My dad had a special place in his heart for me, and the impact of his love and care is still being felt today. I am most grateful for his fidelity to my mom, his deep Catholic faith, and his overall magnanimity and kindness.
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Several years ago, I asked my dad to describe his 45 years of marriage. He thought for a moment, then softly said, “Michael, your mother and I were married in the presence of God and we have both taken this sacred commitment very seriously. There have been some difficult and beautiful times, but we both knew we needed to make this work.”
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I witnessed my dad sincerely apologize to my mom for his occasionally poor behavior. I saw him bring home flowers and even rub her feet at night after a long day.
Every single night after dinner, they had a heart-to-heart conversation that would not be interrupted by the kids (unless it was serious), and they went dancing every Friday night at the Elks club. I witnessed a deep love and a deep commitment, and this brought peace and stability into our home.
One Saturday afternoon, as my dad was making his traditional chili on the stove, he looked at me and said, “We live in a nice neighborhood and we have a lot of things, but please don’t get caught up in this world. We are pilgrims. Our true home is in heaven, so don’t forget this along the way.” We never missed Mass on Sunday, even to the point of walking a mile in a blizzard to our local parish, St. Hugo’s.
He went to confession every month and even daily Mass with my mom during Lent. He was very supportive of my vocation and said, “Michael, if this is what Christ is calling you to do, who am I to get in God’s way? I give you my blessing.”
While recovering from a stroke after falling off a ladder, his final words on this earth were to my mom, “Germaine, let’s pray and have a moment of silence. I feel like I am in heaven right now.”
My dad was a little rough on the outside but warm and tender on the inside. He had a twinkle in his eye that communicated tremendous love, and this glance was often more powerful than the most eloquent speech. He took time off to accompany me on a few Boy Scout weekend trips, he hit hundreds of baseballs to me in the backyard during my Little League days, and later, we spent many hours on the golf course with him sharing nuggets of wisdom along the way.
He taught me the value of excellence in the small things by how I washed his car or cut the grass, and his advice to me during long hours of homework at night gave me an extra jolt to finish strong.
Strong and caring fathers produce strong and caring daughters and sons. I encourage all of the men out there to step back and ask yourself: “How is my marriage? How is my faith? How is my kindness toward my children?”
There is no question your kids need you to set a strong, God-filled example.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.