In his book, How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World: Even When You Can’t Afford a Decent Cape (Guiding Light Books, 2017), John Clark, husband and father of nine, draws upon his own experiences to discuss the value of fatherhood. For Father’s Day, Clark, who blogs for the National Catholic Register, spoke with Catholic Digest about what inspired him to explore the importance of fatherhood.
Q: What inspired you to write How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World?
A: It’s no secret that our society tends to discount the value of fatherhood. That’s not only sad, it’s dishonest. I thought fathers needed to be reminded why their lives are good, beautiful, and important and that they matter more than they realize. I wanted to write a short series of reminders, and to remind fathers that there is one group of people who really do understand the importance of a good father: their own children.
Q: How did you structure your book? Why did you decide on that format?
A: The book is organized into short essays that each take about five minutes to read. I figured that kind of book made sense for busy dads in a busy world. My first book, Who’s Got You?: Observations of a Catholic Homeschooling Father (Seton Press, 2012) is organized in the same way and people seemed to really appreciate that format. A dad once walked up to me and said, “Thanks for your book. I read it all the time in the bathroom.” So I joked to him, “That makes sense. I wrote it in the bathroom.” In terms of content, many of the essays relate incidents in the lives of our family and the lessons that I have learned over the years of raising children.
Q: Who do you think will get the most from engaging with your book?
A: I hope two groups really engage. First, those men who already see the value of fatherhood; I think they will find confirmation that they are doing the right thing, and living a life that pleases God. Second, I hope the book resonates with those fathers who doubt their great worth as fathers — who feel like they’re doing everything wrong or have done everything wrong. At some point, or at least in some moments, all fathers probably feel like that to some degree. There is a thread running through the book’s essays saying it’s not too late for you to be a wonderful father. Whether your child is a toddler or an adult, you can still change his or her life — which is to say, you can change the world.
A: The book is mostly a series of anecdotes about my children and the lessons I have learned from those events, so you might say that the experiences not only helped shaped my book, but constitute the book. I think that the reader will discover how much these events shaped me.
Q: What is the role of a Christian father in an increasingly secularized world?
A: When my publisher and I were trying to think of a title for the book, this is a question that I kept asking myself. I kept thinking that the world needs Superman — that my children need Superman. But in this world, it’s hard to be Clark Kent, much less Superman. And the world is surrounded by kryptonite in so many ways with things like impurity and materialism. How can we keep powerful with kryptonite all around us? The answer for Catholic fathers is to stay close to God through prayer, good works, and the sacraments. It’s to hold the hands of our wives and children and lead them close to God. And a funny thing often happens along the way: Sometimes you look down and notice that it’s your children leading you. And that’s a pretty wonderful thing.
Q: How can older men continue to be father figures to their children and grandchildren?
A: Years ago, self-help books on parenting used to advise: “Your job is not to be your child’s friend; your job is to be your child’s parent.” Actually, your job is both; it is to be both parent and friend. These are not contradictory roles; rather, they are supportive. A father figure is a friend. My own father, who has been and will always be a hero to me, is there for advice for me quite a bit. Obviously, he’ll always be my father, but I think that as we both grow older, our friendship with each other gets deeper. My oldest child is now 25 years old, and I hope to be that kind of parent to him and to all my children and grandchildren: a friend.
Q: What are some things a father should be doing on a daily basis?
A: Pray, laugh, listen, and hug. (And drink really good coffee.)
Q: What do you think are the societal expectation of fathers? How can they meet or exceed these expectations?
A: I think that society’s expectations for fathers are too low, if not nonexistent. In movies and television, it can be even worse, as fathers are portrayed as out-of-touch, stupid, or just gone. When my oldest son was little, the first movie I ever took him to see was Toy Story. It’s a great movie in lots of ways, but the family in the story has no father. Beyond that, though there are pictures on the wall, there don’t seem to be any of his father. Fathers in America have been written out of the script. So in terms of expectations, I’d say they are minimal. In that sense, just spending time with our children exceeds the expectations of society.
Q: Who are some role models for fathers today?
A: In media and culture, it’s tough. Men seem to get more and better press by leaving their families than by staying with them. By the grace of God, I have been very blessed to know many Catholic fathers who inspire me. I think that’s part of the solution in a world that is increasingly fatherless. Spend time with men who take fatherhood seriously — who embrace fatherhood.
Q: Are there any saints that fathers should look to for inspiration?
A: As a father of nine children, I guess it’s been pretty natural that I have developed a special affection and devotion to St. Joseph. In fact, I try to write about St. Joseph every chance I get. When I do, I focus on the fact that fatherhood must have made him so happy. Just imagine his life. Jesus had, and will always have, a unique love for his foster father. And Mary had, and will always have, a unique love for her pure husband. Imagine the joy that St. Joseph experienced when Jesus and Mary smiled at him after coming home from his carpenter shop. That serves as reminder to me that fatherhood really is a source of joy.
Q: Do you have any other tips or tricks for navigating fatherhood?
A: The priest who conducted our pre-Cana classes told me that if you want to be a good father, love your wife. After a quarter-century of raising children, this has proven to be some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. In so many ways, my wife makes this exceptionally easy, which is saying a lot, because I don’t always make it easy for her. But I keep trying, and she’ll always be my best friend. And I think this forms a stabilizing force for children, as well as a great gift.