Habits of the Father
January 18, 2017

“For as in cities laws have force, so in households do the injunctions and the habits of the father, and these have even more because of the tie of blood and the benefits he confers; for the children start with a natural affection and disposition to obey.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

As laws in a city, so paternal commands in a household. But not just his commands: his habits too. This is profound. The habits of a father are themselves like laws to the children.

Something deep within the child says: do what he does. And this is simply because he is their father.

The natural affection of children for their father is an invaluable aid, to him and to them, in making them receptive to formation. That affection is cultivated and preserved by his attentive and guiding presence in their lives, day in and day out.

Surely his habits need not be perfect. They will include asking forgiveness, and getting up after falling. And offering forgiveness. Again and again.

Aristotle does not imply that the habits of the father will be enough; injunctions too will be needed from him. When paternal words and actions are in harmony, children have a pattern laid out before them: a visible path to trod, following in footsteps they know, trust, and love.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.

Image: Leon Lhermitte (1844-1925), detail of Paying the Harvesters

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  1. And if the Father’s habits are bad… the end result is disobedient and possibly even dysfunctional children.

    1. When a father’s habits are bad there is indeed a serious negative influence on the children. At the same time, it seems to me, we cannot forget how there is still room for healing and growth.

  2. I’ve recently found your website through the Institute of Catholic Culture, and I must say, your series on manners is absolutely pertinent to our time. We went to Pizza Hut yesterday and there was a family inside eating in their pajamas! I couldn’t believe it but I could not articulate why it was wrong. I found your article on Manners in Dress. Huge help! My family looks forward to reading more from you.