As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, I have asked two Dads to share their reflections on being a Dad. Dad #1 is the father of the Dad #2 reflection. Both reflections are stellar. Their words fill me with hope, add joy to my life, and make me laugh. Please enjoy. May each of us remember our Dads, living or deceased, and cherish their memory or enjoy their presence.
Reflections on Fatherhood
When our oldest of four, Sean, was born in 1978, I realized for the first of many times to follow that fatherhood was a humbling experience. I really didn’t know what I was doing. A baby needs “only” food, drink, warmth, and love, but that can be pretty demanding. However, the rewards far outweighed the demands. Over my lifetime, including 43 years of fatherhood and grand fatherhood, here are some of the memories I’ve treasured.
Faith and laughter
My dad personified the best of what it meant to be a father. He was a gentle man who loved to share his knowledge, wisdom, and his heart with us kids. As we grew, he trusted us to make good choices and to learn from our many mistakes. Dad handed down the gift of his faith, together with a slightly skewed sense of humor. For example, the priest reads Sunday’s Gospel about the Good Shepherd. The hired hand was the one who, unlike the Good Shepherd, “Leaves the sheep and flees.” Dad immediately leaned over and whispered, “If those sheep had fleas, I’d leave too.”
Dad gave me a deep love for the St. Louis Cardinals, which I religiously handed on to my kids. One hot and humid day, I sat in the bright sun at Busch Stadium with my six-year-old, his first game, armed with his little glove waiting for a foul ball. The Birds were shutout and almost no-hit. As we left the stadium, Denis said, “Dad, this is the best day of my whole life.”
Trips and memories
For many years, we took long, driving/camping trips with all four kids. For some reason, we attracted rainstorms. Our trips included losing the lid to the car top carrier blowing off in the middle of a rainstorm; tents collapsing during rainstorms at multiple campsites in Texas and Oklahoma; and getting our van stuck in 10 feet of gravel in a runaway truck ramp during a rainstorm. More positively, there were hiking and backpacking trips to Colorado; soccer and ultimate frisbee games to travel to and watch; and SLUH plays that ran the gamut from joy to grief.
We took all four kids to Mass from the early days on. Walking into church, I always warned the kids to behave, and they either forgot each time or ignored me. I never got much praying done during those Masses. When mayhem broke out between siblings, I would firmly clear my throat each time, which usually caused them to look up and stop what they were doing. This went on for literally hundreds of Sunday Masses over the years. Even today, when we’re at Mass or in a crowded room, clearing my throat still gets their attention.
Saturdays were house cleaning days for the kids, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathrooms. As a group, all four naturally hated to work. The list of chores I’d read out for each kid was always the same. For the youngest child, and last on the list, I would sing out, “And congratulations, Denis, you get to dust the baseboards!” After several years of this, Denis insisted I stop with the “Congratulations,” and he didn’t want to hear that word any more! Of course, that confirmed the decision to continue it. Now whenever something unlucky happens to one of us, particularly to Denis, you may hear one of the siblings say, “Congratulations!”
During the Covid 19 pandemic, forced to miss Sunday morning in-person Mass, the Agniel and Bushlack families, including Mary Kate at L’Arche, would Zoom together for the Sunday Liturgy of the Word. Kids and adults took turns with the readings and leading the discussion/homily. Deep trust developed over the months we talked and prayed together, and I learned to listen with my heart to the “homilies,” the thoughts, and prayers of our adult children and their kids.
I’ve received massive blessings over the years that I could never have imagined when Sean was born. Here’s a poem I wrote last Christmas celebrating all I’ve seen and heard over the years:
A Father/Grandfather Sees and Hears God’s Love
Our ears and eyes are truly “spies.” They gather information.
They hear and see (no charge, it’s free) all things in God’s creation.
I see my kids, their lovely spouses, grandkids running around their houses.
Chaos plus disorganization? NO, love rules, it’s transformation!
See that kindly pat, that gentle touch, a firm reminder but not too much.
Taking time, reading rhymes, telling bedtime stories,
Everything we do with love, for love, in love, quite simply it is glorious.
Hear the noises! Kids are swimming, splashing, yelling, joy is brimming.
Hear the silence! Kids are sleeping (pause button pushed on laughing/weeping).
God is here! Not just above! She’s with us in things done with love!
It seems to me, since breathing’s free, we take our life for granted.
Yet through it all, see and hear God’s call. This world is quite enchanted!
Father’s Day 2021
2021 Father’s Day Reflection
They that are planted in the house of the LORD
shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall bear fruit even in old age;
vigorous and sturdy shall they be,
Declaring how just is the LORD,
my rock, in whom there is no wrong.
By chance or grace, the names of my children reveal a map of heritage and devotion, and Hope too. Theodore. Miriam. Harrison. Louis. Miriam in honor of her grandmothers, each with Marian forenames. And, then the boys in a patriarchal sweep for my father (Ted), grandfather (Harry) and a spiritual father and friend, Br. Louis of the Kansas City Catholic Worker. Each of these men has played father-like roles for Susie (my wife) and me. Their lives were planted in the house of the LORD and in their unique flourishings they brightly reveal the courts of our God.
It isn’t easy to see the “courts of our God” these days, much less to live within them, or find refuge or guide star. I think we all crave this promise of flourishing and want to know where and how we might find it. Maybe not much has changed since the time of the Psalmist.
Br. Louis, Ted (my Dad), and Harry (my Grandfather) showed Susie and me the subtle and clear lines of the courts of our God which point to life, joy and promise.
When Susie lived in the Catholic Worker community, which included Br. Louis, we discovered a friend who challenged and inspired us to take public stands on behalf of human dignity, and to see the Works of Mercy as the life-blood of Christian community and practice. He also makes (and shares!) great pies.
Harry, who was better known as Bud or Doc among his friends, and to his grandkids as “Puppy,” was in the first diaconate class of the Jefferson City (Mo) diocese. He put his expertise as an Optometrist at the service of the men serving time in prison. This led to years of diaconate ministry within the prison. Yellowed and treasured pages of his homilies share the ordinary happenings of family life in a supernatural key–a key well known by the songs that would break out at table after meals.
You have your own good sense of my Dad (Ted) from his profound reflection in this same blog. His mastery of words and ideas made him a successful litigator, following careers as a milkman and high school Theology teacher. Among his accomplishments was a lifelong devotion to promote Legal Services for the poor and vulnerable. In retirement he became an Ignatian Volunteer in service to Catholic Legal Aid Ministries.
Ted has modeled the integration of vocation with the worldly, working within established secular structures for the good of family and the vulnerable. Nowhere is this more profoundly seen and felt than in the decades-long commitment he and my Mom contributed to the founding of L’Arche St. Louis–an ecumenical community for persons across a spectrum of abilities and gifts, committed to mutual flourishing. Their investment was for the sake of a spiritual community and resource for all people in our region; happily, it eventually became the home and community for my sister.
The fatherhood of these men were planted in the house of the Lord and stand as sturdy and vigorous trees of Life, Joy, and Promise. Works of Mercy. Preaching and Song. Christic Service in the World. Thank God our children were baptized through these names, outlining the courts of our God through the patrimony of these great men. Susie and I take heart in this bounty of Hope, our repose, our guide star and field of flourishing.
What a gift that each of us has such trees, declaring how Just is the LORD, our Father.