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Pre-Father’s Day dad hacks

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“Daddy, do you hear me when I ask you a question?” Christendom College professor and gentleman farmer John Cuddeback’s 8-year-old son asked him recently as he was sending some work emails from the living room couch. 


It’s “out-of-the-mouths-of-babes” questions like these, Cuddeback argues in a recent “Rediscovering Fatherhood During Crisis” webinar and on his Life-Craft.org platform, which have the power to blast us dads “outside of our comfort zone” and toward a “self-examination” of “what aspects of fatherhood, particularly the father in the home, we haven’t been seeing.”


As my second Father’s Day without my dad nears, the gift of his fatherhood only comes into sharper focus. So too does my desire to be the best dad I can be. That’s why the questions of a self-professed student of Aristotle and Aquinas — and “the Wendell Berry of fatherhood,” as National Marriage Project director Brad Wilcox characterizes him — catch my attention.  


To be clear, Cuddeback’s queries sting, especially coming so close to the feel-good high holiday of every dad. So, to the wives: Maybe this isn’t the best moment to ask your husband to read this column? And to my fellow dads: Don’t blame me. I’m just Cuddeback’s messenger.


1) “Are we willing to be humble?” Cuddeback challenges dads to rediscover “docility,” a “willingness to be taught” which enables us to “constantly” deliberate with our better half about family issues, asking, “What do you think we should do about this?”


2) “Am I willing to choose to be present, first of all to my wife, and then to my children?” Dads can create “pockets of presence” which Cuddeback defines as “specific, consistent, habitual and reasonably dependable” times when we go all-in on family life. Dads who do this announce by their actions, “This is who I am. I’m here to do what’s at the center of my heart.”


3) “What am I projecting to the people around me?” “A lot of us dads,” Cuddeback notes, “think that we’re much more present at home than we are.” He challenges dads to look at themselves “through your wife’s eyes and your children’s eyes.” 


4) “What are we doing in our home to make it be productive?” Citing Wendell Berry, Cuddeback distinguishes between the “productive” and the “consumptive” household. He urges dads to “choose one or two areas of production”— whether it’s carpentry, plumbing, gardening, or any other skill around the house — and “establish habits” of sharing that craft with the family. These competencies are win-win: They benefit the family here and now, and impart to kids a stronger self-confidence to take into life.   


5) “Do you want to sing something together?” Cuddeback sometimes asks his family, challenging all dads not to settle for being “just consumers of entertainment.” Instead, dads can be “proactive” and even “productive in recreating,” leading their families to “real leisure.” Whatever it is — a board game, a family hike, a Von Trapp-inspired singalong —  just “keep it low tech,” Cuddeback advises, and have fun.


6) “Can I try to take specific times with the individual children?” Having observed many young adults “from even strong families” whose “relationship with their father is thin and tenuous,” Cuddeback drives home the need for quality time with each child. Whether it’s a daddy-daughter lunch, a father-son fishing outing, or other tradition, fatherhood includes forging deep relationships.   


7) “Be brutal in asking, ‘Does this technology enhance the achieving of the richer human presence and life we want to have in this household, or does it not?’ ” After counseling that some technology may need to be “cut back” or “cut out” of the home, Cuddeback goes for the jugular: “Can we expect our children to be not glued to their smartphones if we’re glued to our smartphones?”


Questions like these invite us to the heart of fatherhood, which Cuddeback describes as a “loving, strong, selfless interior disposition to help others toward their good.” A dad aiming for this noble target will lift his family’s eyes unto the Lord — whence cometh their help — and together with his bride, build a “community of daily life” marked by “presence, beauty, real leisure, good work,” and “connection to the earth.” 

Not so long ago, Cuddeback’s 10-year-old son turned to him in the middle of a strenuous moment of work on their family farm and said something as penetrating as his 8-year-old’s recent comment on his listening skills.


“Dad,” he said, “I just love working with you.”


From the mouths of babes: Happy Father’s Day, dads. 


Soren and Ever Johnson are co-founders of Trinity House Community (trinityhousecommunity.org).


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020