It was Christmas eve and I knelt in the pew facing the candle lit wreath behind the altar. There was a warm glow surrounding everything and the nativity display was in place. The church was filled for the first time since Easter.
The warmth of families and love radiated from every direction. After the infant Jesus was placed in the manger we all stood for the opening prayer. There was a family of four in front of me, soon to be five from the looks of the mom.
The mass proceeded on track and after listening intently to the readings, there was a beautiful homily about family. My mind started to drift to my own family and the tremendous gratitude I felt for this blessing in my life. The ritual of the mass allowed me to drift into thoughts of the years of small children filling our home and many past Christmases.
The young boy in front of me snuggled up to his father and reached his small arm across his back, barely reaching halfway. All of a sudden I as filled with the awareness of the comfort and love this boy felt for his dad. There was a sense of security and constancy in his gesture.
I reflected on my four children’s childhood without a father and what that loss had meant in their lives. I could only be aware of the outer manifestations and not how their inner thoughts and feelings were affected. They had said very little even when I brought it up. My own father had been emotionally absent and that absence gave me some idea of that lack in the lives of Nicky, Arlynn, Tony and Eddie.
A sense of grief and longing filled my heart with pain and my eyes with tears for what that absence had meant in my own life. Never feeling loved unconditionally or good enough as a person, not being worthwhile.
My relationship with my faith and Jesus grew in my early teens and gave me the comfort and security that had been lacking in my heart. Later I was blessed with a husband who gave me the total acceptance I had longed for that filled me and allowed me to find my gift and the confidence to become all I was intended to be.
Soon I would become a single parent after my beloved husband was lost in the war in Vietnam and our beautiful children would experience life without a father.
No matter how much I wanted to fill that emptiness for them, it just wasn’t possible. I was the mom and that was all there was to it. I had my own personality and character traits and their dad had his. We were a good balance of introvert and extrovert, quiet and noisy. My children needed that balance and difference of characteristics to bounce off. They also needed an emotionally present parent full time. I couldn’t always be there for them with a home and job to manage. The many responsibilities of parenting are too much for one person and the perspective of a dad is critical to forming a well rounded child.
Sometimes this void can be filled by grandfather, uncle or other caring male family member but that isn’t always possible. Somehow my boys knew internally what was needed and are wonderful fathers to their children. It gives me great joy to watch the play and spend learning and quiet times with their children, both boys and girls.
Fathers are a blessing to their children that we must always recognize and value.