My father died at age 55 the day after my twin brother and I turned 21. He was English, born in Preston near Liverpool. He met and married our Mom in Baltimore. She was from Ireland, County Mayo.
My dad was a tough sort. I do not know his story, only bits and pieces. His name was William but everyone called him Jack. He was a good man with solid values but was more an enforcer than a teacher to his children. He drank.
He was a handyman, a manager of apartments, a store owner after the war (dry cleaners, a grocery store that went belly up) but very proud. Our mom was codependent, drank with him and raised us kids as she knew how. We were much loved but also abused in the process. They fought.
Back then our sister, the eldest, ran away from home when things got really bad, but she always came back. I was the first to leave home – at age 13 – to become a priest. I was running away, too, but didn’t know it.
Over the years and as a priest especially I struggled every June to find words to honor my father. But I was too hurt, too angry, too unforgiving. That word “honor” asked too much. I did not know my father or his story (and still do not). He never shared it and mom would simply say in her Irish way, “Darlin,’ that’s water over the dam.”
My last June as a priest, I finally decided to put words to my feelings about him. What I said helped me to forgive him his failings and to accept his humanness and struggles through a far too short life. I admitted that I could not honor my father because of my memories of him. But I was able to say I did not really know him. He was an alcoholic, living a hard life, and unable because of his pride – and drinking – to nurture in a loving way.
I teared up as I spoke but I felt in saying aloud what I needed to, that finally, I realized my father had loved me in his own way, as he was able to. And I could forgive him. Ever since I have honored him for that love.
On Father’s Day we celebrate both saints and sinners and accept the human struggle fathers have in raising a child to live a life better than their own. I honor my dad for that.