Hi again, heavenly father,
Not a lot to talk about, just checking in before virtual Mass at my local church which is a couple miles from my house but feels miles away.
I’m thinking now about the fact that my biological father passed away this past fall. I believe he is in heaven, and therefore – haha but seriously – every time I say “heavenly father” now, I’m kind of like I feel the need to clarify which one. It does help matters that I don’t really talk to my biological father that much – didn’t on earth and not in heaven.
It’s my father’s birthday tomorrow. I was talking to his girlfriend this past week and we’re all in this state of okay, not okay. His first birthday since he died and I would legit be in New Jersey right now or at least tomorrow if not for stupid quarantine. Probably today because we would always do weekends around birthdays – and that would have felt more right.
I’ve written a lot about my mom but not a lot about my dad. He was raised Catholic in Boston and had briefly considered being a priest when he was younger, but didn’t because he disagreed with too many Church teachings. I literally had no idea about any of this until I converted to the Roman Catholic Church when I was 30, and my father said he was so proud of me for finally joining the Church.
We had some interesting conversations about that, about women’s ordination and birth control and other issues he felt were wrong and why he’d ultimately left.
Yeah, talk about non-communicative fathers. He taught me nothing about the religion that is now at the center of my life. Well, unless you count by example, like always doing the right thing. Being honest. Respecting people of all faiths. He also taught us how to hike in the woods even without a trail or markers, how to change a tire, how to take time for yourself, and how to stubbornly start a hundred different projects left half-finished in the basement much to our mother’s chagrin. Yeah, this is another reason I’m a terrible writer. I love to start things but finishing them?
My relationship with my mother was relatively uncomplicated, because I sort of spent a lot of my childhood learning how to do the opposite. Seriously, I would at times out of sheer self-preservation just be like whatever my mom says I will do the opposite. Because that’s probably the right thing to do.
My mom did some good things though. We had this elderly neighbor – a Jewish Holocaust survivor – who left for a retirement community, and she would drive us over to visit. I missed that neighbor deeply, because she was so nice, and she would always let us into her house for cookies. Her name was Freida. I think of her stories whenever people try to say the Holocaust never happened or it wasn’t that bad.
My mom took us to her because that’s the kind of person she was. She didn’t want us to be complacent. She despised Christianity with a passion, because she grew up poor in Brazil and she saw first hand what church-run schools in a poor neighborhood could look like. She explained to us at length about the hypocrisy of the church and how it kept poor people poor by preaching a “gospel” of literal poverty. If we did become Christian, and she hoped we didn’t, let it not be like that, never complacent. She was always championing causes, flitting from impossible cause to impossible cause, enlisting us to go out and put fliers in mailboxes even though it was against federal law – as I’d learn later.
This world often does not do well to dreamers who escape a life of poverty to become paragons in their field. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try – or fail to recognize the deep and lasting wounds we can get as we emerge from the dust.
Neither of my parents were perfect, but they both had lessons to teach. Balance is imperative as one of my favorite singers sings in one of my favorite songs:
My childhood like many childhoods is a bundle of contradictions and paradoxes. None of us are perfect. We are all here by grace. Sometimes we all need grace to lift us up – not out of pain but to make that pain bearable, so it doesn’t break us on the way through to the next inevitable battle – until the end.
Point is, just saying God, just saying father gestures to a heap of such contradictions. When I call you father, first and foremost I mean to say that you are such a bright, salvific light into my childhood. Thanks for helping to raise me from the dead. Thanks for doing so in such a perfectly hands-off but not hands-off way.
I love my biological father and I always will. I love everyone, as you know. In you, there is no shadow of turning, but there are good and better ways to live in your light.
With love forever yours,