Every Child’s Wish | Father’s Day
Prayer isn’t a verse of words you repeat. It is how you live your life… Neither is communication a conversation between two people. You communicate by the actions you take, and in the way you live. –Father Paul Charbonneau
Every man wants to be the ideal father, and every child wants to have the perfect dad – but perfect is impossible. So what would a great father look like? My dad worked hard, but made time for us. He was a great provider, but neither spoiled us, nor used material things as bargaining chips for getting his way. In fact, looking back, there’s no telling what his way might have been – it was all about making his family happy. My father never forgot that his children were going to mimic him in adulthood, and be attracted to people like him as spouses and friends… And that’s what I’m most grateful for – his love and sense of responsibility. Without those two things, there’s no telling what path life may have taken – but with those things – we can have peace, happiness and joy in our lives.
And that’s sort of the gist of the interview with father and son – Jack and Rich Byrnes. At one point, Rich explains that he’s not too concerned with his (adult) children’s careers, but he’s proud of the people they’ve become. Unlike many in our world today, he cares less for the exterior of their lives and more about their internal character. In any walk of life, God can use us to help people, and touch people’s lives in a way that brings them closer to God. And in that way, Rich and Jack have been successful – not perfect – but they laid the path for their children, who will one day teach their children, who will then, one day teach their children…
Interview with Jack & Rich Byrnes
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DH: We’re here to talk about what it is to be a father. Tell me, each one of you, what you remember most about your father growing up.
Jack Byrnes: Well, my father was a good role model. He worked many, many years with the railroads and I just took after him as I grew up. I think I’ve passed that on to Rich and my other two sons.
DH: What does it mean when you say he was a good role model?
JB: Well, he was honest and loyal and had all of the Boy Scout-type of attributes. He was loyal to the Church and spent a lot of time in the Church. That’s what we try to do in our family.
RB: I would say the same thing. I think of the amount of time that dad would spend with us. He worked very hard, but also he would take time to spend with us on weekends taking us on lacrosse trips or to hockey games.
DH: So you guys grew up up north? They didn’t have lacrosse here back then. Where did you grow up and what was that like?
Rich Byrnes: My job took me around the country and Rich was born in Sacramento. We moved to Maryland, then to Canada and back to Columbus, Ohio. So we’ve been around. I don’t think they liked it, my family, when we pulled up stakes, but looking back I think it was a good experience – growing up to see different parts of the country and Canada.
RB: And we learned how to adapt to new environments.
JB: And now he’s about to embark on another adventure.
DH: So you’re moving to Tennessee. I grew up in Tennessee. Tell me what you think, either one of you. What’s the most important part of being a father?
RB: I think the main thing is passing on the values that I learned growing up. My kids are grown now. They’re 24 and 26. As a younger parent you’re thinking, I want them to be good kids. But now I’m happy that they’ve grown into great adults and I’m very proud of both of them and what they’ve become. Not as much with their careers – but with who they are as people. And I think that’s the main focus. It’s understanding that it’s who they have become as people that is important. They both have a great faith life and they’re both very helping individuals. My daughter is a kindergarten teacher and my son spends a lot of time with his church in the music ministry. He does a lot of volunteer work in the community. Being a parent and seeing your kids be able to do that in life – that’s what makes it all worth it.
DH: What can kids get only from a father? Like, what kind of masculine characteristics do you bring to the vocation of fatherhood that a woman just cannot?
RB: Dad was the disciplinarian in the family where my mother was more of a comfort blanket to our whole family. My dad was the one from whom you really knew right from wrong. It’s kind of like the priests we have here. They guide you right from wrong. Dad used to crack a belt. He never used it but…
DH: Just that sound, the leather belt, is scary!
RB: Yes, we would get real quiet when we heard the belt crack.
DH: So Jack, did your kids get into mischief? How many kids did you have?
DH: Were they just garden variety mischievous or did some of them demonstrate serious character defects?
JB: Hah! Well, we tried to keep them busy. That’s the main thing. They played football and lacrosse. Rich was third baseman on the little league team. You keep them busy and out of trouble that way. I’ll give most of the credit to my wife for how they turned out.
DH: You probably didn’t have all boys.
JB: No. I have one daughter.
DH: And Rich, you have a son and a daughter, right?
DH: What are the differences between raising a boy and a girl?
RB: You have to listen a lot more with a girl. (Laughter)
JB: Well, the girl tends to be impatient as we chase the guys doing their athletics. If they’re on a traveling team the girls have to go along, and not necessarily enjoy it… but she was outnumbered in our case. Three to one.
RB: I don’t know since we had a boy and a girl if it was gender based, as much as it was their individual interests and needs. I think throughout their time growing up, just spending time with whatever their interests were was important. At one time my daughter was a dancer and so we supported that, but then in high school she decided she wanted to play lacrosse, just out of the blue. And so I went from one day never having played sports with my daughter, to spending the entire summer practicing, practicing, practicing. So that was one of my memories, spending that time with her. With my son, he was into sports and music and I was as well. The memory that I have recently is just recording music with him. Those are the memories that will never fade.
DH: What was it like seeing your daughter transition from dancing, which is about grace and beauty, to a blood sport like lacrosse? Sometimes when you watch girls lacrosse, you’re like SCARED for them, right?
RB: Oh yeah. In one of these practices she didn’t have her mask on and the ball missed her stick and bloodied her lip, and I just couldn’t believe it had happened. There she was with a big fat lip and blood gushing out. I’m thinking, what did I get her into this for? I think it’s all in how you adapt to their changes. They’re going to change through life. My daughter early on was more introverted. When she was going into middle school, there was a life teen program at our church in Pittsburgh. I had never thought about being part of the music ministry before, but it was in 2001 that I joined the music ministry and have done it ever since. But my thinking was that I want the kids to get closer to Christ and they both have benefited from that. All of the volunteer work in the youth group programs that they got involved in was a result of that. I didn’t do a lot of that myself growing up, but setting that example, now I see my son is playing music at his church. He’s 24 and it’s kind of neat to see them follow your footsteps.
DH: Jack, you had three boys. Did they just beat each other up mercilessly or did they get along?
RB: (Laughter) It was good to be the biggest of the three – and the youngest!
JB: No. They were all individuals and they complemented one another. They all played sometimes on the same team, like lacrosse, in Ohio. There was competition but I think they all had their own paths. Some were better than others in certain sports but they weren’t too competitive among themselves.
DH: So that was probably a break for you. So you guys are still pretty close and that’s a good thing. Sort of at a deeper level, you see a lot of times families grow apart and whatever mistakes a parent makes with a kid, that kid makes them with their kid. But it sounds like you guys really did it right and you knew how to love your kids. For parents who are at a loss, how would you advise anyone on the best way to show your children you love them, and ensure they have that instilled in them for when they go forward to have their own kids?
JB: One thing that comes to mind is when Rich was out of work in January. I invited him to join me each morning and walk through the prayer or memorial garden and say the Rosary. So we’ve had about four months of being together each morning before Mass. It’s something I’ll miss – not having him with me. But I hope he continues to do it in his new occupation: to do it on his own… I’ll be thinking of him.
DH: And you’re going to Tennessee to do what?
RB: Director of Transportation for Nike.
DH: So how about you Rich, how do you show your kids you love them or how would you tell other parents or new parents with young children the best way to be patient, loving, kind?
RB: I think a lot of it is faith-based. And I think it’s having a strong faith. And my faith in the last three to four months has been built stronger than ever. You think at certain times in your life, well, this is “it” and what I have learned is that there isn’t any finish line in life or after life. You just have to keep on working at things. I try to instill that in the kids. My daughter is going to be moving and she doesn’t even have a job, but she’s moving to Ohio and looking for a teaching job. She doesn’t know what lies ahead but she has good faith and good values, and so she isn’t concerned about what lies ahead because of that. She knows that my son is up there and, like you said, we have a good, tight family and they’re going to help each other out when she gets there. Like I said, in the last three months, through the Church and through saying the Rosary every morning and daily Mass, these are the things that I never would have thought of doing because I was so busy with work. Another great opportunity is the Men’s Gospel Forum on Monday mornings. People had invited me to that many times and I was thinking – oh, that’s not what I’m all about, and now that we’ve both been doing that together for the last six weeks, I’m thinking – the whole Church should be here! All of the men should be here. You can see so many people at different points in their faith. Some people are very knowledgeable about the Bible and other people are very knowledgeable about how to raise a family. It’s just a great way to share. That’s helped me to share with my wife and my kids thoughts that I wouldn’t have normally talked about with them. I think it is important to be a good communicator. Let them know how you feel. Let them know that you love them – and I think they will pass that on to their families.
DH: So, last question for both of you or each of you, what’s been the biggest challenge of fatherhood?
JB: Well, I guess I was adventurous and when there were changes in my career and opportunities in different states, it was difficult to know if I would be successful, but I was a risk taker and it seems like it has turned out pretty well. But like Rich, he’s going to a new job and I’m sure he’s somewhat apprehensive as to whether he’ll succeed. But I think most people are like that when they go to a new situation, and that’s what I was concerned with, that my family would prosper from the change.
RB: I think mine would be, in our family we made the decision early on that my wife would stay home with the kids so I have always had that pressure – having a job and continuing to move on and to move ahead with my work to support the family. So I think that was a big challenge but I think one of the things I wasn’t ready for was having newborn kids and dealing with all of that. That’s a big life changer. When that happened, my dad told me “now you understand what responsibility is all about”. And you take a different attitude towards work. When you’re a young parent, because you say OK, you thought you knew what responsibility was before, now you have a whole family to feed and you really learn that.
JB: I’d like to say one thing that has impressed me about this guy (Rich). He’s a musician and he’d rather be doing that than working, but… he wrote a song. He writes a lot of songs, but he wrote a song about me.
RB: It’s called, What would my dad do? I actually wrote it before the whole “What Would Jesus Do” thing. (Laughter)
DH: So they got that idea from you?
JB: It’s a great song.
RB: I wrote it for a birthday party that he had 27 years ago.
JB: Who’s counting?
RB: I’ll send you the lyrics for that because it really sums up what a father is and when you lie awake at night, trying to decide which direction to proceed I fall down on my knees and figure out “what would my dad do?” I think that’s what it’s all about – being the foundation for the family, being the cornerstone for the family and that’s what this guy was to me and to our whole family growing up. That’s why I wrote the song.
DH: I can identify with that because it’s hard when you’re young and single and selfish but just growing up, my dad is still one of my heros – the selflessness. You can’t even wrap your head around it but he always did the right, loyal thing. Put everybody else first, and so I get that. So thanks for talking to me and Happy Father’s Day. Good luck in Tennessee.