Dear Dad, The Kids Are Watching You …

Thank you for the note you sent me about my tips for saying the daily rosary. I feel your pain.

“Can your next article say something to the father?” you asked. “He believes in the power and beauty of the Rosary but he also thinks he’s too busy or tired to get the Rosary going — and just as bad, he forgets amidst all the other things happening in the evening. That father is me.”

Absolutely I can say something.

I mentioned before that I started saying the daily Rosary because of Our Lady of Fatima and because of St. John Paul the Great. What I didn’t say was that it was really three dads who inspired me.

The first was Captain Wojtyla.

When Karol Wojtyla found his father dead in his little apartment in Wadowice after coming home from the quarry at age 19, he said, “I never felt so alone.” He stayed beside his dead father’s body throughout the night, praying and crying.

It was the latest in series of crushing losses the future Pope John Paul II suffered throughout his life, as one family member after another died.

It was the kind of thing that would either drive him to despair or create the capacity for greatness in him. One reason it didn’t devastate him was his father. Captain Wojtyla’s hard-won, faith-filled resignation to the deaths of his wife and Karol’s two siblings had been a powerful lesson to Karol.

John Paul remembered his father as a “man of constant prayer,” according to George Weigel’s Witness to Hope. Karol would find his father on his knees late at night and in the early morning, praying.  “Father and son read the Bible together and prayed the rosary regularly,” wrote Weigel.

The adult John Paul II had many spiritual parents: St. John of the Cross, St. Faustina, and St. Louis Marie de Montfort. But on his deathbed, one nurse reported him repeating a prayer to the Holy Spirit that he learned from his father.

I think that speaks volumes. One of the greatest spiritual minds of our lifetime found his anchor, in the end, not in his deep theological studies or his familiarity with the great mystics — but in the simple faith of his widower father.

The second was Mother Teresa’s dad.

Along with St. John Paul II, Mother Teresa is the other Catholic giant from our lifetimes.  Her father, Nikolle, died when she was young, but his impact on her was enormous.

Nikolle Bojaxhiu was a merchant and a political organizer but above all a man of the Church. The family had a devotion to the daily Rosary.

“My little daughter,” he told her as a child, “always share even the least bit of food you have with others, especially with the poor. Selfishness is a disease of the spirit that turns us into servants of our riches.”

“My father had a loving heart,” Mother Teresa once said. “He would never refuse the poor. We were very closely united after he died.”

It is amazing to think that the heart of this great missionary saint was formed by a tired dad who prayed after work.

But it wasn’t just the dads of the greats that inspired me. My commitment to the daily Rosary became unstoppable because of a dad who died on a farm in Virginia.

I was profoundly moved — and changed — by the example of Thomas Vander Woude, who was 66 when he died.

When his 18-year-old Down syndrome son fell into a septic tank, Vander Woude went in after him. He succeeded in getting his son out safely, but in the process, passed out and drowned.

We covered the story when I was at the National Catholic Register and the more details that came out about the man’s life, the more I was impressed. But what hit home the most for me was a quote from his son, Dan:

“He also did a Holy Hour between two and three in the morning and was a daily communicant. With the Rosary, he used to say a prayer to St. Joseph,” said Dan. “Those were the things in front of us that we saw of our father. In this culture, which is selling a lot of stuff, I had a father on his knees who was showing me how to be a man of God.”

I am not the man Thomas Vander Woude was. I’m not a coach, not an outdoorsman, not the neighborhood go-to guy. But because of him, I have committed to an early morning Holy Hour. And because of him, I not only insist on saying the Rosary every day, I say it on my knees.

Human nature being what it is, our children will tend to imitate us. For better — or worse.

They are watching what we do and they are listening to what we say. If we make excuses for missing Mass, or prayer, those excuses will become bedrock principles for them.

But if they hear us saying prayer is important, then see us doing it — that will take deep root. If they see us on our knees, they will feel at home on their knees, too.

You and I will probably be quickly forgotten. But if we do this right our children just might change the world one day.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.