Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gnip-Gnop Snap

One of my most vivid childhood memories of my father is, sad to say, not a happy one. Nevertheless, I find in it a measure of my dad's love and the pressure that he must have felt in providing for us.

I was the baby of the family, with three older sisters, the closest of whom was nearly six years older than I was (and am - she will always be nearly six years older than I). For Christmas one year when I was a child somewhere under ten (I might have been five, or I might have been eight - the memory's not clear on the age), we received a Gnip-Gnop game. Gnip-Gnop is, of course, ping-pong spelled backwards. The game was basically a plastic box with a transparent top. A divider with three holes separated the box into two sides, each of which had three paddles for launching the ping-pong balls within the box toward the divider. The point of the game was, I think, to get all of the balls onto the other player's side of the box. As you can probably predict, the game pretty much amounted to two players pounding furiously on their paddles, and it must have made a terrible racket.

My dad, a carpenter by trade, worked hard, especially in the summer. Construction opportunities often dried up in the winter, leaving him under-employed. He would try to make up for it by working longer hours and additional independent jobs during the summer. His only relaxation would come in the evening after dinner, when he could read the newspaper and watch the news or listen to his beloved Reds on the radio.

In the evening of my memory, Dad was trying to relax on the couch. It must have been in the latter half of the 1970s, when the U.S. economy and the whole world seemed to be going to hell. And it must have been shortly after Christmas, when Dad wasn't making much money and he and Mom were pinching every penny to pay their bills and support their family. My sister and I were on the floor, pounding away on the Gnip-Gnop when Dad just snapped. He got up from the couch, walked over to where we were, and kicked the Gnip-Gnop against the wall, leaving me and my sister stunned.

I don't remember what happened next - whether Dad returned to the couch or left the room - but I don't think that any words were spoken.

Why, you might be wondering, would I bring up a memory like this on Fathers Day, and even claim that it is evidence of the depth of a father's love? First, because this is the only memory of this kind that I have. Second, Dad's anger and frustration was directed at the game, not at us kids. Third, the timing and circumstances of the event, in retrospect, make what happened understandable, if not excusable.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples that they must take up their crosses daily. As I drove to mass with my daughters this morning, I reflected that I good homily point for today would be the way in which fathers are called daily to take up their crosses and deny themselves for the sake of their families. I saw my parents do that, and Jesus never said that the cross would be easy. It's not. As a salaried engineer, I've never faced the kind of shortages that confronted Dad nearly every winter, and yet I still find myself pressured by feelings of inadequacy when the bills come due. I don't do it as well as my own dad did. I've snapped at my kids many times, and I can only hope that those aren't the times that form lasting memories for my children. It is in fatherhood that I've truly come to appreciate my own father.

Happy Fathers Day!

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