Growing up, I was not always convinced that Mary was relevant to my life. I never had tangible experience of her spiritual influence. But becoming a father to my first child, Benedict, radically altered my view of the Blessed Mother.
Mothers are often called upon to do more for their children, but I quickly saw that I was being invited to be powerfully present to my son, like Mary. Her life revolved around Jesus, and I saw a similar change occurring in my life as a new dad. This sparked my heart into seeing that being a normal or ordinary dad made me similar to Mary, and could also make me a dad that had a huge impact on his son.
So many parents have the experience of taking care of their children, like Mary and Joseph, that it may seem there is nothing that special about it, or so we think. We can too easily convince ourselves that being ordinary makes us unworthy of Mary’s love or unable to relate to her. Now, there is an aspect about Mary that is radically different from me (and everyone else): She was free from original sin and I am not. She was the only person, besides Jesus himself, to never sin. That is a big deal and that means she is playing the game of life on a whole different level.
That being said, changing diapers and playing on the floor with my son, along with being on his timetable with whatever he needs as an infant, helps me realize that parenthood makes me more vulnerable. When I embrace the totality of what it means to take care of my offspring, I become like Mary and realize that I need her help in being the best dad that I can be.
I try to remember her in the ordinary moments of being a dad to my son. If I am lucky enough to be home when he wakes up, I play with him in his crib and try to give him all of my attention. I’d imagine that Mary always gave her son her full attention because she knew the depth of dignity that he had. Being open to how a baby can be a baby is one way to have Mary’s role impact my role as a dad. They depend on us for everything, and we need to be at their beck and call – just like Mary was for Jesus. Relinquishing control in this way makes us who we are made to be.
Mary would have also had the job in helping to form the faith of Jesus. This is something my wife and I are trying to take very seriously and accomplish intentionally. Two very practical habits that formed organically have altered my view of Our Lady’s importance.
After picking my son up out of his crib and changing one of many diapers, we exit his room and enter the hallway. Directly outside of his room is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every day we say good morning to Mary and Benedict touches Mary’s foot in the painting. Another picture of Mary is in the dining room where he eats his oatmeal each morning and he points her out a few times a week so we know where she is. Praying before meals slowly has allowed my son (22 months old at this writing) to occasionally fold his hands like mom and dad when we pray.
Being tasked with the job of teaching my son the faith has made me so much more aware of the truth and power that comes along with depending on Mary as mother and as one who is always thinking about her children. In this way, fatherhood has made me more appreciative of who Mary is for the average Catholic and for me as an ordinary dad.
I think that is what happens when we try to have the circumstances of our life impact our faith in simple and practical ways. Mary did simple tasks as a mother (she cleaned around the house, she did the laundry, she cooked dinner and she played with her son), but she always did them with a receptive heart and with the understanding that the average task was something that God was extremely present in. Realizing this has helped me love her more, and learn from her faith.