Fatherhood means promises to keep
There's no end of advice abroad today on how to be a good father, but Washington economist and father of eight Stephen Gabriel seems to have hit on a winning formula. In this interview with MercatorNet he talks about his book, To be A Father, now in its second edition, and what 31 years of struggling to get it right have taught him.
To Be A Father
200 Promises That Will Transform
You, Your Marriage, and Your Family
By Stephen Gabriel
Paper, 4x6, 128pp | Spence Publishing Company | ISBN 1-890626-66-X | US $12.95; Online Price: $6.48
MercatorNet: It was delightful to receive your book and find a slim, pocket-sized volume with brief promises that can be taken in at a glance. What made you choose that format?
Stephen Gabriel: I think it's a hard sell to get men to read lengthy books on fatherhood. To Be a Father is meant to be short, concise, and concrete. It's something a father can sink his teeth into. In few minutes he can come away with some ideas that can improve his marriage and his family life.
MercatorNet: A second edition must mean that the first was quite popular. Have you had a lot of feedback from fathers?
Gabriel: Yes, some men have thanked me and others have begged me not to let their wives see it lest it influence their expectations of them. Seriously, I think it has been a help to a lot of men. The interesting thing is that writing a book on fatherhood has made me an instant expert on the subject. As a father in the trenches, I was engaged in the same struggles as every other father in the world. At times, I didn't feel like much of an expert. But, 20 years (now 31 years) of struggling to get it right has given me some insights into fatherhood. My book shares some of what I've learned.
MercatorNet: You have added 27 promises, bringing the number to 200. It's a lot. How are fathers meant to tackle this programme?
Gabriel: We are meant to tackle this programme one promise at a time. Fortunately, most of us fathers are not so terribly inept that we have to start from scratch on all 200 promises. We are probably doing reasonably well on a number of them already. So, it's not such an onerous feat. Yet, it's good to revisit all of them from time to time and see which ones resonate. If we are sensitive to that inner voice of accusation, we'll know what we have to work on next.
MercatorNet: Here is a promise to your wife about your family life: "I will insist on having dinner together as a family." How important has that one been to your family and how well have you succeeded?
Gabriel: That has been a very important promise. The family dinner helped us grow closer as a family. It has enabled us to stay tuned in to what is going on in each other's lives. I think we all have many happy memories of dinner together as a family. I believe we succeeded reasonable well. As you can imagine, a family of 10 active people may find it a challenge to sit down together for dinner each day. And of course, some evenings there were one or two empty chairs. But, we did make it a priority.
MercatorNet: A promise to your kids: "I will take you to help at a soup kitchen from time to time." How did that one go?
Gabriel: We did help out at a soup kitchen or visit a nursing home from time to time. We also did things like helping rake the leaves at an elderly lady's home. These corporal works of mercy were frequently done with other fathers and their kids as a church-related activity. I have to admit that I would like to have done more of this while my kids were younger. It's so good for our kids to see their dads taking time out to help someone he doesn't even know. And it can help our kids to appreciate the blessings they have.
MercatorNet: And a promise to yourself: "I will pick a job around the house that I hate doing and do it secretly." How has this made you a better father? Did your wife notice anyway?
Gabriel: I believe the role of a father is one of service. We are called to be servant leaders in the mould of Christ himself. Doing chores around the house that I don't particularly like doing is one way I can express my love for my wife and kids. That makes me a better husband and father. Sometimes my wife noticed and sometimes she didn't. The important thing is that I choose to do an unpleasant task out of love and don't make a big deal out of it.
MercatorNet: You are a practising Catholic and you are addressing, mainly, men of faith. Does a person have to be religious to see the point of your book?
Gabriel: It is true that To Be a Father is addressing men of faith. The unbeliever can, no doubt, see the point of the book. There are many promises that address the strictly human aspects of being a father. But, unfortunately, the real value of the book may be lost on them. Christian fathers want so much more for our children than for them to be merely successful, law abiding adults. We want them to understand the meaning of life. We want them to have a deep and intimate relationship with God. This is what will make them happy. The role of fathers is to lead them there through our example.
MercatorNet: Beyond all the individual promises, what is really the key to being a father today?
Gabriel: The key to being a good father today is to love our wives and children with a sacrificial love. A goal that broad is difficult to grasp and, for some, it may be so broad as to be meaningless. To Be a Father attempts to break that broad goal into smaller steps, concrete promises that, little by little, can bring us along the path of true love. We fathers just need to commit to struggle day in and day out and never give up. Looking into our children's eyes, we can see that it is worth it.
Stephen Gabriel, PhD, is the father of eight and grandfather of five. He is also a Senior Financial Economist for the United States Government in Washington. His previous book is Speaking to the Heart: A Father's Guide to Growth and Virtue.
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