Program #0073 for Monday, June 20, 2011: Jim Stenson

June 20, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Jim Stenson, author and educator

Today’s topics: Being a successful husband and father; raising children

A summary of today’s show: Jim Stenson talks with Scot on the day after Father’s Day about the qualities of the successful father and husband gleaned from his decades of serving and observing families, including the 4 ways that a dad’s role is that of protector and the 12 pieces of essential advice for fathers.

1st segment: Scot welcomes author and educator Jim Stenson to the show. Scot was surprised while reading Jim’s books to learn that Jim is not a father himself, but he’s captured so much wisdom in terms of what makes successful fathers and husbands. Jim has been a numerary member of Opus Dei since he was 18 years old and has helped started two schools, one in Washington DC and another in Chicago. He was director of the school in Chicago for 12 years. One of the principles of schools that Opus Dei tries to foster is that the people who benefit the most from the schools is the parents because parents do most of the work in raising the children. Their job is to reinforce what the parents do at home.

He became interested in the dynamics of the family and has studied hundreds of families. Over the years he found in families do a good job in that they raised adults, not children. What he learned, he put into his books and into his talks to parents. He’s been giving conferences since 1989 all over the world.

He’s written three books. His website is

Jim started when he saw so many social changes take place in the family over the last several decades. For example, the father works outside the family and the children almost never see him. He saw this as a significant fact. What he tried to do was learn as much as he could and provide a job description. Increasingly he saw the role of the father as very important and misunderstood. A lot of fathers weren’t sure of what their role is in their family.

Too often children see their father come home and veg out in front of the TV or the computer and there’s not much interaction. There isn’t much to emulate. Children learn character and virtues by imitating people they admire. You don’t teach virtue with lectures and talks, but by example. People in the learned wisdom by watching the father be active around the house or the farm or the shop or workshop or other family business. Too often kids just see their father in his leisure time.

Jim said the less the father does to provide leadership in his family, the more the burden falls on the mother and if she works outside the home then there’s a vacuum in the children’s formation. Formation is everything you say and do so your children don’t grow up to be the selfish heathens they were when they were very small kids.

The role of the father as Jim sees it is that of a protector. The more the family is aware of that, they more they respect him and the more they learn from him. The father protects in four ways:

  1. Physical: Children feel safe when the father is around. He’s the strongest one in the family. Children sense that daddy loves them and his strength is their strength.
  2. He protects the family against destitution. He puts his power up against problems in one profession or another.
  3. He protects his wife from the arrogance and aggressive of his children, particularly in two stages of life— from ages 2 to 5 and then later 13 to 15. The kids can be very disrespectful to their mother. His role is to step in. The wife creates the moral tone and the father enforces it. She’s my wife, not just your mother. Nobody ever treats my wife with disrespect. I am honored to be her protector and that is my role from God. He’s told high school boys that God has given them strength of arms, a deep voice, a beard to drive away anyone who threatens your loved ones, starting with your wife.
  4. He forms their judgment and conscience, especially as entering adolescence so they can later protect themselves. Above all, integrity. Kids have to learn it. The kids see the father as expert in the world outside the family. Integrity is related to integer. It means unity. Unity of intention, word, and action. We mean what we say, we say what we mean, and we keep our word. We do not lie and we keep our promises.

2nd segment: Talking about a father’s unity of life. What makes someone successful on the job can translate to success in family. Success is the full of use of one’s powers to the betterment of others. People who succeed most in business have a real clear sense of focus on the future and they get along well with people. They are known as having integrity and professionalism.

A man who is successful in business has a clear vision of where his business is heading in 10 or 15 years. He looks for strengths in people and coordinates those strengths toward a team’s collective endeavors. He doesn’t care about weaknesses, but only what they can contribute. The team can mask weakness. He is service-oriented; he wants his people to be better as a consequence of doing their job. He is also concerned for details now while looking to the future. He doesn’t waste time. He is conscious of his authority and sees it as a means of serving others. He knows that no ideal becomes reality without sacrificial effort.

Every father who is serious about his job knows these things at least indirectly. Scot said he learned in business school that it’s easy for men to focus so much of their mind on work because it’s so tangible and measurable. But it’s more difficult at home because how your kids are doing, how your wife is doing is less tangible and harder to see.

There are ways to measure the tangible effects of raising the kids. Are your kids doing more and more without being told? Do they have eyes for the needs around them? Do they keep their word? Do they admit when they’re wrong? Is honesty important in their upbringing? Are they behaving more and more like conscientious responsible adults?

Scot said one of his favorite definitions of leadership is behaving in a way that other people want to follow you. It’s important that parents lead in the home because kids need heroes to look up. Ideally parents would be their primary heroes in life.

Jim said leaders have joiners, not followers. Children will follow someone who knows what he’s doing, is confident, and is active. In your home, establish rules and standards. Start the rules with “we”: We clean up after ourselves. We put things away when we’re finished using. Say please, thank you, I’m sorry, I give your word. We don’t return a car with less than a quarter tank of gas. We worship God as a family to thank Him for everything. This means that the father lives by the same rules and the children see him doing that. He’s making it clear that the family is a team. Especially in a big family, all the children feel needed. The children make clear to the children that they take of the needs and the children take care of the wants. If they want something, they have to get a job to make money and buy it.

Scot said good leaders in business set a vision. A good fatherly leader puts his wife first. Jim said that’s part of his vocation from God. Children’s attitudes toward each parent mirrors the parents’ attitudes toward each other. When the wife treats her husband as the hero in the family, the kids respect him. Never belittle the husband in front of the children. He must have their respect. Part of the respect we have from other people is our reputation. It is part of the wife’s job to settle her husband’s reputation in the family. For example, husband and wife make decisions for the children together. The father makes clear to the children that the mother is the boss here. She’s here to enforce the quality control in the house. If they mess around too much with mom, they face dad’s wrath.

3rd segment: One of the roles of parents is the religious formation of children. One way to measure being a successful Catholic dad is whether you can pass on the joys of the Catholic faith to them. Jim said children’s concepts of God have much to do with their relationship with their father. They see God as someone who is powerful, strong, loving, forgiving. Everything God is, is what Dad is. The father needs to be active in his own interior life towards God. He has to have a personal friendship with Jesus Christ.

Sanctity doesn’t mean performing miracles. It means being a friend of Jesus and being open to whatever he asks of us. It would be natural to lead your children to that same friendship.

Scot said when the father takes an active role in his faith, then it tends to take into the next generation, both with boys and girls, than if they view Catholic faith as just their mother’s faith. The children expect the mother to have a stronger religious sense, because they naturally see her as mystery. Men tend to be problem solvers. One of the great secrets of married life is that men worry more than women. This is why they need friends. When a father makes it clear that his best friend is God, it shows it’s not a matter of weakness turning to God.

It’s true for other values as well: If the father is a reader, the children are readers. If the father’s interested in art and the culture, the kids are too. This pattern seems to come from the father.

Fathers should take an interest in catechetical instruction. Make it clear it’s not just study to pass a test. Tell them about he great sacrifices of those throughout the ages who passed on the faith. Make it clear that they will have to pass the faith on to their own children someday. The children need to think strategically.

Scot said many grandparents lament that their grandkids aren’t being raised in the faith. How do we avoid that same lament? Scot said Jim has taught him to make it clear that he wants his kids to know the faith so they can teach it to others. It raises the bar on how much time he spends in formation with the kids.

Jim said in grandparents’ generations they depended too much on institutions outside the family to educate the children. children internalize what the parents take seriously. Children won’t remember the details of what you teach them, but they will remember what’s important to you. Every Catholic parent should homeschool their children in the faith.

Jim said psychologists have found t hat when the family sits around the table, their attention is mostly toward the father. He’s the center of attention so the father can lead them all in prayer. The main prayer in the family is thanksgiving to God. In some families, the youngest children will say the prayers; they are the one who came most recently from heaven.

Ask your children for prayers in important occasions. Children can’t contribute much to family life, but you can tell them that their prayers are powerful and mean a lot. Make visits to the Blessed Sacrament; to have a devotion. Tell your kids: you pray for me, I’ll pray for you. They associate dad with a loving relationship with God. They’ll see how his strength and confidence in life came from his relationship with God.

Scot said if we don’t help them find heroes in the saints, they will find heroes in athletes, musicians, and actors. Jim said it’s a fact that teens especially are not looking for rules to live by, but a life to imitate. That’s why they watch adults so closely. Hollywood and media put up images of people who are glamorous and entertaining. Because of that, make clear to them that we are all descended from heroic people: grandparents and those before them. Also our favorite saints who stood up for the faith or did tremendous things with their lives. Teach them to be open to whatever God is calling you to.

The finest way that children can honor their parents is to live by their principles. God commands us to honor our father and mother and so we can internalize their principles and religious values; to live by them all our lives. To honor me, live by what I’m teaching you.

4th segment: One of Scot’s favorite pieces of Jim’s writing is a document called “Advice for Fathers”. It has 12 things that fathers can do as a kind of examination of conscience:

Don’t neglect your wife. Make sure everyone understands that wife is Number 1 in the family. He knows one husband who brings home flowers every Friday to his wife to show her how grateful he is to her, but also to let kids know how much he appreciates her.

Don’t underestimate your children. Have high ambitions for them. Think of them as young men and women. Parents often don’t think far enough ahead: what are my children going to be life in 20 years? Start looking for their positive features, which are sometimes the obverse of what annoys you.

Don’t treat teenagers like large children. Children grow, but teenagers change. They change remarkably, especially girls. That’s the age they most need their father. Sons are looking for leadership from their dad. They are adults who have everything but experience. When teens ask, Why don’t you trust me? Tell them, we trust your integrity and your good intention. We have to mistrust for now, temporarily, your judgment because you don’t have enough experience. In a few years, you will have that experience.

Don’t ever tell your teens that the high-school years are the best part of their lives. Because it’s not true. They constantly make mistakes, get into trouble. 90% of their problems is from bad judgment, not malice. Every part of life is enjoyable. It’s all a matter of attitude. Life is an adventure. If you tell teens it’s the best years, they will groan.

Come down to your children’s level, but don’t stay there. Listen to them. Be patient with them. Don’t become another child in the house. Don’t let them treat you like an older sibling. Bring them up to your level. Get them to think like adults. Part of the father’s role is to say your mother has taught you right and wrong in the family and it will be true in the outside world. Turning teaching of the family into lifetime ethics.

Don’t forget to praise your children and be specific about. Praise effort, not just success. You want them to try. We don’t belittle people who try. We tend to specific about blame and vague about praise. Don’t praise children for what comes from God—good looks, etc—but praise them for attitudes and behavior you want them to repeat.

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