Father's Day Featured Articles


 

Provider, Teacher, Father

We were my father’s most important 'students'

By John Burger

“My father had more money, more homes, more cars,” says a reflective Manolo, the fictional childhood friend of St. Josemaria Escriva in the recent Roland Joffe film There Be Dragons. “But Josemaria had more Dad.”

I’m really happy that when I was a kid, I had more Dad. Yes, my father once held two jobs and was taking night classes so he could advance in his career. I don’t remember seeing him much those days. But Dad wasn’t doing this so we could have frequent trips to Club Med or the latest tech gadgets. He did it quite simply because he knew that life and prosperity can both be short and unpredictable. He remembers his childhood in the 1930s, when his father’s business failed and men would knock on doors in the neighborhood, asking for a sandwich.

Yet, in spite of those years when Dad came home too late to play with his kids, I didn’t grow up a virtual orphan. He got to the point where the future was reasonably well-secured. Did he keep working like a maniac, trying to accumulate all he could? No, he turned his attention to what he must have known was his real work: cooperating with my mother to form their six children in the virtuous life. To do that, he knew, he had to be there.

Sure, he had his interests, his hobbies, his pursuits. For one thing, he loved to read — books about history, books about World War II, which he was part of. But there was never a time when I needed his attention and he kept looking at his books, only pretending to listen to me. On the contrary, I clearly remember when I asked him questions, Dad put his book down on his lap and looked straight at me, ready to listen and to engage in conversation.

He also had a pastime that made it easy for him to spend time with his kids: walking and hiking. He was a school teacher, so he had the time every afternoon or evening to take a jaunt through a local nature park. It was the occasion for regular talks about what was going on in the world, and in our lives. It was also a good chance to share some lessons. He was, after all, a teacher. One evening, we walked around a nearby lake, a place where we could take a break, sit on a bench and admire the evening sky. I was 10 or 11, and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

“What if you could go into outer space and keep going?” he asked me. “What if you came to the end? What if you came to a wall? Would that be the end of the universe?”

I thought about it for a few moments. “Well,” I started hesitantly. “I guess.”

“Well, if there was a wall there, wouldn’t there be something on the other side of the wall?” he challenged me.

“Hmmm.”

“And if you came to another wall, what would be on the other side of that?” he continued.

I never asked him where he came up with the idea. Was it from a metaphysics class he’d taken in college? Or something his own father proposed to him when he was a child? In any case, it got me thinking about infinity: endlessness in space, eternity in time.

I’ve returned again and again to this image as a source of meditation and contemplation. In the vast context of the universe, man is less than a speck. But God has given him a mind which can imagine infinity, and can think about an infinite, eternal God.

An infinite Father-God gave a finite father the ability to describe infinity to a child with limited experience. Dad gave me time — a finite period of time, as it turned out, but time nonetheless.

Time wrapped up in the gift of himself. It’s the work God gave him to do.

John Burger, grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., and is news editor of the National Catholic Register. He is a member of Knights of Columbus Council 10705 in New Haven, Conn.