When I was studying sociology in the 1990s, the pillars of society were identified as family, religion, government and education. Today, sociology textbooks name the media and the peer group as additional pillars and as especially powerful factors in the formative years of young Americans. In a study conducted a few years ago, teenagers listed peers as equal to their parents in terms of influence.
As this Sunday is Fatherís Day, I have been thinking about the influence of the family, and specifically fathers, on the next generation as compared to the increasingly powerful influences of the media and peer groups. How can a fatherís message get through to our young people when there are so many competing cultural messages? To try to answer that question, I have turned to the example of my own father, a man who, at age 82, lives his life and faith humbly, and yet, is heard loudly and clearly above the din.
Along with my mother, my father raised four children. His influence on me has been strong, positive and central to the person I have become. Three of my fatherís lessons, in particular, mark my life to this day: love and serve your country, persevere through lifeís trials, and care for all people. Certainly he expresses the importance of these values through words, but more importantly, he has always expressed their importance through actions. My father lives the principles he espouses, and I am sure that is why those life lessons have become so deeply a part of the fiber of his children and grandchildren.
He demonstrated his love of country by serving in the Navy during World War II. He is one of the reasons we call his generation, the Greatest Generation. He is the primary reason--this side of eternity--that I chose to serve our country as a military chaplain. My nephew, his grandson, is continuing that tradition as a member of the Navy R.O.T.C. at M.I.T.
When my mother became ill and bedridden, my father cared for her with heroic love and devotion. After she passed away, the same strength and courage he showed in his care of her helped him carry on as a widower. He lives each day to the fullest and tackles every challenge that comes his way.
One of the things that impresses me most about my father is how he follows the commandment to love one another. He is a loving father and grandfather, but he is also an extraordinary neighbor. He cares for all those he encounters. He does not search for happiness, he finds it where he is, among the people and within the places God has brought into his life. He reminds me of an old song from the 1920s, ďYouíll find your happiness lies right under your eyes, back in your own backyard.Ē
One might think such a quiet example does not have a chance amidst the overwhelming volume of messages telling us to seek material wealth, to choose comfort over service, to put personal needs above the needs of others. And yet, my fatherís example shows that a life devoted to God, family and neighbor can shine above any negative societal influence.
This is the encouragement I would like to share with the fathers in the Archdiocese of Boston this Fatherís Day. Yes, your task is great. There are many challenges coming your way. American society has undergone a massive transformation over the past 50 years. My father did not have to contend with the Internet or the constant communication young people are able to engage in via instant messaging and Twitter. But as you valiantly strive to manage the impact these cultural changes make on your children, do not underestimate the value of being true to our faith and living your principles. Your actions will speak to your children loudly and clearly above all the distractions in the world.
May this Fatherís Day, and all fathers, be blessed.
Father Richard M. Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.