Fathers and Spirituality

Why are dads often silent when it comes to sharing their religious views with kids?

Would you hire a tutor to teach your child how to ride a bike? Parents in my New York suburb are doing just that. Today's parents are just too busy and too tired to teach their kids riding skills, explained the article in our local paper. Apparently, the learning process involved "too much screaming at each other in parking lots," and it was easier to spend the $40 an hour for an expert.

My own bike-riding lessons with my father couldn't have been more different. On my fifth birthday, he took the training wheels off my blue Huffy two-wheeler, and for the next few months we brought it to the parking lot down the street on Saturday afternoons to practice. I'd get on and he would grip the back of the bike seat, running unevenly alongside the bike while I pedaled. For months, every time he let go, I would topple right over.

By the end of the afternoon, I'd be sniffling in frustration and rubbing my scraped knees, but my father never seemed to get discouraged. As a boy, he'd had polio, and one of his hands and legs were still paralyzed. After a lifetime learning to live with his own awkwardness, I guess he could deal with mine. A tutor would have taught me to pedal and balance, I'm sure, but only my father could share with me his quiet patience as he limped alongside my two-wheeler.

For me, those Saturday afternoons in the parking lot offer a guiding metaphor for spiritual nurture. Maybe today's dads imagine our kids would be better off learning about God and spiritual things from a trained professional-a minister, a Sunday school teacher. It might be easier that way. But there's no substitute for parents. Just by sharing our very human selves with our children-with all our history and all our limitations-we help them to move forward, however haltingly, until they discover their own balance.


Unfortunately, spiritual nurturing doesn't come naturally to many fathers. Mothers often tell me how frustrated they are that their partners don't participate more in children's religious upbringing. "My husband's just not interested," said one mother of a preteen girl, sighing. "He comes to church, but he doesn't tell our daughter what he believes. I think it's hard for him to be that vulnerable."

Lack of time with the children is undoubtedly part of the problem. Despite the increasing numbers of women out in the workforce, today's children are still spending less time at home with their fathers than with their mothers. And children are more likely to talk with their mothers about things that matter to them-according to a 1998 Barna research poll, 70% of teens have daily conversations with their mothers about an important issue in their life, compared with 53% with their fathers.

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