“Dads, it’s your responsibility.”
Michael Bichler felt as if
Monsignor Tom Richter
was looking directly at him.
“It was the first time it really hit me that I’ve been a ‘loser’ up until now.”
Sitting in the pews of
St. Anne’s Church
in Bismarck a few years ago, Mike knew, as he listened to the homily, that this was a turning point in his life as a father. He wanted his four children, now ranging from ages four to 15, to experience holiness.
“We need to lead,” Mike now acknowledges. “We need to lead our family to Christ. St. Joseph should be our model – the kind of humility he had, he was always in the background. He knew his role and accepted it.”
Monsignor Richter speaks often on what it means to be a father: “It would be easy to say, ‘I’m not holy enough, I’m not spiritual enough, I don’t pray enough to do this,’” he said, speaking from his experience as a pastor and, consequently, a spiritual father to hundreds. He often advises men to look to St. Joseph as a model of true, virtuous fatherhood.
“Dads could say, ‘I’m not qualified to lead this family to God.’ But the truth is we have no business asking the question ‘Am I qualified to do this?’ or ‘Do I have what it takes to be a Joseph?’” Richter said. After all, when stacked up against his wife (the Virgin Mary, who was conceived without original sin) and his son (who was literally God in the flesh), St. Joseph was easily the least holy person in his household. Yet, God chose him.
In fact, God chooses each man to be a father—with a clear mission: to be a spiritual leader of a family.
But what does it take to do this? For Mike, the first step in the road to becoming a stronger leader for his family was to change his prayer life. “I didn’t know how to pray…other than Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s. I mean really having a conversation with God.”
His primary inspiration to go deeper into his prayer life was close to home: “The most important thing for me was seeing my wife, Nicole, pray. Her prayer life was intense and she prayed often. The kids noticed,” he said.
Seeing the effect his wife’s spirituality had on the family made Mike want to lead and do the same. “Women ‘lead’ or help their husbands be a leader by offering the opportunity to lead. Husbands have to take that opportunity. It was Nicole’s nice, gentle encouragement that made it work.”
Mike and Nicole made it a priority in their own lives to seek out the sacraments in Sunday Mass, confession and eucharistic adoration. These fueled their desire to pray as a family. Mike would often lead the rosary with the kids participating. “They’d get to each lead a decade, and they loved it.”
Prayer became a part of who they were as a family. “Even when I was away, I’d call home in the evening and Nicole would put me on speaker phone so we could pray as a family. As dads, our kids need to see us pray.”
His wife’s influence was paramount, but Mike also sought to surround himself with other good men he admired. He joined a book study led by Monsignor Richter that included men from the parishes around town. He sought the advice and example of the men in it to teach him more about prayer. “I was the youngest guy there. I’d see the struggle of these other men that I knew and looked up to. Visiting with these men and being around them, and around my good friends who were young dads too, inspired me. I was inspired by their prayer lives.”
Mike acknowledged one of his greatest struggles is worrying how to provide for his family.
“What clouds my mind the most is dollar signs. Questions like, ‘How am I going to make this work?’” He admitted that these thoughts distracted him from being open to accepting new life or being open to his wife staying home with the kids. It took prayer and radical trust in God to face these struggles, he said.
By getting out of his own way, he turned to God and trusted He would take care of it. Because of that, Mike could spend more time focusing on how he could be a dad. “I can’t be a dad when all I’m consumed with is supporting a family.”
He knew he wasn’t alone in this specific anxiety. “There was a common thread among all of us. You have to recognize that you have to turn to God, you can’t do it on your own. You have to let your Father worry about it.”
Mike found relief when he trusted in God, as a child would trust his father. It was then that God provided the love Mike needed to make it work. Even more than that, God brought him deeper into his own spiritual life. After trusting God and making changes which included selling the family home they had built, Nicole could stay home with their boys in their new home. Mike had more time in the mornings, and was challenged by a friend to begin attending daily Mass.
“It’s been huge…for me and for my family. It makes getting through the day easier because the focus is on Jesus Christ from the start. My wife tells me I’m a different person when I make it to daily Mass.”
Staying close to the sacraments, taking the opportunities to lead and trusting in God have all helped Mike become a strong spiritual leader.
“My dad was a great example for me. He was the center of the family when it came to faith. But I want to do a better job. And I want my sons to do an even better job than me. We can always get better, right?”
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