The Most Important Thing About Parenting

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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The most important thing about parenting I learned from my dad. It wasn’t anything he said, it is what he did, day after day.

That I learned the most important thing about parenting from my dad is not surprising. After my mom left him when I was seven and my brother was three, my dad raised us on his own at a time when single parents were not as common, and a single dad was rare indeed. With a broken marriage and shattered finances, followed by job insecurity and one health problem after another, my dad gave himself over to both the obvious and the millions of imperceptible daily duties of bringing up two young boys. My greatest education in parenting comes from what my dad chose to build his parenting upon.

My father attended daily Mass every morning at 6:30am. In and of itself, this practice was neither a form of overt piety nor heroism; in fact, when I asked my dad recently why he went to Mass every day, he said, “I just enjoyed it. It was a good way to start my day.”

Mass always ended a couple minutes before 7am (so I’ve been told!) and he would race home afterwards to pack our lunches and get my brother and me ready for school. Otherwise, his days were no different than the great many parents who tend to their kids, work their jobs, cook meals, pay bills, attend school meetings, drive to sports practices, and maybe find a half-hour or so of down time at the end of the day. In all those ways, what he did then is much like what I do now. And yet I can’t help but think about the sheer volume of it all for one man, about the way he poured himself into it all, and about the simple routine that started all those days.

Once, when I was in the middle of one of my precocious, self-centered obnoxi-thons during my early teenage year, my dad’s best friend sort of reprimanded me:

“Someday you’ll realize all that your dad’s done for you.”

More than 20 years later, I still think about that prophecy. With my eldest son now a couple years older than I was when my dad became my sole day-to-day parent, I can’t imagine trying to give him and his siblings all they need without their mother (especially since she is the superior parent). Now that I am myself am in the midst of experiencing the joys and the struggles of parenting, I’m starting to realize what my dad did for me and for my brother.

The most important thing he did for us, though, was that he went to Mass every morning. It is not that all the things that happened the rest of the day were the effects of this one cause; rather, each of those days that I lived under his care were days spent with a man who practiced giving both his joys and his sorrows to the Lord, who stuck to “the familiar ritual of the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of a life in turmoil,” as Tim O’Malley wrote a few short weeks ago on these very (digital) pages. As much as he had to improvise in those days and over those years, he made that one constant his foundation. And for two boys who lost the stability of a familiar home, he became our stability.

Though the translation of the Missal was different then, I like to think of my father at those early morning Masses when I recite these words before approaching the altar at Mass:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof;

But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

For him, that roof covered our home, and our home was a perpetual reminder of the fracture that had occurred in his life—of what once was but was no longer. Under that roof, we all erred, we all failed, and for all his remarkable virtues and heroic deeds, he also had his fair share of poor decisions. Like all families, ours was, in many ways, unworthy of blessing.

But. I love that word right in this prayer. But I turn to you, O Lord. But I trust in you, O Lord. But your word is not my word because your word heals even when my word wounds…. But my dad practiced opening himself to more than he was by himself, and at couple minutes before 7am, he would race home to make our lunches.

I’ve learned a lot about the Eucharist since I was a child. In fact, I “know” a lot more about the Eucharist than my dad ever did. I’ve studied the Eucharist, I’ve taught the Eucharist, I’ve written about the Eucharist. And yet, there is nothing I could ever think or say or write that would exceed the eloquence of what my dad did, day after day.

He went out before we woke to receive the Eucharist and he brought the Eucharist back to us within himself.

“Become what you receive.” My dad carried what he received into our home and shared Him in the uncountable small acts of love he performed on a daily basis. We fed on his love; he became our bread.

That is the most important thing about parenting.

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6 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing About Parenting”

    1. Your Dad sounds like a great man and a wonderful father. I hope your experience has raised your awareness about all the single mothers out there who have to do what your Dad did in a world where women make 70 cents to the dollar a man makes. Also, if a woman left sleeping children at home at 6:30 am Child and Family Services could arrest her for the neglect of a minor. I understand your gratitude for your Dad’s daily example of the Eucharist. I hope you also understand how women are still excluded from many aspects of our religion. Pope Francis (I love him very much) recently compared women to the “strawberries on the cake.” A Catholic single Mom may not want to model to her daughters that they are “strawberries,” but part of the CAKE. I think your Dad was a noble man and a great Dad. Please know that men who become single dads get much praise heaped upon them. Single moms face derision and disdain. Still, I loved your article for its reminder that children learn from what we do, not what we say.

      1. Thank you so much for your response. One of my best friends through middle school and into high school also lived in a single parent household (also because of divorce), except his single parent was his mother. I grew up with a lot of respect and admiration for her, which have only grown since. I suppose I could have written about my friend’s mom, but I just cannot speak to living with a single mother in the same way I can in regards to living with a single father since latter rather than the former was my own personal experience. (As an aside, my father worked on commission throughout most of my childhood, so that was another significant point of instability and uncertainty in our family life.)

        Just one quick point of clarification: though I didn’t include this bit of information in the article because it didn’t really fit, I did anticipate the possibility that someone would think that my father left two young children home alone. He did not. His best friend, Tommy (whom I mention in the piece) lived with us during that period until Tommy himself was married and he and his wife moved elsewhere. By that point, I was old enough to be home by myself. As you can see, there is just a lot of explanation in this little point that would have more distracted from the point of the story than aided it. If you would have written to me to ask about this point I would have happily shared this bit of information with you. Now it is here in public so perhaps others who thought as you did will also be freed of that concern, so there’s some good in that.

        Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to respond. All my best to you!

  1. Great story! We all have something to learn from your father, especially you. You claim to “know a lot more about the Eucharist than my dad ever did”. You’ve got it completely wrong. It’s obvious that he knew entirely more than you may ever know as he LIVED IT every single day and brought it back into your home. It’s most evident in your own words when you say, “And yet, there is nothing I could ever think or say or write that would exceed the eloquence of what my dad did, day after day”. Of course there is nothing you could ever think or say or write…..you don’t know as much as he did. Study, teach, and write about the Eucharist all you want. Hopefully, someday, you will know the Eucharist as much as your father did.

    1. I suspect that we might be misunderstanding each other here, Reece. Please allow me to explain further:

      I put the word “know” in quotes to signal something along the lines of what you are suggesting. Even more, what I actually say seems to line up fairly well with the first part of your comment. While it is a matter of fact that as a theologian I do “know” more about the Eucharist than my father did or does (he would be the first to tell you that, by the way), I was communicating that the kind of “knowledge” I possess is not a substitute for the devotion my father practiced. These two ways of knowing are not opposed to each other, but there is a priority to them and, as you are rightly suggesting, the kind I have grown to admire in my father’s practice takes pride of place. So it seems to me that on that point you and I agree.

      Since you took the liberty to make an assumption about my own faith life and relationship to the Eucharist in the latter part of your comment, I hope that you will accept my response to that assumption. As you may have noticed, this particular piece is not about me in any way other than as the son of my father, the son of him who practiced this daily devotion. You seem to assume that because I admire this in my father that I must not have a relationship with the Eucharist myself. As a matter of fact, I did not share this information in the post, one way or another. If you would like to talk with me directly about the practice of my faith, I would actually welcome that conversation so please email me at delorenzo.2@nd.edu so we can connect. In the meantime, I hope you will not interpret any resentment from me even though I must recognize that you have assumed far more than you were entitled to assume in this respect. In short, you yourself don’t know anything about my practice(s) of faith from this post; if anything, it would probably be safer to assume (if you must assume) that someone who admires a practice in someone else and writes about it might be more likely to tend in that direction rather than away from it.

  2. What a fantastic tribute to your father. Your Dad and I became friends due to my hardship and someone bullying me. He took me to his home and cooked for me and my daughter, trying to ease my pain. Even during his pain and struggles I know he will always be there, arms wide open! Our faith in Christ has kept us strong and taught us to believe under every circumstance. To see you Dr. DeLorenzo, grow up to become one that teaches and spreads the word of God makes us all realize ” All things are possible through Christ”
    You made me cry in reading your article, but they were tears of joy! Love to you and your family! Keep up all you do!

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