Father/son retreats at SJF are a one-of-a-kind experience, but what makes it so is not how elaborate the weekend is, but the simplicity.
SJF weekends are a return to basics – really, it’s an entering into a rhythm of life that many of us remember or know intuitively is good, but somehow the modern pace just makes difficult. You do that with your son. And, while I can’t and shouldn’t give away every detail of the retreats (sometimes you just have to let go and be present without knowing what to expect), I’d like to give you a feel and sense of the father/son weekends.
First, here’s a general overview of the schedule:
Friday evening begins with a meatless dinner, introduction and welcome, and then the pig is slaughtered and cooled overnight. Fathers and sons may arrive as early as noon, but dinner is served between 5-6pm.
Saturday begins with a breakfast featuring, like all meals, meat and dairy from the farm, followed by a cycle of talks, structured skills-based activities: processing wood, shooting (target or skeet, based on ages), and free time with your son. There is also plenty of unstructured time that gives you a chance to explore and experience the place with your son. Throughout the day participants help in the slow-cooking of the pig, which ends with the festivity that only slow-cooked pork can support.
Sunday is a day of rest and leisure. Fathers and sons are encouraged to spend this day mostly together and are free to either go on another adventure in Western, NC, or enjoy the hikes, scenery, and river surrounding the lodge where they stay – it’s reserved for you and your son all day and lends itself well to one-on-one time. If there is not a priest on the retreat, everyone attends the local parish Mass. (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms are available within a reasonable distance.) We “end” with Mass, but you can stay all day.
Of course, the time is sanctified with prayer, specifically we pray the Rosary and The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary as our common prayer. The Little Office was and is a way that laymen of old entered the rhythms and seasons of the Church’s liturgy, but in a form brief and simple enough to memorize and keep with you in the toil of daily work. The version used is the traditional one as published by Baronius Press. Printouts are used, or you can use read online (here for Prime and here for Compline) on a phone or purchase your own from Baronius Press (in an effort to keep distractions away, I recommend just getting your own version if possible).
These retreats thrive on reality. When you come here, you are not going to a commercial space rented to a hired speaker with kitsch products and pseudo-food for sale in the fluorescent-saturated lobby. You are coming to a real place with real people. We live here. Yes, killing and preparing a hog is not what everyone does regularly. But we do. And we’re inviting you to learn the lessons that go with that and other traditional skills and culture. The “activities” are genuine acts of culture that help form and mature us as men and draw us together as brothers. There’s a reason these types of works and customs were passed on, especially through men – they are a means of connection and an image of meaning that we need as men. No, we don’t sit and explain that every time we do anything, because these experiences speak for themselves. Don’t feel the least bit inadequate or squeamish – there’s no judgement toward those for whom this is new or strange. It’s a gift we share, not a measurement of manliness.
The content of the talks will speak to both father and son. A man cannot understand the mature stature of his masculinity without being a father, and to be a father entails having a son. The son’s understanding of himself and his true identities, worth, and calling can also only be understood in light of fatherhood. This all sounds so simple, but, again, it so often gets lost today and we know the world and the flesh are not exactly helping. The talks are relevant in our contemporary settings, but are rooted in solid classical Catholic thinking, not fads and buzz words. You will not leave with mere motivation, though that hopefully will come, but with a clear vision of matured masculinity, and the unique role of fathers and sons in the life of faith. Most importantly, you and your son will have a vision of Christian fraternity that you can share and live at home (or homes for sons that have left the household – SJF retreats are beneficial for adult sons as well).
This is not a daycare, so be ready to be with your son. I’ve often seen “family” retreats, etc. wherein the “divide and conquer” method is employed for evangelization and formation – teens over there, kids over there, and parents over there. How can, as St. Paul recommends, a father “shew [himself] an example of good works” if he is not with him? Doing good work helps too. How can mentoring, guidance, and teaching occur when fathers and sons are separated? No, at SJF retreats you will be encouraged to focus on being present with your son, not grouping up with adults and letting the boys go play and be supervised by experts (there are no expert supervisors here). You need to watch him with that ax, not me. We don’t just say that parents – the father especially – are the primary educators of their children. We run the retreats as if that were true.
Again, I can’t tell you everything, so I hope you come with a level of trust and resignation. But this paints a bit of the picture and what we are going for here. I’ve found it’s hard to get men and their sons together for these sorts of things without having an amazing time. Work, prayer, rest – that’s the method of SJF, if it could be called a method. So, yeah, I’m saying that if you don’t have a memorable and worthwhile time, you’re the problem.