I was 11 months old when I, and about a dozen other orphans, exited an airplane at Detroit Metro Airport carried by chaperones. I had travelled nearly 7,000 miles from South Korea to join my new family. Prior to my adoption, I had been left at a door in a small Korean village, wrapped in a blanket with a scrap of paper pinned to my shirt with my name and birthdate scrawled on it. I spent the next eight months in a nearby orphanage before making the journey to the U.S.
On the day of my arrival, my mom worried that she wouldn’t know which baby was me. “I’ll know,” my dad told her. “She’s our daughter. I’ll know her when I see her.” And he did.
On that joyful day at the airport, my dad didn’t recognize any particular physical feature of mine as a likeness to his own genetics. He recognized in me a deeper sense of connection; he saw love. My dad poured his heart into raising my younger brother and me to know our faith. He modeled for us what it means to be a spiritual father and a faithful Christian in everything he did. In fulfilling his vocation as husband and father, my dad took on the role of spiritual father within our little domestic church.
We see examples of fathers in Scripture, from Adam to St. Joseph. We hear the stories of their sacrifices, their failings and how God worked in their lives. Like my own father, their role was not limited to a biological one. They served as spiritual fathers.
Spiritual fatherhood in the domestic church is the daily sacrifice of one’s own desires for the good of one’s family. As I reflected on this gift in my own life, I identified four areas where spiritual fatherhood shaped my life as a Christian woman and mother. My dad lived out these ideals in a way that formed me growing up, and now that I’m married with my own family, I see them lived out in my husband’s role as a spiritual father to our children.
Individual and communal prayer on the part of a father has a lasting impact on children. Daily prayer with family was part of my life growing up and it is now one of my favorite experiences as a parent. It brings us together amidst the busyness of our days and invites our children to bring their praise and their worries before the Lord. Witnessing my dad’s discipline of personal prayer impacted how my brother and I developed our own spirituality as adults.
“Showing up to the Church stuff”
My dad made it a priority to be there for Mass on Sundays, holy days and all the important formation activities offered at our parish. Studies show that the attendance of a father at church heavily influences whether his children will attend church as adults. When I see my sons imitate my husband at Mass, or the excitement in their eyes when it’s Dad’s turn to volunteer as hall monitor at Faith Formation, it fills me with joy.
When my husband first came into the Church six years ago, he wanted to learn as much as he could about the faith, both for his personal enrichment and for our children. He wanted them to feel confident coming to him with faith questions. My father does this as well. Even today, the table that holds his Bible always includes a book about a saint, the Church or the Catholic faith.
Faith questions rarely come up when we expect them; rather our kids share and ask in conversations, typically over a meal. My husband recognizes that we won’t always know how to respond in the moment, but he works with me later to find the answer. I love those shared moments spent with my husband chatting, researching and framing a response to the question specifically for the child who asked. They help me grow in appreciation for the gift of my spouse, his faith and the opportunity to learn together.
Spiritual fatherhood is the love of your children as well as your spouse. It is showing that to the world and encouraging your children to do the same. This can be a sacrifice, putting aside what you want, for the good of your family. Sometimes it looks like working late and waking early the next morning to make it to Mass on time. Other times it’s offering spontaneous prayer after a bad dream. It can be as simple as putting away the smartphone to build a blanket fort or helping a neighbor with their yard work. It’s showing up for Mass every week, answering the tough questions and working with your spouse. Spiritual fatherhood is love in action, informed by one’s love for Christ.
Spiritual fatherhood will look different for each family, as our individual charisms, personality traits and life experiences shape how we live out our faith. We have role models from Scripture, the communion of saints, and often within our own lives. As Father’s Day approaches, I offer prayers of gratitude and praise for the gifts of spiritual fatherhood that have impacted my life and the lives of my children. To experience our Heavenly Father’s love through my own father and my husband is a gift that regularly inspires me in my vocation as a wife and mother.