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Falls Church author shares his tips for being an indispensable dad

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The maxim “Do as I say, not as I do” has been uttered by exasperated parents for decades. But it’s not a parenting attitude Stephen Gabriel would endorse. The father of eight and grandfather of 33 believes that the first step to being a good dad is being a good example for one’s children.


“Talk is cheap,” he said. Gabriel explains his faith-filled fathering philosophy in his newest book, “The Indispensable Dad.”


Gabriel, a parishioner of St. James Church in Falls Church, spent much of his career as an economist for the federal government, but he always enjoyed writing on the side. “The Indispensable Dad” is his third book on fatherhood and was based on two talks he had given at retreats.


His children — Alex, Claire, Elena, Katie, Mary, Tom, Monica and Suzanne — have enjoyed the books. “What are they supposed to say, right?” he joked. He’s certainly enjoyed writing them. “Being a father of eight, (fatherhood) has been a good part of my life and I felt that maybe I have something I can offer that might help fathers who are struggling, like I’ve been, to be the best they can be,” he said.


The book begins with ways men can cultivate the theological and cardinal virtues through prayer, study and frequent reception of the sacraments. “We can’t give what we don’t have. We need to have the virtues ourselves if we are going to pass them on to our children,” said Gabriel. “(Children) need to see their parents really struggling to live the faith.”


Secondly, every father needs to prioritize his relationship with his wife because a strong and happy marriage is the best gift he can give his kids, Gabriel writes. “Fathers need to put their wives first. Their kids need to see that their dad is head over heels in love with their mother,” he said.


Building on the strong foundation of a healthy relationship with God and the mother of their children, fathers can then tend to the task of raising children. Gabriel loves many things about fatherhood, but especially the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better. “The whole notion of being able to influence the course of a life of these children of ours, to be an important part of their life and help them know and to seek the truth is very rewarding,” he said. 


Tips from “The Indispensable Dad”


  • Remember that the goal of family life is to foster the sanctification of all the members, in other words, to get everyone to heaven.
  • Be engaged in your children’s lives. Know their friends, what activities they enjoy, what they’re reading and watching, and how much screen time they have a day.
  • Foster a sense of family by doing things together, from special traditions to eating dinner together every night.
  • Take time with your wife regularly to discuss the state of the family, almost like an examination of conscience, to see that your current family life is where you’d like it to be.
  • Guard against a spirit of criticism; cultivate cheerfulness instead.
  • Worry less about what your teenager thinks of you, and more about what that 30-year-old child will think. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020