Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Fathers model God’s love

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the June 8, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Ordinary Time begins the day after Pentecost and continues until Advent. One of the first holidays to arrive is Father’s Day, but fathers are anything but ordinary. In fact, as most Catholic children grow up with the image of God as Father, their own fathers often form their first image of God.

John, a middle-aged father of three says, “That was true for me. My father was rigid, strong on discipline and somewhat distant. That was my first image of God. On the positive side, he was fair, just and consistent. On the negative, I believed that I would be loved if I pleased him, if I obeyed all the rules.”

No earthly father can approach the perfection of God. But fathers can attempt to model through their relationship with their children the love of God. It is a love that includes both justice and mercy. Parents may find themselves falling into habits that are either too authoritarian or too permissive. What children need is not the rigidity of a brick wall, nor the flimsiness of a bridge of toothpicks, but strong, flexible and balanced structure in their lives.

Authoritarian parenting is characterized by requiring adherence to strict standards of behavior, unquestioning obedience to parents, and giving children few rights, but adult-like responsibilities. This type of parenting uses external force to get children to behave in the desired way. While this may work in the short term, in the long term children may not internalize a sense of right and wrong. They may obey under threat of punishment, but do what they want once they are free of parental control. Children raised under authoritarian parenting may be emotionally underdeveloped, lacking in curiosity, and suffer low self-esteem.

Permissive parenting is characterized by giving children lots of attention and affection, but inconsistent discipline. Children are allowed adult rights, but have few responsibilities. These parents are well aware of their children’s developmental and emotional needs, but have trouble setting firm limits. They use their relationship with the child to teach right from wrong, negotiating and reasoning for the child’s obedience. While this may work in the short term, in the long term children become manipulative, feel entitled and lack respect for others. They may be dependent and lack self-control.

The most effective parenting lies somewhere in the center between authoritarian and permissive. Children get lots of love and well-defined limits. The parent-child relationship is based on equality and trust. Parents and children are equal in terms of deserving dignity and respect. In other words, parents treat children only as they themselves wish to be treated. However, parents and children are not equal in terms of responsibility and decision making. Parents have veto power to insure health and safety. These powers are granted gradually to children as they grow in maturity and ability. Discipline is used to teach and guide, not punish, manipulate, or control. Using this method fathers model a love that is both firm and loving. They help children become competent, self-controlled, and independent.

Today’s fathers are perhaps more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. They do everything from changing diapers to coaching both their sons’ and daughters’ sports teams to attending parenting classes. There’s now Fathering Magazine to match Mothering, and a growing number of dads are giving up paying jobs to be stay-at-home parents.

So take time to salute and support the fathers in your life this Father’s Day. And consider taking some of the pressure off dads by exploring other images of God. Perhaps the God who has more tenderness toward Israel than a mother has “for the child of her womb” (Isaiah 49:15), God as Lover (Hosea 2-3), Good Shepherd (John 10) or Potter (Isaiah 64:8).

We do our best to show our children the love of God, but we fall short. God’s essence can never fully be captured in human action or language, though in the ordinary days of our lives the Mystery of God does break through and reveal itself.

© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at

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