by Randy Hain
A familiar tale, perhaps?
The sun shone brightly that September morning as the brothers stood next to the grave of their late father. Just a few minutes before, the grave had been surrounded by family and their father’s business friends and their ears filled with the kind words of Father Benton, their parish priest. These words of praise for their father’s life ringing in their ears left them feeling empty and uncomfortable as they stared at the granite headstone.
“I would only say this to you, but I don’t know how I should feel right now.” Mike declared to Greg as they walked back to their car. “Dad spent our entire lives on an airplane, chained to his office or playing golf with his buddies on the weekend. I feel like we didn’t even know him. I know this sounds selfish, but I feel cheated!”
Greg put his hand on his brother’s shoulder, “Come on, Mike! It wasn’t that bad. Dad had a lot of responsibility. He took good care of the family and we never lacked for anything. He would have been around more if he could.”
“Greg, you have always defended him, even when you hurt as much as I did when he missed our baseball games and Cub Scout camping trips. He even missed your high school graduation because of a business trip! What about Mom? How did she feel all those years? Did you see her sobbing on Aunt Mary’s shoulder during the funeral? I wonder what she is thinking about the future now that Dad is gone. We’d better get over to Aunt Mary’s for the reception and look in on her.”
The brothers were lost in their own conflicting thoughts as they got in the car and drove to their Aunt’s home. Greg broke the quiet with a comment that surprised Mike, “You know, Mom prayed for Dad every single day.”
Mike was not expecting this. “How do you know that?”
“Mom told me yesterday before I left school to drive here. She prayed a Rosary for him after Daily Mass every day. You know how devoted she is to the Church. You and I only have faith because of Mom’s influence all these years.”
Mike pondered this as he and Greg walked up the steps of their Aunt Mary’s home to join the family. Sadness…regret…and perhaps a little bitterness were the dominant emotions of the brothers as they joined the large crowd inside. There were lots of hugs and sympathetic comments from all and quite a few people encouraged them not to be sad and instead celebrate their father’s life… which only made things worse in light of their recent conversation.
Then they saw their mother who beckoned them to join her in Aunt Mary’s office upstairs.
“Boys, we need to talk and we haven’t had much time for that since your father’s heart attack. The last few days have been a blur for me and I can only imagine what this has been like for you.”
Mike spoke first, “Mom, Greg and I have been trying to wrestle with all of this and it is hard. Since we have been in college, we have been even more distant than usual from Dad, other than the occasional phone call and holiday visits home. I know everyone expects us to be crying our eyes out right now, but we can’t help but remember a father who seemed to care about his job more than us. Maybe that’s not fair, but that is how I feel.”
Tears welled up in her eyes as she hugged her sons and asked them to sit down. “I know how hard it was for you growing up and I tried my best to compensate for your father’s hectic life. Your dad was a good man and he felt he was doing the right things for our family. In many ways he was only following the example of his own father, who you boys never really knew. But there was a recent change in him that was an answer to prayer. Over the last few months, your father started going to Sunday Mass with me again. After all those years, he finally started reconnecting with the Church! We also had a few short conversations recently about his desire to do things differently with the rest of his life and I could tell he was really troubled with a lot on his mind. He was coming to some big decision points about his life. Now I am going to give you both something I found next to the computer in your dad’s study the morning after… the morning after he passed away. Greg, will you please read this aloud for us?”
Greg nervously took the pages from his mother’s hand and saw what looked to be a typed letter to him and his brother from their father. It was dated September 12th– the day before he was found dead of a heart attack on the running trail near his office. He began reading…
September 12, 2011
Dear Mike and Greg,
I look forward to seeing you both during your Thanksgiving break from school. I have never written you boys before, so this may appear a little strange to you. My intention is to share a few important things that have been on my mind lately and discuss them when we are all together again.
I have been reflecting a lot lately on my life and the kind of husband and father I have been. It is probably no surprise to you that I give myself a failing grade. I realize very clearly that I have not been there for you and your mother over the years. It is easy to justify and rationalize our actions and I have done that for years. I convinced myself that our big house, nice cars, great vacations and the lifestyle I provided for us was worth my slavish devotion to my career. In many ways I am acting exactly like my own father. I thought this justified all of my absences and the sacrifices I forced our family to make over the years. I now realize that I have been living a lie… it was not worth it.
Your mother is a saint for putting up with me all these years and she deserved much more from me in our 24 years of marriage. I have always loved your mother very much, but I rarely told her and thought I was showing her my love by providing a great lifestyle. I was a fool and I am committed to making it up to her. She has been the bedrock of our family and you boys are who you are because of your mother’s great influence.
Greg… Mike… I owe you a sincere apology for not being there over the years. I really mean it. I have come to realize that all the stuff we have is meaningless compared to the lost opportunities to be a meaningful part of your lives. I hope you will forgive me and give me another chance when we sit down at Thanksgiving.
I am hopeful that in the years ahead we will become closer – the way a family should be. I want to reconnect with my Catholic faith and experience the joy I have seen in your mother’s eyes when she talks about the faith or attends Mass. Serving in the community and giving back to others is also high on my list of new priorities.
I want you to promise me something… Please learn from my example! Be a better father, husband and steward than I was and don’t waste the years ahead of you. I wish someone had gotten my attention when I was much younger and helped me not waste the greatest years of my life. I hope to do that for you in the years ahead.
I have seen the light and I hope to make amends. Again, please find it in your hearts to forgive me.
I truly love you more than you can ever know.
There were tears streaming down all their faces. Greg and Mike hugged their mother as the anger and resentment they had felt gave way to genuine grief.
Mike spoke first, “I only wish we had time to have that Thanksgiving together… to truly get to know each other and start over. I would have liked to have known the man who wrote this letter.”
Greg was clutching the pages tightly as he whispered, “We need to pray for Dad. We need to pray that we will learn from his mistakes and pass these lessons on to our own children. It is strange that the thought occurred to me at the grave that his headstone should have read ‘He Had a Great Career’ and now I want it to say ‘Loving Father and Husband’ to honor his last-minute conversion.”
Their mother, who was silently crying, looked up and said, “You never know when your time will come. Boys, please don’t wait until the end of your lives to make amends. I have no doubt that your father would have done what he said, but you can’t wait like he did…you just can’t. Both of you need to start living today like it is the last day of your lives.”
Randy Hain, Senior Editor for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work which was recently released by Liguori Publications.
“These words of praise for their father’s life ringing in their ears left them feeling empty and uncomfortable as they stared at the granite headstone.”
Anyone ever seen a headstone put up at a funeral? Must try harder, “Randy.” But the sentiment is nice.