Father’s Day – The Impact of a Father
I grew up never realizing how unusual for the time were my father's contributions to our family life. Not only did he often do the dishes, he regularly cooked meals for the family. This is primarily in the 1960s! As I recall, his dishes were generally creative affairs, often inspired by his fondness for Asian cuisine. He also had a habit of creating an Easter cake in the shape of a bunny. This became so etched in our memories that I recall him having to recreate this for at least one grandchild. And there were other creative efforts.
I always took for granted his help with the household tasks. But, at the same time, I realized that his ways were in marked contrast to neighbours’ and friends' fathers. His skills came in very useful when I was sixteen, a time when my mother was in hospital, recovering from a radical mastectomy due to breast cancer. I recall my father and my aunt helping the seven children, from 6 to 16, to function smoothly as if what was happening was normal. As an adult, I've come to appreciate that these childhood experiences have been the making of me.
For good or for ill, fathers have a lasting impact on us. As a teenager, I recall awkward drives to school. My father would focus on his driving and stay silent, unless I happened to ask a question, or initiate a conversation. He was a very quiet father most of the time. A man of few words! There was no doubt that my mother was the disciplinarian in the household. It would have been crazy for her to threaten us with, "Wait till your father gets home." That tactic would never fill us with fear. But, her threat with a strong voice and the shake of a wooden mixing spoon was usually enough to work magic.
I have vague recollections of wondering if my father was something of a wimp.
It was only later in life that I came to see that he had a strong contemplative side. I suppose my parents' marriage was that between a contemplative father and an active mother. At my father's funeral several years ago, I used the image of the Holy Family and Saint Joseph to speak of my father. Coincidentally, he passed away on the Feast of the Holy Family.
I've always loved the reading that is offered in that day's Office of Readings. It is Pope Paul VI speaking in Nazareth about the Holy Family being "a kind of school.” In the homily, I focused on the silent, contemplative nature of St. Joseph as a man who would sit back and ponder his handiwork and his rearing of Jesus. It's natural that my homily for my mother, when the time comes, will be to focus on all she passed on about meaningful activity.
I'm very grateful for my father as we celebrate Father's Day. But, I've dealt with enough people to realize that I'm in a privileged position of having had a father whose effect on me is positive. We all know people who've had to think of others as the father figures in their lives: stepfathers, grandfathers, priests, family friends, and so on. Many people have to devote a lot of time to counseling and therapy to let go of the birth father who did so much damage, either by his explicit actions or by his neglect. Or, consider those many children in war-torn lands who've never known their fathers or those who had their fathers torn away from them. There are people who've had to learn the virtues of fatherhood from their mothers or from significant males who enter their lives. Sadly, there are people who've never had a positive fatherly influence.
Theologically and scripturally, I know why we refer to St. Joseph as the stepfather of Jesus. I think of him as the one who played the most father-like role in the life of Jesus. Call him a father or a surrogate father. It doesn't matter! Yes, Jesus was led and directed by God the Father. But, it was Joseph who taught him so much in a direct and tangible way by his silent and obedient contemplation. By his honest labour. By his fidelity to Mary. By his respect for women. By helping Jesus to understand and use everyday images in his parables. By helping Jesus to show to others that love is ultimately about serving our neighbour with justice.
As we celebrate Father's Day, let's be grateful for all of our fathers and for those who've filled in for them.