Fathers and Sons

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy,

To be calm, when you’ve found something going on.

But take your time, think a lot,

Why, think of everything you’ve got.

For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

“Father And Son” by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), 1970


My father died when I was 13 on Mothers’ Day, the year before my freshman year at Archmere. This year marked the 42nd anniversary of his death. It is hard to believe that it has been that long, because I often think about him.

father_son_silhouette

My father was hard working and family-oriented. I remember my dad working around the house on weekends, fixing the cars, repairing window screens, digging in the garden, and taking care of projects for his mother – my grandmother, who lived next door to us. On Sundays, he wore a white shirt and tie all day, from morning Mass to afternoon walks with me along the Delaware River, sometimes to get an ice cream cone at one of the only places open on Sunday in those days.

My father had to quit school when he was in the eighth grade at age 13 or 14, because his father died suddenly at age 50, leaving behind his 40-year-old wife and eight children. My father, being the oldest, had to grow up quickly and take responsibility for providing for the family. He and his oldest sisters left school and began to work – his sisters in the mills on the Brandywine, and my father in a variety of jobs that led him to become a mechanic on the Penn Central Railroad.

Every morning, my mom and dad woke up at 5:30 a.m., and she would send him off to work with his lunch. Sometimes, I would wake up and hear them talking over morning coffee, not understanding the words, but knowing that the conversation was about my three brothers and me, about the extended family, and about getting through the day, the week, the year.

At 4 o’clock every afternoon, my dad would return home, eager to hear about all that happened in my day at school. We would sit down to dinner at 4:30, and sometimes not leave the table for more than an hour or two. My dad was interested in everything I was learning, and everything I did, as he was with all of my brothers. But I recall that as I got older, and my brothers who were 14 to 18 years older than I were married and moved out of the house, I enjoyed the sole attention of my dad at weekday dinners.

Twenty-six years after he died, it was memories of my dad that encouraged me to pursue my doctorate degree. Because he was only able to have an eighth grade formal education, my father instilled in each of his four sons the belief that education was critically important, not just to be successful, but to complete a life journey of inquiry, discovery, and fulfillment. Not having the opportunity to receive advanced degrees, Dad schooled himself by regularly reading the Bible, pouring over the daily newspapers faithfully, and listening critically to the nightly news. Debate on any subject was common in our house – that’s how I knew my Dad.

I have often wondered what our lives would have been like if he had not died so young. While I have so many wonderful memories, it is curious to me that they are not focused around those things we had in common – hobbies, father-son projects, and other bonding experiences. I know he enjoyed music, as do I, and he was always interested in my academic studies. But he and I never spent long periods of time together doing things. We didn’t fish, or hike, or camp together. He was not a sports enthusiast; nor was I, so we didn’t go to games or even watch sports on TV.

My father enjoyed repairing cars and fixing things, and I had little interest in any of it. But I will always miss him, and I will always think of us as close.

child_holding_hand

In 1990, my wife and I had our first child – a son. Two years later, we had our second child, a daughter. Through the years, I often thought about my relationship to my children as their father, reflecting on my own relationship as a son with my father.

Particularly as they moved through their teen years, I thought about how I never had the experience with my father that were having with me as theirs. Sometimes, I felt disconnected from their interests and daily lives, and I did not have my experience with my dad to know if that was “normal” in the growing up process.

As an example, our son is artistic and athletic. He enjoys all sports. My foray into sports was trying out my freshman year for Archmere’s Track team. Let’s just say I “hit the wall” about a quarter of the way through the second lap. I can still point to that spot on the track where it wasn’t pretty. And that was the extent of my Archmere athletic experience – one and a quarter laps.

Now I have a son who is a three-season sports enthusiast! I wonder how our relationship will mature in the coming years, particularly our conversations using sports vocabulary.

Just two weeks away from Fathers’ Day, we finished the impressive Baccalaureate and Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2014. This emotional time of beginnings and endings, punctuated by thoughtful speeches and heartfelt congratulations, often causes us to pause and reflect on what we truly value, and what is most important in our lives. We recognize the commitment, resources, and relationships that have been invested in these wonderful graduates, with the hope and prayer that they will live fulfilling and happy lives.

As they grow and mature, I pray that you, their parents, seize those opportunities when you can enjoy their successes and support them in their difficulties. And I also pray that you not be discouraged or feel as though you have lost touch, should there be times when you may not feel connected or even shut out from their lives, wondering about how relevant you will be when they become independent adults.

I believe that, while I may not have fished with my son or my father, took apart and reassembled a car engine with my son or my father, or even used the correct terminology to describe a play in hockey, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, rugby, etc., with my son or my father, they both know how much I love them. And the same is true with my daughter, who has an incredible work ethic and unique creativity that continually amazes me.

From my humble experiences, I can say that love supersedes all experience. And if we continue to express the love that creates us and binds us, as we palpably felt at the Baccalaureate and Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2014, then we can only provide the correct measure of support for our children who will respond in kind.

Best wishes to the entire Archmere community over this well-deserved summer break. I look forward to hearing about the countless summer adventures when we return to campus in the fall!

“Tis the Month of Our Mother:” Celebrating Mary & Our Mothers

“’Tis the Month of Our Mother” is an older Catholic hymn sung often at this time of year when the Catholic Church traditionally has honored Mary during the month of May. The first lines of the song are:

’Tis the month of our Mother,
The blessed and beautiful days,
When our lips and our spirits,
are glowing with love and with praise.

Refrain:
All Hail! to thee, dear Mary,
the guardian of our way;
To the fairest of Queens,
Be the fairest of seasons, sweet May.

In the refrain, Mary’s “Queenship” in the third line refers to our Catholic Church belief that, when she died, like Jesus, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Conceived without original sin and the mother of Jesus, she was honored by God by her assumption. Catholics have given her the title of “Queen of Heaven,” a title taken from ancient sky goddesses in the Mediterranean and Near East.

Tomorrow, Archmere celebrates the Ascension into Heaven of Jesus, her Son. Thursday, May 9, is the traditional date, though some dioceses, including Wilmington, have moved the observance to Sunday, May 12, which also happens to be Mother’s Day.

When I attended my Catholic parish grade school from first through eighth grade, I looked forward to participating in the parish May Procession each year. We would sing Marian songs and prayers, and then crown the statue of the Blessed Mother in Church. It was a big event, and as students, we would practice the songs as part of religion class for weeks in advance.

The second grade First Communion Class, dressed in white, led the long procession of students. Two or three of them were selected to be in the May Court of students. These students actually placed the crown of flowers on the statue of Mary.

The procession of students in the school uniform of blue and white, led by altar servers with candles, incense, and processional cross, walked around the block in reverent silence, two-by-two, shortest to tallest, from the school building to the Church. Parents, aunts, uncles, and friends lined the sidewalks to watch the procession pass, then quickly moved into the church through the side doors to watch as the procession entered the Church down the main aisle.

The organ swelled with the strains of the opening hymn to Mary, and the assembly sang robustly the first of several Marian songs throughout the prayer service. When the appropriate time came for the May Crowning ceremony, the eighth grade girls, each carrying one long white gladiola, lined the Church’s center aisle. With their flowers, they formed a series of arches, under which the children from the second grade May Court would pass as they made their way to the altar of Mary adorned with flowers and ferns.

After the event, which ended with Benediction, there were the obligatory family pictures on the Church lawn with family members before heading home. But the May celebrations of Mary did not end. Each school day in May, we were invited to bring flowers from home to place before the May altar that would be set up in our school classroom with a statue of Mary. I remember bringing in azalea clippings, lilacs, and bouquets of a flowering white shrub called, spiraea alpine spring flower, wrapped in aluminum foil. We would recite the Memorare or a decade of the Rosary as part of our daily prayers in May.

Of course, it was easy for me as a child to make the connection between Mother’s Day and the devotions to Mary, our Blessed Mother. My brothers and I revered my mother and appreciated all that she did for us and for our extended family. She, in turn, had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, and would always encourage us to turn to Mary in prayer.

I just read an article in the May 7 edition of The News Journal, entitled “Mothers never really become obsolete,” written by Momspeak Columnist Tracy Grant of The Washington Post. In the article, Grant claims that a mother’s goal is to teach her children life skills so that they can become independent. She comments, however, how hard it is sometimes to “let go” of special moments. Her sons are now 17, and she writes:

And I know, too, that even while I lament their growing independence, this is life as it should be. I’ve decided I’m going to stop looking in their rooms to see unmade beds and feel frustrated. Soon enough, the beds will be made and will stay made for weeks or months.

But Grant concludes the article referencing a text message from her son that ends with “Love you Mom.” She writes, “The feeling that clutches at my chest as I read those words will never become obsolete.”

Grant and I agree that “recognizing a mom’s efforts is not just one Sunday in May; it’s 365 days of the year.” Celebrating motherhood and all that our mothers do for our families seems to be a natural and universal reaction. It is appropriate then, that we recognize the work of our Mothers’ Guild, joined by our Fathers’ Club volunteers this year, on May 15 at a gathering in The Patio.

assumption_murillo

Assumption of The Virgin
Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The very first Mothers’ Guild in 1932 presented to Archmere a reproduction of the 1670 painting, “The Assumption of the Virgin.” Painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, it is a symbol of the Norbertine’s devotion to Mary. The painting hangs in the Music Room of The Patio, which served as the school’s first chapel from 1932 until 1970. Since the founding of the Norbertine Community in 1120, many abbeys, priories, and houses dedicated themselves to Mary, each carrying one of her many titles.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, is one of nearly 50 titles found in the Litany of Loreto, a prayer of the Church to the Blessed Mother that dates back to the Middle Ages. It is a title most fitting for this month when we use a crown of flowers and not a queenly crown of gold and precious stones to show our devotion to Mary. In keeping with the Norbertine tradition, it is a title most special to Archmere, exemplified in Murillo’s painting.

As Grant points out, celebrating mothers and motherhood is not just a one-day event. With Mary as a perfect example of all that a mother sacrifices, endures, enjoys, and loves, we are especially grateful for our mothers during this special month of May, but we also know how much we appreciate and love them every day.

For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, we pray for them and ask them to pray for us. For those of us who may not have known a mother, we pray in gratitude for those who may have taken up the formative tasks of motherhood, acknowledging that we love them just as a child loves his or her mother.

In closing, I share with you the Marian antiphon Regina caeli laetare. The “Queen of Heaven” hymn is recited during the last hour of the Liturgy of the Hours as part of Night Prayer:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia.
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Happy Mother’s Day!