FATHERS’ DAY 2008: ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN
The literature of fathers harks back at least to the bible, where God the father, Adam, Abraham, Noah and numerous others take pride of place in timeless stories that act to guide, caution and instruct humanity. That earlier and different creation stories exist is proof, if needed, that everyone on earth wants to have an idea where they came from, before going on to ask the deeper question, why?
I’ve never written a sermon, despite my family members and friends who critique a few of these essays as little more. Given the political controversy about Barack Obama’s former preacher, Reverend Wright, expounding from any tall pulpit including newspaper opinion columns, could affect the fate of the nation.
At any rate, and a lot closer to home, I’ll give it a whirl.
1. If you’re going to give a homily about fatherhood, begin with a biblical quote:
I CHRONICLES 29-15: “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers. Our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” A minister of some talent would read over this quote and find talking points galore. “Strangers before thee,” “sojourners as were all our fathers,” “days on the earth are as a shadow, etc. As today’s topic is fathers, let’s go with dad as a sojourner, a traveler who stays but a brief time in any one place, then moves on.
2. As lucky children born to a devoted pair dad and mom were always there. Because we thought like children we never imagined a day that wouldn’t be true. When our lives careen through all their stages: child, ‘tween, teen, young adult and adulthood the one constant is the generic dad. He works every day, but doesn’t communicate in the same way as mom, tending to express his love through action: fixing things, moving things, washing the car, cleaning out the garage, mowing the lawn and always working a lot.
3. Last month I had the privilege of playing the proud grandfather role as our granddaughter and 215 fellow students graduated from Northampton High. During senior week we touched all the bases: prom night photos, awards night and diploma presentations by Mayor Higgins on a perfect weather Friday evening. I couldn’t help thinking of own father saying that the best part of being mayor, for six years in the 1950s, was presenting high school diplomas. That his children were sometimes among them only made it better.
4. Sitting in the bleachers I read over all 216 names, marveling at the changes in the makeup of Northampton since I left high school. Old Northampton family names were dotted throughout the list, giving a warm sense of continuity. We thought of our hometown as sophisticated in the 1950s because Smith College students or their parents might be seen wearing a sari on Main Street. We had one Chinese restaurant, but the only African-American people I knew lived and worked in Amherst. This year’s grads won’t enter the adult world as we did, truly innocent of its many inequities, pain and suffering.
5. I knew some of the fathers and most of the grandfathers, living and dead. A beach ball bounced among the graduates as if they were in the bleachers at Fenway Park, adding a light tone to the serious business underway. I thought that was a ploy with not a ghost of a chance under the rule of the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught my crowd at St. Michael’s High. My father, by the way, never darkened its door to check on my studies, except for the one-day I misbehaved. He materialized at the side door with a terse option, “stay or go to work.” I stayed, and worked later.
6. Fathers of that era had little time to waste. There was a Depression economy to deal with, or a war on. Raising the six of us, if memory serves, was to my dad a sideline to the business of making a living. Today, fathers are closer to and prouder of their kids, which is a good thing. Even a little encouragement goes a long way. The loud applause and full-house attendance at senior week events confirmed that today’s parents are hands on, even as they’re letting go.
7. After our first president, George Washington, was lauded as “the father of his country’ his successors were touted as father figures for the rest of us. Until recently that was pretty much the case. Yet, true only in that reporters were less inquisitive, or a gentlemen’s agreement kept the failings on both sides from turning into headlines. Authors who, as Cole Porter wrote, once knew better words found that telltale books were profitable; word dams that were full of damning broke scandals in a flood of revelations that did no good for anyone’s soul or reputation. The nation is no stronger as a result.
8. Losing a parent changes your life forever. Even as we grew to adulthood and learned more about their failings, making excuses for them when they were alive, but never knowing how much they’d be missed until they were gone. I still find myself quoting my frugal English father in-law’s pronouncements, taking them to be biblically wise: “Gambling is a mug’s game,” for example, covers, in just five words, everything from buying lottery tickets, to trips to Foxwoods, to saving for a rainy day. Recessions and Depressions serve their purposes, even if they use the blunt tools of pocketbook pain and loss. Starting married life with scant assets beyond love and hope is how most father’s are made, and made stronger.
9. Early in his term President John F. Kennedy inherited a C.I.A. plan to support a group of Cuban exiles in their attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. Assuming that his predecessor General Dwight Eisenhower, the C.I.A., and the military had a viable plan he let the Bay of Pigs invasion go ahead, but with limited American sea and air support. It was a disastrous failure. Kennedy’s response: “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” It was an original expression of an old truth. For this year’s Father’s Day let’s just say that every father need big shoulders, taking credit or blame for how the kids turn out.
We love you, dad!
10. Love is, of course, the theme of this sermon and all homilies worth their salt. Fathers do what they do for love. Children, even on their bad days, are loved. Sacrifices are made in the name of love. No greater love is laying down one’s life for another. Fathers do it daily. Christian’s believe that God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for our sins. Fathers of every faith willingly die in large or small ways to advance their issue. Every seed in nature gives of itself to assure next year’s harvest. “Our days on earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” Good luck to the class of 2008, and their proud folks. –30–