Everything is Better When Dad's Around
There's a story that my parents like to tell about my sister Michelle when she was about three or four years old. We grew up in Denver, and we would drive by horse ranches that seemed randomly placed inside the city. Sitting in the back of the station wagon in her car seat with Dad driving and Mom seated next to him, Michelle was looking out the window and decided to share that she really wanted to see some horses. My mom's answer to her was honest and simple: “Oh, honey. We aren't going to drive by the horses this time." Michelle's response was even simpler: "Daddy find horsey."
In our family we grew up that way; Dad was the hero. We would exclaim, “Look at Dad's muscles!” Dad was always the one to put us to bed at night. He would scoop us up in his arms, tickle us until we couldn't breathe, and then drop us into our beds. This would happen every night until we were too big for him to carry us. Dad was always the tallest, he came to the rescue when we were injured, and he got angry when someone hurt or scared us. He taught my brothers Mark and Matt how to care for women, specifically their sisters, and he taught Michelle and I how to accept love and demand respect.
Fast forward to the fall of 2010. I had just recently moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, a city within the Diocese of Phoenix, to serve the students at Northern Arizona University as the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) Team Director. I loved my job, but part of the reason was that I loved my chaplain, Fr. Matthew Lowry. Fr. Lowry and I got along as peers, since we were of similar age. But we also got along because we shared the same temperament, and, praise the Lord, we often shared the same Holy Spirit-inspired ideas. He truly understood what it meant to not just serve as the priest at the Newman Center in a dilapidated brick building on the edge of campus, but to be the spiritual father to the students. He once said to me, "Everything is better when Dad's around." And I saw the full weight and truth of that statement. He was, and is to this day, Dad to the students, all the students. When he would visit students in the hospital, his presence would be an immediate source of comfort. He would receive text messages late in the evening and respond with simple messages of peace, hope and love. He taught the men how to be men, and invited the women to accept love. He is Dad.
I have also always been blessed to be under a great bishop. My earliest years were under Cardinal James Stafford while he was in Denver. In high school and college, I had the honor of knowing Archbishop Charles Chaput. My first assignment with FOCUS was in Kansas City, Missouri, where I served under Bishop Robert Finn. Since I moved to Arizona, I've had the honor to serve with and know Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares. I don't know anybody who could say they've had a better experience with bishops. They have always cared personally about me, been approachable, remembered the names of those they've met, and done what they could to feed their flocks. These bishops have experienced the fullness of fatherhood, and they've done their best to nurture and teach their children. They've taken to heart the example of St. John Paul II, seen the Church as their family, and discipled their people.
In the world today, we are seeing a shift from “parent” to “friend.” We see parents who are more motivated to stop a child from crying than to teach a child to self-soothe. We see parents who are more ready to blame a teacher for a failing grade because the child simply thinks that his teacher hates him and therefore thinks he can’t turn homework in to someone who is going to fail him anyway. We also see this shift among certain priests: "Just call me Andrew, no need for formalities." (I always respond, "Ok, Fr. Andrew!") We see some priests who view their clerical collars as burdens instead of as symbols of hope. We see some who desire to befriend instead of father.
Some of our bishops have found themselves in the same predicament. Perhaps we are attempting to stop the hemorrhage of people leaving the Church by letting go of what actually makes us who we are. There are thousands of people who believe that there is inequality between the sexes in the Church because they are missing what it truly means to be a priest called Father, how desperately we need Father where he is and mother where she needs to be. The call to fatherhood is a call to all men that transcends. Just as my own dad was called to be a man in my family who protected, taught and led, all men are asked to do the same. When I see holy priests like Fr. Matthew Lowry who take seriously this mission to father, I am reminded of my own father. Because everything is better when Dad’s around.
Amanda Poffel serves as the Coordinator of the New Evangelization at St. Timothy's Parish in Mesa, Arizona. She also blogs at www.mandapoffel.com.