Restoration

Restoration

Posted May 10, 2012:
Letter to My Father

by Derek Pinto.

A few months after writing this letter, it occurred to Derek to submit it to Restoration. We think you’ll be glad he did.

July 8, 2011

Dear Dad,

I didn’t call or send you a Father’s Day gift this year. I know that’s par for the course for this son of yours. But the truth is, I think I was waiting for the moment when I had something to say. Now is that moment.

Being housefather to the men guests at Madonna House, I recently came to a realization.

Previously, I think I had half-consciously wished that I had had a father who had been a little more industrious, a father who had some of the skills of a few trades and the ability to pass them on to his sons—one who built and repaired things around the house, one who was always busy with this or that project.

Well, over the past month as housefather, I was trying to get lots of things done—refinishing a bookshelf, putting up curtains, planting gardens, seeding the lawn, cleaning, rearranging furniture, fixing the plumbing.

All this activity meant that I only had time to teach the men in the guest dorm the basic tasks of keeping house: doing dishes, making their beds properly, cleaning the bathrooms, keeping bed linens and towels in stock, hanging clothes to dry, etc.

I was also working at the farm, and there I was teaching men guests weeding, watering, planting, hoeing, picking off potato beetles, harvesting garlic tops, rhubarb, etc., etc.

Earlier in the week, Marité Langlois, one of our earliest staff, asked me how housefathering was going. I told her about how I was teaching the men how to take good care of the house and work hard in the gardens. I told her that I was really strict with them and made sure to correct them early on so that they would "know what to do" in the future.

Marité said, "Oh, I thought you would show them compassion and love. I am sure you are a kind housefather. That’s what Catherine always taught us—to really love the guests… But I am sure you are doing that, too."

As I reflected on this over the next couple of days, a sad realization came over me. I had not been doing what Marité had said. I hadn’t had time to enter into a deeper relationship with these men.

When we had free time in the evening, I would more often be trying to get things done than sitting and chatting with them.

When one of the guests would try to have a conversation with me, I would feel increasingly edgy thinking about all the things I wanted to get done and the time I was wasting on this casual conversation.

Then yesterday, our flower gardener gave me some extra flowers to plant at the men’s dorm. She knew I was interested in improving the property around the house. I took them eagerly, anticipating the addition of these snapdragons to our growing gardens.

That evening at the dorm, I quickly helped a guest who had just arrived to settle in. Then I swept the front hall, moved the old refrigerator into the shed, took the compost out, and surveyed the gardens, planning where to put the new flowers.

Suddenly I realized that at the last minute before driving to the dorm, we had switched vans, and I had left the flowers in that first van.

I thought, "Gee, I’d better drive back to the main house and get those flowers or they will wilt, and who knows when I will get another chance to plant them."

Then I remembered Marité’s words and reflected, "Maybe I should spend time with the new guest or any of the guests and just forget the flowers. Maybe this is God’s way of telling me that the grounds look good enough, and that I should spend some time with the guests."

It’s strange how we get out of the habit of some things. At that moment, the thought of getting to know yet another guest was the most daunting thing. On the other hand, the thought of working was so easy.

Suddenly, I understood how dads end up neglecting their children for the sake of projects. And I realized, Dad, that you never did that. You weren’t too busy doing other things; you always had time for us. You knew that we were your priority—after God, of course.

Of course dads have to provide for the basic needs of their family—food, shelter, clothing—but once these needs are taken care of, we really need to provide for the emotional and spiritual needs of our children.

So, I went inside and looked for a guest to spend time with. I am ashamed to say that I had to look hard because they had all dispersed. Probably, they had grown accustomed to my abandoning them in the evening to work on my projects.

Eventually, I found the newest guest. He looked a little forlorn, not knowing what to do with himself in this new environment and new country. (He was from Korea).

I asked him if he wanted to play cards—a frivolous activity according to my recent mindset. (Asking him to help me cut the grass or something had crossed my mind.).

He said he didn’t know any card games. I told him I would teach him. I taught him Speed, and we had a great time playing it.

And what do you know? The other men started to flow back into the kitchen—chatting, sewing name tags on their shirts, etc.

Their "father" had been lost in projects but now he was found!

I realize now that the men guests are my priority. And I am slowly getting myself back into that mentality. It means brushing up a little on my interpersonal skills and letting go of some of the work on my list. But I know that this is what God wants me to do.

To really enter into a relationship with everyone who is visiting here, to greet them and to let them know I am available to them, ready to care for them, interested in them—to let them know that God loves them and that I am ready to allow Christ to love them through me (this poor sinner), in whatever way the Spirit guides me.

Now I understand, at least in part, why many of the children of busy industrious parents are so often unappreciative of them.

It’s because the parents’ projects often took priority over spending time just being with them.

Dad, thank you for always putting us ahead of your projects. You really had your priorities straight, and I am truly grateful.

A belated Happy Father’s Day.

In love and appreciation,

Your son,

Derek.

 


 

July 9, 2011

Dear Derek,

I was touched to the heart by your reflective letter. Thank you ever so much for taking the time to write it.

Usually it is at funerals that one hears these beautiful accounts. I am grateful to hear your thoughts while I am still alive.

I must admit that I was aware of my lack of skills in fixing things and not being able to train you and Steve in them. Now when I see each of your skills despite my lack of them, I am amazed.

On the other hand, the positive side of my not having the usual Canadian man’s skills [Joe is an immigrant from Pakistan.] is that I had to either pay to have work done or humbly ask for help.

In one instance, by paying to have some insulation done, I saved a friend and his family from going on social assistance. This person was ever so grateful for the work that kept his sanity at that difficult period of his life.

God bless you, my son, and may he continue guiding you in his ways.

Love,

Dad

For another article by Derek about another aspect of work, see Restoration, September 2011. You also can find it on the Restoration website under archives.

 

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