Sometimes we think that days like Father’s Day are a commercial gimmick to sell cards and make us spend money. This is partly true, but it can also be an opportunity for us to step back from all the goings on of life and reflect on the gift of a father. Life and family fly past us so quickly. What a blessing and a gift a father is.
For those of us whose father has joined the communion of saints, Father’s Day is a reminder of what we miss. I lost my father ten years ago and his memory is even more precious as the years pass. My reflection is coloured by the memories of my own father.
Here in this year of St. Joseph, I imagine the child Jesus standing on a stool beside his dad in the woodshop learning how to hammer nails and smooth the wood. My own dad, Vincent Patrick Joseph Cleary Mulvihill, did the same. He went about his hobbies while handing me a piece of wood and a few nails. Fathers teach us and they model love for us. My father loved his five children, his grandchildren and foster child. My mom describes his happiness at bouncing a baby on his knee.
My father-in-law was a loving father whose family was his most valued possession. Again, like St. Joseph, he worked with wood. He made wooden toy boxes for each grandchild with their names carved on the front. I remember us all surrounding him as he died. He made sure to have a private moment with each of us to give advice and share his love. I see him in my memories, wearing his special Christmas bow tie and sweater, thrilled to watch his grandchildren open gifts, and insisting on grace before every meal.
My husband’s role as a father is influenced by his father’s dedication to his family. I realized that fatherhood was a new state of being for my husband when I heard him playing Barbies with our first child. Piggybacks, discipline, looking at report cards, planting gardens, cutting the lawn, and sharing tears when life brings them – these are the fleeting moments of fatherhood that mean so much.
Our relationships with our fathers leave their imprint on our development. They model a way of life for us. At Notre Dame High School, we used to have the father-daughter dance. My dad loved this special event. I knew that I was important in his life. Sometimes I fear that I didn’t let him know how important he was in mine. In my childhood, he read me so many books, cheered at plays and school concerts, danced while I sang and modelled a solid, quiet faith. He was a humble servant of God, giving to others, always supportive of the pastor and the parish. For my father, integrity was most important in a faith community. At times, he was disillusioned.
A good friend of mine lost her father recently. Due to the pandemic, as for many people, there could not be a proper funeral in a church. The funeral home created an online event and her father’s close friend, the local priest presided over a Liturgy of the Word. All who loved this man were present and his children gathered in prayer and love of their father. My friend, Margaret, spoke of all the memories and influence her father had on the life of his children. She spoke with him every day and now, she is adjusting to his absence and seeking this closeness in a new way. Family, love and faith. In its fullness, fatherhood models the unconditional love where faith resides.
My dad used to let me comb his head of thick white hair. My own children took up the comb as well. One of his favourite songs is the old Gene Autry tune, “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine.”
Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and to St. Joseph as well! I close with a few lyrics of that old tear-jerker of a song. The words ring true for me.
“If God would but grant me the power
Just to turn back the pages of time
I’d give all I own if I could but atone
To that silver haired daddy of mine.”
Jan Bentham is a retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.