Today, I remember my father, Tony, in a special way. It is the 16th anniversary of his death. He died of a heart attack while I was studying for my doctorate in Rome. He was only 70 years old.
As usual, I celebrated his anniversary by going out for lunch in a restaurant. I then went to a coffee shop for capuccino. Later, I watched a movie.
Today happens also to be the feast of the Lord's baptism in the river Jordan. According to the Markan account, as Jesus emerged from the water, he heard the voice from heaven saying: "You are my beloved son, my favor rests in you." (Mk 1:17)
I believe this text is very appropriate as I remember my father. After so many years I have come to realize that it sums up who I am in relation to my father.
The Spanish translation of "my beloved son" is "mi hijo amado." When I was baptized my father gave me the name "Amado" - the beloved.
As I was growing up, I wasn't really fully aware that I was his beloved son. He was not demonstrative with his feelings or affection for me. He appeared stern and strict. He spanked me occasionally whenever I misbehaved. But what I treasure most were the times I spent with him. He would bring me to his various projects - he was building roads, bridges, cement plants and power plants. He called me his bodyguard. He boasted to others that I would be an engineer like him when I grow up. I would accompany him to the tennis court when he played tennis with his friends. He would bring me to see the movies and then to a restaurant afterwards. He would bring me to church for confession, for the station of the cross and to hear mass. He asked me to accompany him whenever he attended the monthly meeting of the Knights of Columbus. In the evening when the family gathered after supper to pray the rosary in front of the statue of the Sacred Heart, he would ask me to lead. Once I saw a meditation book in his bedside which I sometimes read.
According to Robert Bly, many boys grow up with fathers who are absent or distant. This lack of bonding can lead to alienation. Sons grow up without experiencing their father's love, without learning what it means to be men and I may add, without imbibing their spirituality. Many men have "father-wounds." They grew up with hurt, resentment or hatred for their fathers - or even indifference. I realized years later, after hearing his stories that this was my father's experience. He was angry with his father for being a philandering husband, he blamed his father for his mother's accidental death. His father did not support him in his studies and was not even present for his wedding. He did not experience his father's love.
No wonder that it was difficult for my father to be affectionate with me and my siblings. It was difficult for him to give what he did not receive. Yet he tried to give me and my siblings what his father failed to give him. As he got older and became ill, it became more difficult. All in all, he was still a good father compared to his father.
The last summer before he died, I spent some time with him listening to his stories. We did what we used to do together when I was a little boy - watching movies, eating at the restaurant, going to the beach. Whenever we went out to the city and meet his friends, he would introduce me to them with pride. I could sense that he was pleased with me and proud of what I have become.
I still remember that scene in the cemetery when we visited his father's grave. He was crying and telling him that he had forgiven him. As we went home, I became aware that he was at peace. The anger, hurt and resentment was gone.