There is a lot of living that goes on at a coffee shop. I often spend time at a local coffee shop after Sunday Mass. This particular day a family came in. There were two teenaged girls and boy who was eleven or twelve. The girls were both blond and beautiful. The mother was tall, thin, and beautiful. The father was tall, thin, handsome, and wore a uniform. They were near enough to me that I could hear some of their conversation. The family appeared to be nearly perfect.
The boy seemed to be a particularly good storyteller; he would engage the whole family and they would all laugh. Then the son asked a question; it was perfectly audible and it came at a lull. “Dad, what religion are you?” There was just a small pregnant pause before he asked it again, “Dad, what religion are you?” The father now turned to one of the daughters and began to speak with her. Once again, “Dad, what religion are you?” The conversation between dad and daughter continued. The mother and the other daughter looked onto their conversation. A fourth time, “Dad, what religion are you?” The mother gave a consoling look, which must have given the boy courage to ask one more time, “Dad, what religion are you?”
And then it was done; the sounds had all drifted away from this question. The boy chose not to revisit it. The dad once again returned to the family conversation. The boy once again told a witty story and everyone listened and then laughed. And it was soon time for them to leave. Another Sunday morning had come to a close.
Perhaps this was the day that the young boy learned not to ask this question again, or perhaps it was not. But there seems to be a piece missing and the truth that has been written on the heart of the boy has been ignored. Perhaps if this truth can be ignored, he will learn that other truths can be ignored. And his little heart that aches today in a way he cannot explain may become a heart full of ache that he cannot explain.
What if the question had been, “Dad, which is your favorite baseball team?” The chances are slim that the question would have gone unanswered five times. The father might have answered, “The Twins,” or “I don’t have a favorite,” or “I don’t like baseball,” or even “Don’t interrupt me while I’m speaking with your sister.” But the chances are he would have answered in some way. The chances are even better that the son has no need to ask the father for his favorite team because the father has already made it known for years and in many ways. But his religion, this question has never been answered, has never been made known. It was met with a deafening silence, and there is a child with an unnecessary ache. Perhaps the girls have the ache as well but have given up on the question. Perhaps his wife’s ache has been stuffed into the back of the closet full of the most beautiful clothes, shoes, and purses, none quite beautiful enough to cover the ache. The deafening silence of fatherhood has been felt for the past few generations. Perhaps the silence has only been for forty or fifty years but the repercussions will reach far into the future. The signs point to the fathers of the future maintaining the deafening silence.
Ah, but it does not have to be this way. Fathers do not have to remain silent and they do not have to send their children into the world with this ache. How grateful I am that my own father was not silent on this question. He was Catholic. He was a daily communicant. None of his eight children ever had this question. This is not to say he was perfect, but he was not silent. In my own life there were many dark years but when I fell, I was able to fall onto the Church, the base I was given, the Faith of my father.
This is fatherhood! My father gave me life and faith. And his Faith gave me life after a death. Thank you, dad! Thank you for never leaving the question of your faith unanswered, for never letting it be a question. May the young boy from the coffee shop never have a clouded heart, may his father’s silence never deafen him, may the boy answer every call from his Father in heaven, and may fathers never be silent again.
This article originally appeared in the newspaper The Catholic Servant in June 2009
© Copyright Alyssa Bormes