The Gift of a Child
During Advent, the Tennessee Register is publishing a series of guest editorials on the theme “The Gift of a Child: An Advent Celebration of the Family.” This is the third of the series. Others will examine marriage and the gift of a child, motherhood, family, and the gift of the Child, Jesus. Read them all here.
Asking who is worthy of this calling of fatherhood, whether you’re a dad or a priest, is like asking who is worthy of God’s grace. I’m a cradle Catholic and haven’t always been so serious about my faith. But over the years I have fallen in love with God and my vocation through His grace in the gift of fatherhood.
My wife Michelle and I have 13 living children, which sounds like a lot when you say it. I remember being asked how many children we wanted, we replied we wanted a “big family.” As time went on, we realized that to her “big” was four, to me “big” was six.
Over time we abandoned the societal notion that “we should plan our family” and agreed that it was God’s job not ours. Doing this required us to accept the hardships and sacrifices that would be associated with letting God have control because we then had to trust Him to work it out. It would require us to become “counter-cultural” and realize that this life isn’t really what mattered but the next.
I wish I could say that we were heroic, but we just accepted one child, one gift, at a time. We struggled sometimes with the words “you can’t afford them” from family and friends. I knew they were right, so I always replied with a smile and reassured them that God can and we weren’t doing it alone.
I learned this mentality from my own father when I asked him how he could afford to take care of all of us growing up. His answer came from ancient wisdom that he had borrowed: “Pray like it’s all up to God, but act like it’s all up to you and it’ll work out.”
We hear this loud and clear in Matthew 6:25-27: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
My family has made me into a better man, and my family, more than anything else, has taught me about God. No matter how many times I prayed the prayer that Jesus taught us while growing up, I only saw God as the just judge of the world, which He is, just as I am called to be in my home. But fatherhood has helped me realize He is so much more as “Our Father” than I ever could have grasped without my own children.
When our child is in need, makes a mistake, or steps out of line in rebellion, the enduring pain we feel until their reunification or their need is met is what Our Father feels for us. He corrects us and respects our free will. But He sees our brokenness, he tries to heal us, and tells us to stop hurting ourselves.
Although I regret the times when I was younger that I didn’t take my faith as seriously as I should have, but I know that without those times I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for God’s mercy. I wouldn’t have come home because I wanted to be there but because I had to be. I would have never said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Treat me as you would one of your hired hands.” I wouldn’t have appreciated “the ring and the robe” (Luke 15:11-31).
Being a Catholic father has taught me to try to sacrifice like our Lord, to correct like our Lord, and to forgive like our Lord. Because as a father and a Catholic I am called to generously love like our Lord.
Dan and Michelle Schachle and their family are parishioners at St. Christopher Church in Dickson.