natural for a toddler to claim everything as “mine” and reply to every request or command with “no.” But I also recognize that some of my own bad habits are already being passed to him. It puts pressure on me (in a good way) to better myself and be worthy of the title “dad.” If the universal call to holiness weren’t enough of a reason to be a better version of me, the fact that my son is watching and learning certainly is. I hope the Mom and Dad he sees love God with their whole being and love their neighbor as themselves. I hope he sees Dad and Mom loving and honoring each other in word and deed. I hope he sees us owning up to mistakes and seeking forgiveness when needed. Most especially, I pray that it could never be said of us, “Do what Mom and Dad say but not what they do.”
The readings this weekend talk about spiritual fatherhood and motherhood. There are many people who lead us to Jesus. Our mother and father may have been the first, but many others followed: grandparents, godparents, priests, deacons, religious, parents of friends, religious education teachers, peers etc. None of these people are perfect. The hope is that we see past imperfection to the truth being offered to us. But we shouldn’t count on that. Being a spiritual leader comes with responsibility. I can’t expect Caleb to listen to my words when my actions don’t correspond. And I can’t expect anyone to whom I’m a spiritual father to heed my words and not my deeds.
The reality is that there will be times when I don’t follow my own advice. Jesus and Saint Paul give us a way to remedy this. To be true leaders we must be servants. Our actions must be guided by love, gentleness, and humility.