Carolyn Woo

Before we had children, my husband was deeply worried about whether he would be a good father. It is the biggest responsibility to bring a person into the world: to raise, guide, nurture and love him or her.

As an only child who majored in industrial engineering modeling and estimating complex systems, David thought the “learn as you go” approach was laden with opportunities for mistakes. I, who came from a family of six children, assured him that children are resilient; they don’t need perfect parents, just sensible ones.

Neither of us, nor any parents really, could imagine the growth and transformation that parenting would call forth from us. A defining step was the mutual decision when our sons Ryan and Justin were 6 and 3 that David would be the “swing man” and I would focus on my academic career, which was pulling me in the multiple directions of teaching, research and administration.

David assumed primary responsibility for the boys’ care and, assisted by a housekeeper, scheduled his work in information systems consulting around our lives. Twenty-plus years ago, this was not a common or socially accepted path for a man. Neither of us knew any other couple who made this choice.

My mother-in-law-was not the only person who felt a sense of loss when her son, an Eagle Scout, accomplished athlete in multiple sports, private-school graduate and Ph.D., took this turn. I felt a loss, too. It was like a departure from the picture of success, defined (now with hindsight) in the shallowest terms.

David was present for our sons’ myriad activities. He was there when Justin needed stitches after an injury at a taekwondo session. He procured the grasshoppers for one of Ryan’s science experiments. He cried when Ryan came home heartbroken from not making the basketball team and when Ryan overcame obstacles to earn medical-school worthy test scores. He was there when Justin opened up about how he lost his confidence interacting with people after a painful relationship.

I derive much joy in seeing the good men, now 28 and 25, that the boys have become and how much they are like their dad. A young doctor and Catholic school theology teacher, both have a deep sense of faith and are compassionate to others. Service at the homeless shelter with David helped them develop empathy for people who are having tough times.

Their love for books, crossword puzzles, trivia competitions and fastidiousness with grammar are products of their treks with their father to libraries, bookstores, museums, national parks and of searches in dictionaries and atlases (“Look it up!”).

Both save their money, maintain their cars, keep appointments, handle their responsibilities: the good habits that pass from fathers to sons.

I am particularly grateful to my husband for the choice he made. I know that many women, including some colleagues, have taken similar paths and I hope that this will add to their celebration. If I were now to answer my husband’s worries about being a good parent, I would respond differently: Good sense aside, love will help us find the way. It may not be the way we imagine but love is God’s way: It is thus full of surprises; it will occasionally dig deep into a place in the heart where there is no protection; and it brings unspeakable joy — every day.


Woo is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.