ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mark Berchem became aware of how he influenced his children after seeing a family photo taken about 18 years ago that showed him and his son throwing rocks into Lake Superior with identical posture and movement, although Berchem had never taught his son the skill.
“People listen with their eyes and even more so in today’s culture, the importance of example is huge for parents,” said Berchem, founder of NET Ministries, who talked about his new book, “Step Up Dad! Your Children Need You.”
“Our kids are watching. They may not be always listening to us but they’re watching. We are teaching loud and clear by how we live our life,” he told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Berchem, a parishioner of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, seeks to help dads recognize their power to affect their children’s lives and pass on faith and values. Including fathering advice with his experiences of raising four children and nurturing five grandchildren, as well as memories of his own father, Berchem provides a guide for all dads who want to raise children of virtue.
The book’s topics include deciding to be a good father, spending intentional time with kids in ordinary life, communicating well, creating memories and traditions, being a loving spouse, prayer, controlling screen time and finding support from other dads.
“I think what I’m hoping to do is to help (dads) realize, ‘I can really, really help my sons and daughters to grow into secure, confident men and women who can make an impact and make the world a better place,’” he said. “It all starts with dads realizing that they have a significant role to play.”
Inspiration for the book came from Berchem’s observations during the decades he’s worked in youth ministry of how young people’s fathers have impacted them. He said he’s seen youth who were wounded, those who wanted more from their fathers and youth whose fathers helped them thrive.
In 1981, Berchem founded NET Ministries, which has trained and sent out more than 3,500 young adult missionaries to share the Gospel with 2 million youth across the United States. It also sponsors monthly Lifeline Masses for archdiocesan and other youth at its West St. Paul headquarters. Berchem recently passed on the NET presidency to Dave Rinaldi and serves as a strategic adviser helping with the transition.
Fathers need to know their kids well enough to recognize their God-given personality and potential even before they’re fully developed “and help them to realize and become the fullness of what God has created them to be,” Berchem wrote in the book. “You do that by having great conversations, asking meaningful questions, letting them wrestle with deep thoughts and ideas.”
As Berchem shared about how he and his wife, Mary, raised their two daughters and two sons, now in their 20s and 30s, he also described his own father’s good traits and what he’s learned from what his dad didn’t do as well. Whether fishing at a Wisconsin lake or taking him on walks after Sunday dinner, Berchem said his father made time for him and created memories.
Even ordinary experiences like taking his own boys to baseball games were critical for creating memories and transmitting values, Berchem discovered. Noting that dads’ time with kids is short, he added, “you want to make sure you use your time well while your kids are with you.”
Berchem emphasized that the book is for all dads and even grandfathers, along with men who feel they’ve made parenting mistakes. “You don’t fail by making mistakes, you fail by stopping to try,” he said. “My encouragement to dads is, don’t give up.”
Deep down, most dads want to be great dads and the first step is having the desire, Berchem said. “We can help awaken that desire,” he said. “I think it’s in us, we just bury it.”
Above all, Berchem encouraged men to embrace the role of father, which God gives them in their children’s lives.
“There’s a part that grace plays and a part that’s their free will,” Berchem said. “We need to do what we can do and then trust the rest to God. God loves our kids more than we love them. He wants them to come to know his love, he wants them to grow and gives us a privileged place to help with the process.”