At the Rally for Dads on Saturday, Feb. 4, at St. Bridget in River Falls, presenter Bob Kroll spoke of the abuse he and his siblings suffered at the hands of his father as well as the process of healing the troubled relationship. (Catholic Herald photo by Joe Winter)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

A rally to help build better fatherhood started by airing the hurtful – but soon turned to sharing the helpful – at St. Bridget Parish in River Falls on Saturday, Feb. 4.

The rally, sponsored by the Council 4902 of the Knights of Columbus, was a call to listen, learn and connect, and to help all dads be the best and most effective they can, as is God’s call for them in their vocation. Men of all faith traditions were welcomed.

Bob Kroll, a nationally recognized speaker, explained in three sessions how past, present and future relationships between fathers and their children have an impact on families and even on the world. Resources were given to connect with other dads, there was reflection on “fatherhood” and what attendees wanted for their children, and pride instilled on the dad you are becoming, as we all are a work in progress.

“Now more than ever in history, it’s time to step up … to man up and make a difference in children’s lives,” a handout said.

The degrees of the abuse Kroll described from his childhood were jarring and given to show how words hurt more than we think. Examples of how to better act in such situations followed.

The speaker said that although it may get more attention, in his view the “wound” that comes from an absent or abusive father is just as damaging as that coming from a mother or other family member.

Kroll’s father once told his daughter to put her new bike “in the back of the truck,” but rather she put it “in back” of the truck and it was run over. He then carried into the house and held up the mangled piece of metal, and sarcastically said to her, “Happy birthday.”

Another time, the little girl wanted to show daddy her nice dress, but he yelled at and demeaned her for blocking his vision of the television, as football came first, and he would not be taken away from it to spend time with his family.

The sister first told Kroll a few such stories when she was 24. The wounds were still fresh then.

Their dad slapped Kroll several times for simply setting something down in a place other than asked, as a third example.

But it is never too late to right the ship. Another male mentor said that when looking at a young Kroll, that grown man saw “a hurt but confused little boy.” This came from systemic abuse. So he confronted his father, in part through a letter written to him, saying that he could forgive and that he wanted a much better relationship to be forged going forward.

“Right away, the bitterness I felt ended,” he said. After attending a reconciliation session with a priest, he exited the room and when walking out of the church, saw a trio of mallards flying by. He noted that Trinitarian symbolism and took it as a sign. He made the sign of the cross. The letter was sent and it was months before a reply was received, but it proved worth the wait.

Since then, his father has even attended the sessions given by his son and given his blessing for him to share his story through speaking engagements.
Kroll asked those in the audience how many of them felt they were the same person as they were 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. Few if anyone raised their hand. This was meant to show that through God’s grace, people can change and better themselves.

In a brief interview between sessions, Kroll said all of us tell each other lies to make the truth seem more palatable, including the unfortunate truism that children find it easy to blame themselves for their own abuse and problems in the family. This can come more easily than some might think if the children are called worthless or unloved.

Kroll noted that in making the bold move to confront his father, he had to take into account that there were eight siblings also caught up in the drama and trauma.

“How would I have rated the relationship with my father? A one or maybe a two on a good day. Now it is a 9.5,” Kroll added.

It was evident that there is a need for the masculine, properly conducted, in children’s lives, and an example given was doing occasional harmless rough-housing with your sons.

In a prayer near the conclusion, those in attendance were led in an effort to call on God to help them continue to forgive, “and fill empty spaces with love and joy,” Kroll said. He noted that this last of the three sessions would feature more “intense” prayer than the first two.

Fr. Joseph Stefancin, parochial administrator, read a special prayer for dads that was accompanied by a medallion for seeking assistance from Joseph, patron saint of fathers.