All yesterday and this morning, like fathers throughout this troubled land, I have been the recipient of messages wishing me a Happy Father’s Day. For these I am grateful, even as I know the genesis of the celebration to be a money making scheme to sell cards, sentiments, nostalgia and the like. So be it. In time, it has generated a pleasant tradition.
My own father, John Joseph Walsh, a good and decent if sometimes difficult man, died when I was 16 but not before he passed on, largely through example to his eleven children, the necessity of having integrity, compassion, gratitude, courage and a sense of fair play. My father, a good Irishman, was a drinker, a devout Catholic and a union man, identities that for all I knew were as inseparable as the Holy Trinity. When I reflect now on how he fed, clothed, and housed us all, even in an America not yet set to ruin by the cruel, fantasy- based politics of Ronald Reagan and his successors, I am nothing short of astounded. Through the decades since his death, it is to his memory and to those principles that I have found myself instinctively turning for spiritual sustenance in times of darkness in a world that sometimes seems to grow madder and crueler by the hour.
And for this I am eternally grateful.
Grateful, too, I am for the gift of fatherhood, easily the most terrifying, challenging, spiritually enriching and sublime gift I have ever received or ever could receive. I recall the words my brother Eddie said to me when I called him from the hospital to inform of the birth of my daughter, who was to be his godchild. “ Now everything will be different for you,” he said. “ Your life will be changed utterly.”
Ten years have since passed and truer words have seldom been spoken, but of the nature of the change and the difference many more can be added, not least among them “beautiful.”
Not long after my daughter’s December entry into this world I chanced upon an encounter that in some ways sums up for me both the perpetual challenge and perpetual gift of fatherhood.
I was walking on Houston St. with my baby girl snuggled in a papoose on my chest. (A scenario, mind you, I could not imagine my father partaking in in a million years.) There was snow on the ground and we were both bundled up against the cold. From a distance of perhaps 40 yards I noticed a man, more or less my age, with a baby bundled up on his chest walking in my direction, a mirror reflection of myself. When we met we both stopped and looked at each other in silence. I asked him, “What do you think?” I did not need to ask him what about. He thought for a moment and, pointing to his child, he said, “He has shocked me out of my narcissism.” We both laughed, shook hands and walked on. I never saw him again.
“Shocked me out of my narcissism.” The words rang like a bell in both my heart and my head and ring they do still, by and by in the ten years since that chilly morning of very new fatherhood. I have thought about them and tried to keep that dread deadly affliction, from which so many other afflictions seed, at bay, failing all too often, but trying, trying nonetheless. Trying to be aware. And that awareness too is one of the great gifts and great challenges of fatherhood. And I hope and strive to pass on to my child the good things my father passed on to me.