Another Father’s Day rolls around, another tug at my heart. Every year I’m reminded I don’t have a father to call. But along with the heart-tugs that the too-commercialized day brings, it also encourages me to reflect on fatherhood in general, and what my own father meant to me.
Dad’s been gone now 31 years – I’ve lived over half my life without him. But he’s still part of me – and not just my genetic makeup.
Dad was deeply religious and faithful to his Methodist upbringing. When I was a child in Washington, DC, he attended McKendree United Methodist Church every Sunday; when we moved to the suburbs in 1960, he switched his membership to St. Luke’s United Methodist, outside of Falls Church, VA. He didn’t just attend. At various times, he was in the choir, he taught Sunday School, he was active in all aspects of his church. He did this alone.
When my mother and father married in 1943, as my mother was a practicing Roman Catholic, my father had to agree to raise all children Catholic, regardless of his own faith. He took that vow to heart as seriously as he took his vows to my mother. While staying remarkably active with his own church, he was involved with our parochial education – even serving as president of a parent-teacher association of a Catholic school.
These were the days when we Catholics had a, well, rather disdainful view of non-Catholics (I’ve blogged before about the division of the world into Catholic & non-Catholic). They simply weren’t as good as we were, and may even lead to a “near occasion of sin,” something to be avoided at all costs. This meant that we were never to cross the threshold of a non-Catholic church, because who knows what might happen. My mother told me that at some point – around Grade 2 – I told my father that he was good enough to be a Catholic. I’m sure I meant it.
As Catholic as my mother was, she did keep some common sense. She was not about to deny Dad and his family our presence as major events, even if they were to take place in other churches. So even quite young, I attended, for example, the wedding of my cousin at the Friends Meeting House (Quaker). However, there was no major event mandating the family’s presence at Dad’s church. That is, until his memorial service. That’s right – for the first 30 years of my life, I watched my father attend services every Sunday; I heard about his singing the choir; I heard about his leading the teen youth group, even met them when they came over to the house once. But I was never in the church he called home for his entire life. He needed to die first.
How wrong that was of the Catholic Church to deprive our family – including my mother – of the rich experiences that might have created. How hurt Dad must have felt all those years, attending services with us on Christmas and other feasts, knowing that we would not – could not – reciprocate. I wonder how he could have stepped inside church, let alone provided all the help and support that he did to ensure he kept his promise to raise us Catholic. But step inside he did – and he always kept his good humor about religious differences. Mom and I discussed this in her later years; she, too regretted that she didn’t question the logic of Methodist Church as forbidden fruit that would lead to sin.
But Dad may have had the last laugh. I left the Catholic Church for many reasons about 10 years ago, and became active with the United Church of Canada. This morning, I attended church service at Trinity United Church in Kitchener, Ontario. Trinity United is part of the United Church of Canada, which is the product of a merger- called the “Union” – in 1925 of the Methodists, Congregationalists, and most Presbyterians in Canada. Trinity, I learned, had been a Methodist church before Union. This is the first time I’d attended a United Church with a Methodist background.
I felt Dad’s spirit with me. I could see him smiling gently.
Miss you, Dad.