Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column: 'Paying Tribute to Fathers'

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By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
June 2013

Before we had children, my husband was deeply worried about whether he would be a good father. It is the biggest responsibility to bring a person into the world: to raise, guide, nurture and love him or her. As an only child who majored in industrial engineering modeling and estimating complex systems, David thought the "learn as you go" approach was laden with opportunities for mistakes. I, who came from a family of six children, assured him that children are quite resilient; they don't need perfect parents, just sensible ones.

Neither of us, nor any parents really, could imagine the growth and transformation that parenting would call forth from us. A defining step was the mutual decision when our sons Ryan and Justin were six and three that David would be the "swing man" and I would focus on my academic career which was pulling in the multiple directions of teaching, research and administration. David assumed primary responsibility for the boys’ care and, assisted by a housekeeper, scheduled his work in information systems consulting around our lives.

Twenty-plus years ago, this was not a common or socially-accepted path for a man. Neither of us knew any other couple who made this choice. My mother-law-was not the only person who felt a sense of loss when her son -- eagle scout, accomplished athlete in multiple sports, private-school graduate and Ph.D. -- took this turn. I felt a loss too: it was like a departure from the picture of success, defined (now with hindsight) in the shallowest terms.

David was present for our sons’ myriad activities. He was there when Justin needed stitches after an injury at a tae kwon do session. He procured the grasshoppers for one of Ryan's science experiments. He cried when Ryan came home heart-broken for not making the basketball team and when Ryan overcame obstacles to earn medical school-worthy MCAT scores. Also when Justin opened up on how he lost his confidence interacting with people after a painful relationship.

I derive much joy in seeing the good men, now 28 and 25, the boys have become and how much they are like their dad. A young doctor and Catholic school theology teacher, both have a deep sense of faith and are compassionate to others. Service at the homeless shelter with David helped them develop empathy for people who are having tough times. Their love for books, crossword puzzles, trivia competitions and fastidiousness with grammar are products of their treks with their father to libraries, bookstores, museums, national parks and of searches in dictionaries and atlases (“Look it up!”). Both save their money, maintain their cars, keep appointments, handle their responsibilities: the good habits that pass from fathers to sons.

This month we pay tribute to fathers and how they care for their families. I am particularly grateful to my husband for how he has made the choice which loved into life our sons. I know that many women, including some colleagues at CRS, have taken similar paths and I hope that this will add to their celebration. If I were now to answer my husband's worries about being a good parent, I would respond differently: good sense aside, love will help us find the way. It may not be the way we imagine but love is God's way: it is thus full of surprises; it will occasionally dig deep into a place in the heart where there is no protection; and it brings unspeakable joy -- every day.

Dr. Woo is president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.

Read Dr. Woo's previous columns.