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By Deacon Jim Dougherty, Catholic Stand, May 8, AD2018
A Superficial View of Dad and Me
I recently talked by phone with my 91-year-old Dad. He is in a nursing home, thousands of miles away from where I live.
I had spent six months last year caring for him and Mom in their house until my own wife became ill and I returned to Hawaii to help her. Dad slowly became worse due to his deteriorating dementia. It was very hard for me to learn of Dad’s condition after I had tried to take good care of him and Mom. But his physical threats to Mom’s safety required his placement in a nursing home.
I had always been close to Dad except when I was a rebellious child and adolescent. As I later became a father to 4 very active children, I realized that Dad and I were more alike than I had ever considered. We shared a number of positive traits, but we were both angry and verbally abusive to our own children and wives.
When my 26-year-old son, who was extremely depressed, died fifteen years ago, I faced my own depression that was life-altering. I shared my condition with Dad, who told me that he had felt the same way for most of his life. The puzzle of my life began to fit together more afterwards. Dad and I became even closer friends and opened up to each other at a very deep and personal level. I was finally able to accept the possibility that I also had been depressed for most of my life.
What I had disliked about Dad as a child and adolescent were the very same characteristics in me that I disliked and could not accept. At an unconscious level, I suppose, I had projected my formative failures as a developing person onto Dad.
A Supernatural View of Dad and Me
My recent conversation with Dad was short, but it left me feeling, as usual, loved and appreciated. This feeling stayed with me the entire day, as I realized that Dad lives in me and in my heart, just as God the Father can live in me and in all of us. Throughout that day and following days, I was moved to adore God the Father in my heart and to thank Him for my family, and the wonderful love of the Most Holy Trinity.
The Trinity is pretty amazing. Jesus is in complete communion with the Father and brings us to Him.
“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11).
The Father also sends and seals us in the Holy Spirit.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
God wants us to call him, Dad.
“As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6).
Because I can live in the Trinity, the smallest consolation for me can become a source of significant joy, if I seek to experience it through communion with the Trinity. Being with my wife as she and I experience the Paschal Mystery together can sometimes liberate me from my sadness and melancholy. I can see the big picture and the greater good that comes from God in all of the actions and anxieties of my day.
Through continued suffering, I can also finally accept that the Trinity is purifying me of attachments to sin and vanity. I have sought acclaim and power for most of my life and had fooled myself into believing that these fantasies would help me overcome my inferiority and self-absorption. But they only alienated me from everything outside of myself. I even believed for a long period of my life that I deserved heaven based on my own accomplishments, which now seem so absolutely foolish and ill-conceived.
Talking with Dad as he suffers helps me to accept my own suffering. I still find it hard to accept what my wife undergoes. But all of this seems to be part of a greater plan, the Paschal Mystery, which is woven into the very fabric of our being.
With the love of the Trinity and that of my family, I believe God will take me where I must go, to the Cross, and that I will eventually find this journey sweet and not abhorrent.
Deacon Jim Dougherty is a married permanent deacon for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) serving in the Diocese of Honolulu. Dougherty has a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies. For 27 years, he served as executive director of the DeLaSalle Education Center in Kansas City, Missouri, a national model of excellence in education for central-city high school students. Dougherty has recently published a spiritual memoir about his son’s death entitled: A Place for Us to Meet. The book is available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1549858076/ He and Karol have been married 43 years and have four children and six grandchildren.