A Son’s Story – Part 3

by Fr. David May

This is the third article in a little series recounting how God’s “words” to me shaped and continue to sustain my life and particularly my vocation. This month I look at how the word “forgive your father” played itself out. It begins with a first meeting with my father after an 18-year long hiatus following my parents’ divorce in 1959.

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This is the story of how I became reconciled with my father. As I mentioned in my column in the April Restoration, a relative of mine living in Windsor, Ontario, had arranged a possible meeting between me and my father at his home.

It was spring 1977, and I was on vacation with another member of the community. We made our way down to Windsor from Combermere, a distance of some 400 miles or more. Needless to say, I was nervous, and I was also grateful to have a travelling companion.

He made arrangements to stay nearby, while I would have the evening alone in the house of my great uncle to be with my father. Actually, my father had been raised by his uncle and aunt, and it was the same uncle who was anxious to arrange this meeting for us.

Finally, the moment arrived. My father was at the door. Although I hadn’t seen him for 19 years, I did recognize him. Yet it felt like meeting a complete stranger.

It’s difficult to describe what happened that evening. Basically, my father gave “his side of the story,” and he readily admitted that he had been quite irresponsible in the way he treated us, his family.

He told me the story of his life since then, and let’s just say that “it was what it was,” not that inspiring, but he was humble about it, and made no excuses.

He was surprised to find his son having a religious bent! But he never questioned me about it again, and in the ensuing years, he accepted me for who I was.

We ended up talking for most of the night, getting a little sleep towards morning. He then offered to take me over to Detroit to meet my Aunt Esther, the wife of his brother, and my cousins who were about my age or a little younger.

I must tell you that for me, on the emotional level, going back to Detroit was like my own version of the descent into hell. I had many painful memories from the years we lived there, which I won’t go into here. But I decided I might as well take advantage of the opportunity to face these feelings, and also to meet my cousins.

Suffice it to say, I did meet my cousins, and also my Aunt Esther. I remembered her from long ago. With that, it was time for my Madonna House brother and I to head out of Windsor and Detroit and to continue our journey together.

After parting ways with my father, and before we travelled, I was desperately sick to my stomach. I guess I was exhausted and overwrought by it all. I thought later that it was as if old anger and bitterness was being drained away.

However, that was not the end of the story, but only a beginning, as these things often are with the Lord.

It came to me as I prayed later on that if I really forgave my father, I would visit him briefly when my annual vacation came around. And that is what I did.

It wasn’t always easy, and at times was downright difficult, but I persevered in that resolution, and I would say that over the years my father and I were truly reconciled. I wouldn’t say we became close. But at least we could meet on friendly terms.

An unexpected blessing that came from all of this was that I became very close to my cousins. They were always glad to see me when I came to Detroit, and I was happy to see them.

When two of their children were diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, I was a newly ordained priest. So, when I visited them, we were able to have Mass together, and I would anoint the boys. Both of them died young (one at 16, the other at 22). We shared a lot together, all of us, and that bond is still there today.

One of the things I learned from all of this about forgiveness is that forgiving those who have hurt us does not always mean that close relationships will follow.

My father and I developed what I would call a cordial relationship. We accepted one another, and we could talk about small things, and a little bit about what was happening in our lives. But it could never go much further than that. And that was all right.

What is not possible in this world may one day be possible in the next. At least it seems that way to me.

My father passed away in 1998 while I was serving at our house in Robin Hood’s Bay, England. Not long afterwards, I was walking along the cliffs that overlook the North Sea. I was thinking about my father’s passing, when suddenly, as happens in that area, a fret blew in from the North Sea. It encompassed the coast in a bath of fine soft mist.

Then it blew over and the sun appeared again. And I thought, now that my father is in God’s hands, perhaps he can be the father that he was never able to be on this earth.

Naturally, I left all this in God’s hands, who alone is all-just and all-merciful. But I personally have felt peace about it all ever since that day walking the Cleveland Way on the northeast coast of England.

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Now, back to 1977: with the trip to Windsor behind me, it wasn’t long before something else began pushing up to the surface of my soul. This time it had to do with priesthood and going to the seminary.

Thus far, each “word” of the Lord to me was building on the other: the call to “leave all and seek him,” followed by the invitation to “sell all and serve the poor” by joining Madonna House, with the later clarification that it was I who am poor and my peace will consist in accepting this truth throughout my life.

Next had come that meeting with the Lord on the Cross, when his innocence and acceptance of his Father’s will reached out to save me, the embittered “thief” crucified with him. Then had come the word about the need to forgive. I had begun now to implement that one.

Over the years it was becoming clearer to me that all of this was shaping me or forming me to be a priest of Jesus Christ. But it turned out, I wasn’t quite ready yet for seminary.

What was about to happen was a spiritual purification such as I had never yet experienced. But for the moment I only knew that a desire was now beginning to burn in me, and I was at a loss how to contain it.

Parts one and two of Fr. David’s story can be found in his column in the March and April issues of Restoration at www.madonnahouse.org/restoration. Then on that site, go to Restoration Archives.

to be continued