Want to be the best father you were made to be? Live the Beatitudes, Greg Popcak writes in a new book, “BeDaditudes: 8 Ways to Be an Awesome Dad,” adapting what Jesus announced on the Sermon on the Mount in the most practical ways for family life for fathers.
“When we practice the Beatitudes in our fathering efforts,” he writes, “we seek to attain the utmost fullness of fatherhood by striving to become transparent, so that when our wives and children look at us, they see God’s own loving face looking back at them.” Popcak, the author of many books on faith and family life, talks about faith and fatherhood and sanctity.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What does an “awesome dad” look like? A father could get lost in sizes and shapes and forms and flavors? How to avoid that on the road to awesomeness?
Gregory Popcak: There is no cookie-cutter way to be a great dad. But, for the Christian, there are principles — the Beatitudes — that, if we allow them to inform our unique relationship with our children, allows fatherhood to be a transformative experience for me as dad, for my wife (as my co-parent), for my children, and even for the world. An awesome dad isn’t a perfect dad. He doesn’t have to come from a perfect background and he doesn’t always know what he’s doing. In fact, most of the time, he probably doesn’t. But he is willing to listen and to hear God speaking to him both in his heart and through his wife and children calling him to be more than he thinks he can be; more than the world tells him he can be.
An awesome dad is one who recognizes that God gives him the children that he needs to grow in ways that he would never even thought to grow if it weren’t for these kids, and he is willing to do that work that growth requires of him, both for the sake of his relationship with God and with his family.
Lopez: How does a father living the beatitudes help his wife? More than by taking out the trash and occasionally doing the laundry?
Popcak: Every chapter touches on this insofar as every chapter is divided in to three parts describing how a particular “BeDADitudes” relates to our relationship to our Heavenly Father, our wife, and our kids. But I would say that the “BeDADitude,” “Blessed are the dads who are merciful” speaks most directly to your question.
To be merciful doesn’t mean to be “nice” or “to let people off the hook.” It means to treat others in a manner that allows them to see their worth in God’s eyes. You see this if you look at the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We “feed the hungry” because we want everyone to know that they are worthy of a seat at the heavenly banquet. We “bear wrongs patiently,” because we recognize how hard it sometimes is for us to live up to what we’re called to be and we “admonish the sinner” because sometimes, when we’re wallowing in the mud, it’s easy to forget who we really are. The one thing all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy have in common isn’t social work (and I’m a social worker so I’d know). It’s that they all represent ways we treat each other in a manner that allows us to see our worth in God’s eyes.
That’s how the “BeDADitudes” help a father love his wife. They give a man eight ways to show his beloved not only what she is worth to him, but also what she is worth to God.
Lopez: Is purity of heart possible with pornography everywhere? Is this beatitude about more than that?
Popcak: To be pure of heart is, as Jesus says, to “see God.” When we are pure of heart, we see God in the people around us and that makes us not want to use them in any way. Not just sexually, but in any context. St. John Paul reminded us that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather, “use.” When we love someone we build them up, they become more human. When we use someone, we turn them into a thing, a means to an end. When we truly see God in the people in our life, we can’t use them anymore at work, at home, or in the bedroom.
Lopez: If there were only one of the “BeDADitudes” a father reading this could handle right now, what would you recommend?
Popcak: “Blessed are the dads who are meek.” Meekness isn’t weakness. The word, “meek” is translated from the Greek word “praus” (pra-oos). It refers to a warhorse that is steady in the face of battle and immediately responsive to his rider’s commands. The most important thing an awesome dad can do is to stop running around like the proverbial headless chicken, and instead be that strong, steady steed, trained for battle, unafraid of the challenges in front of him, and willing to listen to the God who wants to lead him to victory.
Lopez: How does anyone become “profoundly aware of … radical dependence on God” and how is it essential for fathers?
Popcak: Basically you wake up in the morning, turn on the news, and allow yourself to be smacked upside the head with the realization that you are incapable of doing anything about any of it.
Kidding aside. We have to recognize that control is an illusion. We can affect everything, but we can’t control anything and if we want to affect anything in a manner that does any good at all, we’re going to need some guidance because we can’t do it on our own.
Lopez: To a dad who maybe has never prayed before, what do you say?
Popcak: Be not afraid! As long as it comes from your heart, there is no right way to pray. Don’t overthink it, just dive in. But if you need a hint, I would suggest starting with something like, “God. I don’t really know who you are and I don’t really know what you want from me, but I’m here and I’m willing to learn. Please teach me to be a man after your own heart.” Start there every day and let it grow naturally. If it feels weird at first, pray it like you mean it until you do. Once your heart is really open to it, you’ll be amazed at the ways God makes his presence known. An honest encounter with God feels different for everyone, but I promise you won’t miss it and you’ll never be the same again.
Lopez: How can dads intercede for their children even here on earth, in daily life?
Popcak: The point of interceding for our kids is remembering that our kids are just on loan to us. Ultimately, they belong to God and we have to give them back to him every day. “God. Please bless my kids. Help them to discover the unique gifts you’ve given them. Teach them to use those gifts to make a difference in other’s lives and glorify you in everything they do. Today and every day. And help me be the kind of man that can show them how.” You can be more specific, of course, inserting the particular circumstances of your children’s lives, but this is a good way to start if you’ve never done it before.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here