Dad test drove a Datsun 210 with manual transmission that he declared would be perfect for me, his first-born child who had just begun a career as a reporter. The brand new compact tan car would be my first major purchase (aside from college loans), and I worried about not being able to keep up with the monthly payments on my modest salary. Dad, who co-signed my loan, offered a lifeline. He’d buy the car from me, if it became necessary. His reassurance gave me the confidence to move forward, but first I had to learn how to drive the stick shift! The car traveled on countless reporting adventures for a decade without the lifeline ever having to be used.
Dad’s presence in my life, from childhood through today, gave me wings to soar. In his apostolic letter, “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis says that fathers need to be close to their children as they grow. “To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present,’ I do not mean ‘controlling.’ Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop.”
Ten years before the test drive Dad and I were in a different car, driving home from my Catholic boarding school for a long weekend. At 14, I struggled to fit in and didn’t want to return to St. Benedict’s. My dad, a successful life insurance salesman and manager, gave me a pep talk that lifted my attitude. He also offered timeless advice. Smile first, say hello first. Try to find a common bond with the other girls at school, he suggested. After some soul searching, I returned to St. Benedict’s and applied Dad’s techniques. The other girls grew to be like sisters to me and I flourished at the school.
Dad held me accountable for my actions, for which I am grateful today. While away at boarding school, I wrote a letter to a 16-year-old friend and one to my dad. I inadvertently put the letter intended for my friend into the envelope addressed to my dad. The language I used in my friend’s letter appalled my dad. His return letter felt like a hot coal in my hands. Dad never uses vulgar words. He vented frustration with phrases like “Shoot in the beer parlor” or “Son of a biscuit!” What bothered me most about his response to my letter was the disappointment he expressed. I never wanted to disappoint my dad.
Writing got me into trouble with Dad when I was a senior in high school, too. I wrote what I thought was a humorous account of our family’s daily breakfast routine, which was published as a supplement to the school’s student newspaper. Another classmate illustrated the story, which featured a barricade made of cereal boxes. Dad read the story and told me to never again poke fun at our family. I’ve complied, but continued writing stories, including one honoring my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary.
Pope Francis observes in “The Joy of Love” that “Husband and wife, father and mother, both ‘cooperate with the love of God the Creator, and are, in a certain sense, his interpreters.’” On this Father’s Day, I am grateful to both of my parents, but especially my dad for being an inspiring interpreter.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor