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How to be a Tough Catholic Dad-An Interview with Leah and Abby's Father

As a fun way to celebrate Father's Day, we would like to introduce the man who raised us, Joe Molitor! We hope you enjoy getting to know the man we love so much through this interview. -Abby and Leah

Share a favorite memory from when your kids were little.

One of my favorite memories was taking a family trip to Glacier National Park. We rented an RV with a big V10 engine that went 6 miles to the gallon. We headed west on Highway 12, 75 miles per hour, just lettin’ ‘er hammer. 

We made it to Medora by 4 o’clock in the afternoon with 92 pairs of underwear on board. The key to being a good father is giving everyone a Mountain Dew an hour before arriving at the campground. We parked the RV and the girls ran out to the bathroom like bees coming out of the hive. I was the last one out, with my shirt unbuttoned, scapular on display, and a cigar in my mouth. We wanted to make sure everyone knew we were Catholic. 

We roasted hotdogs, shared marshmallows, and offered anything we had with the neighboring campers. We sang songs, we prayed, we laughed, and made memories. 

Because we are Catholic, we went out to the people without judgment and met them where they were in life. 

Each night, the neighboring campers would join our fire. I wonder why? 

As the dad, you want to look tough. You want to appear to your kids that you are the toughest man in the world! I proved this to my girls when I stopped the RV and got out to take pictures of a black bear that was on the side of the road. The bear took off running and so I chased after it until it turned the corner about 300 feet ahead. I managed to snap a few photos of the bear, before returning to my family. I was greeted by my daughter's faces smashed against the RV window as they watched my bravery. 

If you look at the photos of the bear now, you will see a tiny black dot where the bear should have been. What a tough guy I am. 23 years later and not a single one of the girls remembers. It was still a good try! 

It was 5 o'clock in the morning and my wife made the rule we were not allowed to eat monster cookies. But we decided we could sneak a few since she was asleep. Little did we know she was awake and were shocked to hear her say, “I heard that!” I blamed the kids. The kids blamed me. I had a disadvantage because it was eight against one. 

What is your greatest joy of being a dad?

Seeing my children doing well. I wanted them to crawl and they learned how to crawl. I wanted them to walk and they learned how to walk. I wanted them to pump on the swing and it took each girl close to two years but the greatest joy of fatherhood was when they finally figured it out! 

Abby's wedding, February 2022

What was it like raising a house full of girls?

We never talked about boy stuff or tractors but I did learn how to paint their fingernails. We did a lot of ‘girl things’. I would lay on the floor and the girls would take a cup of water and a comb to style my hair. One of my daughters is still styling my hair but this time with a professional cosmetology degree. 

What do you wish you would have known as a young father? 

I wish I would have been more patient and understanding of their personalities and preferences. I wish I would have understood the wants and needs of each specific child. My girls did not always vocalize their opinions so it was easy for me to assume things that were not true or think that everything was okay when it wasn't.

Joe with three of his grandkids this past November

What is your biggest regret?

Not having their mother there. Parenting requires husband and wife/mom and dad as loving companions before God. It requires a loving couple that has one voice before God which teaches your kids everything. 

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of the success of each kid. They know who they are! They are independent thinkers and they are open to challenge me. Nobody is the same and yet somehow they are. 

When my youngest daughter was in first grade she stood up for a neighboring girl who was being picked on by an older boy. He was taunting this girl with a candy bar. Maggie grabbed the candy bar and smashed it in her hand and threw it in his face. She stood her ground against the 6th-grade bully! Tough fathers raise tough children. 

How did your role as a father change after your wife died?

Unlike my wife who cried during every Hallmark movie, I was a big man who did not cry. But after losing her, I cried for a thousand days. I was called to be married and suddenly I wasn't married anymore. There was a strange loneliness but I wasn't alone! It felt like I was in a dark tunnel but there was light at the end which was a sign of hope. 

The worst part about losing your wife is losing your kid’s mother. My girls never fully shared with me what they went through and I think they kept quiet to protect me. But each night I went upstairs to say our night prayers and they all faced the wall crying. A hurtful memory was from the day my youngest daughter received her first communion. We were standing in the front of the church when her veil fell off. I fumbled as I tried to pin it back on when one of the mothers standing behind us pinned it back on with tears in her eyes as the whole church watched. 

I learned to trust teachers and other mothers more. I had five kids in four different schools at one point. The first day they came home with all the ‘back to school’ papers and I threw them all away. Teachers were understanding of my situation and as it turns out there were only four pieces of paper that actually needed to be signed and turned in. I am very grateful. 

 It's a road I don't wish on anybody but grieving is a necessary road we all have to take. You don't know what ‘strong’ is until you have to be strong! 

Most recent photo of Joe and his eight daughters taken a few weeks ago

How has your relationship with God the Father changed throughout your experience as a father? 

I had a good earthly father and I work with my brother Tom who is a good example of a father.  Because my personality is perceptive I was able to learn from them.  My father always knelt before God which taught me how to kneel before God. The gesture of kneeling taught me that there is something greater than Me and that I don't know it all. 

When you become a parent you are vulnerable to mistakes. It is important to admit they are mistakes and learn from them! When Leah was little, the kids knew that they had to hang up their coats when we got home but Leah. Instead, she just threw it into the closet. I called her back, “Leah, hang up your coat.” She humbled me when she said, “Dad, I can’t reach it.” Duh…You can not expect your child to do something that they are physically unable to do. This has taught me to surrender to God the Father. 

How did you teach your kids about the faith?

By example. Faith is not something extra, it is a part of life. We would go to confession at least once a month and mass throughout the week which taught my daughters the importance of receiving the Sacraments. We prayed a daily rosary which instilled in them the importance of prayer. We ate dinner together every night and talked about the realities of life by answering their questions! We had a tight community at church and strong relationships with our neighbors. We brought our kids to funerals and taught them about heaven and death. 

If you could meet any saint from any time in history, who would it be and why?

Joan of Arc. She was a tough bird. She had the guts to be a strong and holy woman and was burnt at the stake. Her story is so interesting and she died for her faith. That is a good way to die. Although, being burnt at the stake is a bit unnerving! 

What advice would you give to a young father?

Joe guarding the family's passports on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, 2017

You are the provider and protector. That means you are the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night. You are the one to check the lock on the door to ensure the safety of your family. You are the last one to eat. Don't worry, that doesn't mean you have to go hungry, but you do need to make sure everyone has something to eat first. Look to the example of the Cinderella Man. The great boxer, James J. Braddock went without food so his children could eat. He won the heavyweight championship of the world on an empty stomach. 

Trust your wife. Her heart is the heart of the family. Your kids will understand that you have to go to work. They will see and respect your sacrifices. But you have to know where you stand and have the confidence to take that stance. They will learn to trust you. NEVER confuse your wife or kids.

Growing up on the farm there could be real danger for my daughters. Injury or death could occur if they didn't listen or have perfect obedience. It was not taught by beating it into them or through fear but through example. 

What advice would you give to a young mother?

Trust your husband. Stop talking and listen. He probably has a plan but if you make the plan for him he won't be given the opportunity to put the plan into action. He will rise to the occasion when given the opportunity to do so. As a wife and mother the best thing you can do is be attentive to the happenings within the home so he can be successful outside of the home. You move as one person and one heart, together. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Anytime you can punch someone in the name of Jesus, it's a good day! 

I remember taking a few of my girls to Cash Wise to pick up groceries. I was dusty from a full day of work on the farm and the girls were grubby from a full day of playing at the farm. Groceries were not as expensive back then so our full cart amounted to $35. I only had $25 in my wallet. We must have looked shaggy because the cashier offered to overlook the balance. I told her that our situation was not what it looked like. She was persistent and hid the groceries we couldn't afford under the counter so nobody could see us slip them into the cart later. When we were ready to leave, a lady in the lane next to us gave us a free box of doughnuts because she felt sorry for us. Sometimes fatherhood is not what it always appears to be.

The entire family on Thanksgiving 2023

Happy Father’s Day to all the men in our lives! Until next time, your sisters in Christ,

Abby & Leah

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