At nine o’clock Mass yesterday Father Xaviour spoke about fatherhood. He also read “On Children” to us from Gibran’s The Prophet (1923/1951, 1976). Listening to him I thought back to when I was five.
My dad was my hero even before I knew the word or its meaning. He taught me my letters, my numbers, and how to relate to others. What I recall best about my dad, though, is that, during his lengthy illness, the priest would visit him late in the afternoons. Through my dad I learned about God.
Then, early in the morning, July twenty-first of my fifth year, Dad called me to his bedside. The memory of that day still lingers vividly.
Mom and I had been on a palette on the floor by the bed, my brother in his crib, all of us sleeping in the same room. I’d find out many years later that Mom, exhausted from working the night shift at the shrimp processing plant to support the four of us, had helped my dad with his bath and changed the sheets on his bed before falling asleep herself that morning.
I get emotional each time I remember because dad’s illness was so senseless! With the proper medical care, he wouldn’t have died. My biggest regret has always been that my brother never had the chance to know dad as I did. He loved us so much!
So, when Dad called out to me, I immediately got up from where I lay with mom and stood at his bedside.
Dad’s eyes were closed, and his voice was calm. But he was struggling somehow. (This is what chokes me up every time. He knew. And maybe he didn’t want me to see him die?)
“Hija, go get me some orange drink and some sweet bread.”
We lived behind my uncle’s grocery store, which was a wall away from his family’s residence in the back. And the bakery was right next door.
Sensing some sort of urgency I ran to the kitchen door, looked out, saw that the washer woman was doing the laundry, and ran back to my dad. “But the woman’s washing all my dresses,” I said, quite concerned about disappointing him as I stood there looking down at my dad for a few moments, awaiting his response.
Dad lay very still, his ashen color contrasting against the white sheets. His eyes were closed. His face looked peaceful. He gasped for air. And he was gone.
I have no idea how I knew Dad had died; but I immediately woke Mom, who, on seeing dad, frantically cried out for me to fetch her brother.
I guess Dad had held on as long as he could. Despite his tiredness, his swollen feet, and his being bedridden more and more as his illness progressed, Dad had looked after my brother, barely six months old, and me while Mom was at work.
Not until I was much older did Mom tell me that Dad’s biggest regret had been his leaving her the immense responsibility of caring for two young children.
Dad had been an only child, brought up by his dad and his grandmother. His mother had died from childbirth complications, so Dad had to have anticipated what our lives would be like without him.
Listening to Father Xaviour during Mass reminded me of Dad. The prayers, the blessings, and the homily on fatherhood all touched my heart and soul. I wiped the tears from my eyes and felt, as I always have, ever so grateful to God for my father’s loving ways. He was so good to us!
Being with Dad was easy. He was loving, gentle, kind, funny, though I especially recall feeling safe and protected. God made sure Dad loved me enough for a lifetime.
Even now, Dad’s genuineness nurtures my resilience. His love is for all time, and he’s always with me. Through my father I’ve come to understand God’s presence in my life.
On getting home after Mass, I came here to my thoughtful spot to begin updating our church website. When Steven didn’t come into the office to work at his computer, I got up to check on him.
Steven sat on the sofa with The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran (1947, 1957, 1965) open on his lap. He was leafing through the book when I asked, “Are you looking for what Father read during Mass today?”
Without waiting for a response, I walked over to my books, returned with The Prophet opened to “On Children,” handed it to Steven, and walked back to my desk.
A father’s letter
After a while, Steven came in to work at his computer. We quietly did our own thing until he said, “Here. Read this and let me know what you think.”
Steven’s two-page letter to our four kids made me realize that he, too, had been impacted by Father Xaviour’s reading during Mass.
June 21, 2009
The enclosed writing from Kahlil Gibran was our blessing from Mass this morning. It is a gentle admonishment to parents, reminding us that the future belongs to you, our children. It is profound, more so because of its simplicity and brevity.
You may struggle from time to time, but you have your wings of freedom, your minds and abilities, and your enthusiasm for tomorrows.
I am privileged to have you in my life, and I am grateful that I am alive today and have the opportunity to share this philosophy with you. More lasting than that conferred by a priest at Mass, you are our true blessings. We will pass, but we will continue through you and the generations you produce.
May God bless you and bring you many successes in life, and may you keep Him close in your heart as He does you.
We love you.
Steven’s second page was from The Prophet (Gibran, 1923/1951, 1976, pp. 17-18).
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.
Living with Steven is so amazing. From the beginning, he’s said that we think in quantum leaps without skipping a beat. We don’t need to explain; we simply understand.
Yesterday, both of us were inspired by the enormity of Gibran’s metaphorical wisdom, even though our perspectives focused on opposite generations. On Father’s Day, I longed to converse with my dad, just as Steven longed to hear from our kids.
Through Father Xaviour’s reading and our writings, God, Father of all time, responded to our needs, mine through Steven, Steven’s through me.
God is sooo awesome!
The Father’s Day prayer cards are from Lift your Spirit! (James Doherty Company).
December 29, 2013
God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.
My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins— a house raised in justice to you (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14).
October 20, 2014
Entrust yourself entirely to God. He is a father, and a most loving father at that (St. Paul of the Cross).
October 22, 2014
Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother— exercising their royal priesthood— penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface (Pope St. John Paul II).
May 1, 2015
May 20, 2016
At the beginning of her life, she will feel your love. At the end of her life, you will be on her mind. And what happens in between is up to you. Love her extraordinarily. This is the heart of great fathering (Meg Meeker: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters)
Pdf file… GAX* © Lanoux
Links of interest… Catholic dad: The call, the craft, the cross / family handbook… Kahlil Gibran: about / book (more) / prophet (motive) / quotes (more) / review… On Father’s Day or Christmas in June… Strong daughters need strong fathers…