Some reflections on the responsibilities of a parent

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 25, 2008

By Kevin Chiri

What a nice visit I had this week with Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church Pastor Joseph Rodney.

Father Rodney is celebrating 40 years in the ministry so of course when I found out, I knew it was worth something special in our paper. (Check the feature story on page 1A today.)

Father Rodney is from a family with seven children, and he grew up with a typical situation involving his mom and dad from that generation. Mom was the spiritual leader, and dad was the provider.

It seems like a generation or two back the fathers were somewhat different, in many cases, than they are today.

Now we have a society that has fathers being told that it is OK to be warm and cuddly with their kids. For that matter, dads actually need to be as openly loving as a mom always has been.

In Father Rodney’s case, his dad was much like most fathers at that time, in that he was focused on being the provider. He said that it wasn’t until his dad was in his final year of life, fighting prostate cancer, that a close relationship developed between the two.

Once his father got older, the most important thing to him was, in fact, how often his seven children would have some kind of contact with him. Mostly it was a simple phone call, and the dad lived for those moments. For that matter, Father Rodney said, his dad got to know pretty much exactly when each child would call.

“Especially on Easter Sunday, my father wouldn’t even leave the house. I remember him telling me, ‘No, we can’t go anywhere today, because today ALL of the kids will be calling.’” Father Rodney recalled.

What an interesting story. It reminds me so much of the situation with my own father today, and even of my father-in-law. Both of these men were never so “warm and cuddly” close with their children when the kids were growing up. But as the years went by, and they got older, it was amazing to see how important the children—and their phone calls—became.

My wife has a father who is over 80. His health is failing, and for quite a few years now, the phone calls to and from his four daughters have clearly been the most important thing in his life.

My father is the same way in that he lives in Orlando, Fla., and is pretty much housebound due to his health. It seems like the most important thing that happens now in his life is when a family member will call him, particularly his sons. I can certainly tell that by listening to how he complains about the sons who don’t find the time to call. And certainly if I don’t call him on some kind of regular basis, I’m sure he is not so happy with me either…so of course I try my best to call him frequently enough.

So much of the frequency of those phone calls is tied to what kind of relationship an individual may have had with a child. Some of the children who don’t call their father now are only reacting to the fact that a close relationship was never built in those earlier years.

I know some people who look forward to calling their aging mother or father every day. They enjoy talking with their parent because there was a relationship built during the earlier years that was true and loving and real.

But if that kind of relationship isn’t there when you are younger, it is kind of understandable to see why a child might find it a chore to call their mom or dad when they are older.

Who has the real responsibility here? Once again, I still think that the older, more mature person—the parent when they are younger—has to be the one to make it happen.

I have heard parents complain because their child doesn’t “show me enough love,” but I think it is the responsibility of a parent to teach a child about how to love and how to reach out to someone else. And what I have found is that the effort I put out in my younger years as a father is now paying off with children who seem to truly care about me now and want to talk to me.

I think the parents who get older and then wonder why their kids don’t want to call them really need to look in the mirror if they are wondering what the problem is. Obviously it’s easy to figure it’s the child’s fault. But think about it. Did you really do the things necessary as a parent to make your child want to talk to you? Did you have a relationship in the earlier years that was truly enjoyable for your child?

That means listening to your child rather than wanting to do all the talking. That means asking them questions about their life, and letting them do more of the talking to tell you about their life, since they are younger and want someone to share it with. And it means not feeling resentful when your child doesn’t call you exactly as often as you think they should.

Face it, your kid has his or her own life now. They are grown up, and they really, really do have so much going on to sometimes be “too busy” to call. If that is what they say, accept it.

I am happy to know that my children clearly look forward to coming back home, and staying with mom and dad. I know my wife can see that it is real when they call and say that they miss us and want to come visit. We have never had to beg for them to come home.

That is telling me we did some things right as parents when they were in our home. And hopefully it will mean the phone will ring often enough as we approach our senior years down the road, when the phone ringing might be the highlight of our day.

Kevin Chiri is Publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at