My father and I did not have a perfect relationship or even good communication. I can’t attribute that to his thick Italian accent, since he spoke fluent English. “Daddy” (as I called him even in my adult years) was a hard worker, a good provider, a lover of fishing, music, and whistling; he respected God and his Catholic faith and was an honest businessman and a responsible family man.
Yet something vital was missing. I cannot remember ever knowing the joy and closeness of jumping onto my father’s lap and snuggling with him, as I saw in other families. And when my siblings and I became teenagers, he turned very tough and verbally negative. Mommy filled in the gaps, as she was openly loving, approving, and encouraging.
Heavy Hearts. An Italian immigrant with a sixth-grade education, Daddy had built up a very successful commercial fishing business. Every day he rose early to fish in the Atlantic waters off Freeport, Long Island, New York, our hometown. I’d hear him whistling in the kitchen as he got ready, but those were the only times he seemed lighthearted. After a hard day’s work, he came home tired, grumbling, and seemingly unhappy. Dinnertimes were strained, with us kids worrying that he might do or say something that would upset us or make Mommy unhappy. So when Daddy was around, we pretty much kept things quiet. After dinner he would usually fall asleep on the couch and then retire to bed before 9:00 p.m.
Sometimes I would hear my parents arguing in the middle of the night. I worried that they might get divorced. They never did, and after Daddy died from a stroke at the age of sixty-seven, Mommy remembered only the good and happy times. She often spoke of the great love they had for one another, emphasizing that we were all love gifts from their marriage. That was important. We always knew we were loved. Still, as I grew up, I wondered and worried about the heaviness that hung about my father like a thick, angry cloud whenever we were together.
I thought about that again several weeks after Daddy’s funeral, as I was driving home from work. Why had my father acted so tough and angry, so worried and suspicious around us? I had hardly ever seen him smile. Angrily, I began talking to the Lord. “Why did you take my father before he had the opportunity to live a happy, loving life?” I asked him. How would he spend eternity? Could he possibly be in heaven or on his way?
Changing My Perspective. Still driving and dialoguing, I noticed Christmas lights on a house to my right. Then, I sensed Jesus questioning me: “Do you remember how your dad got your brother on the roof every Christmas, insisting that he help put up the lights?” I did. Then the Lord showed me that Daddy did this every year because the Savior’s birth was important to him. He reminded me of my father’s insistence that we children attend Mass on Sundays and go to a Catholic school where we could learn about our faith.
I thought about how my father had grown up: with a strong Catholic upbringing, but in poverty and hardship. I remembered his telling us how he and his brothers and sisters would each leave out a shoe for St. Nicholas on the eve of his feast; if they found an orange in it the next morning, they were thrilled. That was the extent of their Christmas presents. I began to see that these hard circumstances probably had something to do with my father’s inability to show much loving emotion.
The Lord went on, flooding my mind and heart with insights about all the good things that I could be grateful for in my father. Yes, Daddy had been strict with us children, but it was out of love and concern for our welfare. He thought that if we feared him, we would obey and stay out of trouble. That’s the way he was brought up, so that’s what he had to offer. And with all his flaws and lacks, Daddy had loved and protected us. Knowing that I would be accountable to him around the kitchen table kept me from many misbehaviors as a teenager, I’m sure. I’m thankful for that today.
Thank You for Daddy! My final revelation from the Lord was that none of us fulfills every plan God has for us, and that instead of judging my dad, I should give thanks for his life. That did it. Not only was I given compassion for my father that day, but I was healed of my resentment. Ever since, I have been able to honor my father, thank God for him, and love him with all my heart.
In a dream about a week after my conversation with Jesus, I saw Daddy fishing on a heavenly canal. On his face was the broadest smile ever! I count on his prayers now, as I look forward to many smiles and embraces from him one day.
Valli Leone is a lay minister for the Archdiocese of Miami, Florida. For more of her story, see her book, Supernatural Joy: A Born-Again Catholic’s Passion for Jesus (www.supernaturaljoy.com).