My father was a man behind the scenes. He rarely shows up in family photos, except as a shadow on the sand: He was the one manning the camera. A mysterious man of few words, but a wise one, he had a standard answer to most of his daughters’ questions: “Ask your mother.”
Every year, on the March 19 feast of St. Joseph, I think about my dad and the whole notion of quiet, unassuming fatherhood.
St. Joseph, too, must have been a quiet man. The writers of the Gospels recorded not a word he spoke. And yet, without him in the background, the story of Christ’s life might never have unfolded.
It was, after all, Joseph who decided not to follow custom when he discovered that his fiancée was pregnant. Other men might have saved face by turning her over to the angry arm of the law. But humble, holy Joseph trusted in the voice of God as he heard it in a dream. He married Mary, protecting her and her unborn child.
After the baby was born, Joseph was warned in another dream that the child’s life would be endangered unless the family fled. Once again, Joseph saved the day — and the Christ Child — by heeding God’s voice. Off they went to Egypt. And not by comfort coach.
There are so many mysteries about St. Joseph. We don’t know when he was born or when he died. And I wonder if, at times, he felt a bit out of place in his own family.
For example, it is reasonable to assume that Mary and Jesus, as mother and son, resembled one another. But the child would have borne no physical likeness to Joseph. I wonder how Joseph felt about that.
I think my father felt at loose ends himself. He only had a sixth-grade education, but he married a woman with a college degree. He had daughters who were avid readers, but he preferred a good TV show and a cigar.
And yet, like St. Joseph, my dad did his best to love and protect his family. He didn’t have to worry about a bloodthirsty attack by a ruthless king, but when my mom, sister and I went for a swim in the ocean, my father sat attentively on the shore with his eyes peeled for any threats to our safety.
And when his budding teenage girls went out on dates, he was the midnight sentinel at the front door.
I have seen childhood photos of my friends where the father is doing active things like guiding a horseback ride or riding a roller coaster. My father was more reserved. He did take my sister and me to a farm in upstate New York once. He showed us how a pig’s tail curls. I never forgot that moment.
On the feast of St. Joseph, I wonder: What did St. Joseph and Jesus do when the boy was very young? Did they have their own version of horseback rides?
Years ago, before I came to life in Christ, my father died suddenly. He had a heart attack on a day he was to set off on a cruise. At the time, I believed the mystery of his life would be sealed away from me forever. I’d never know what was really in his heart.
Now, of course, I have good reason to hope that we will meet again. In my dreams, I sometimes envision the way it will be.
I picture my dad and St. Joseph seated on the heavenly shore, doing what quiet, unassuming fathers everywhere do: keeping their eyes on the horizon.
Lorraine Murray is the author of
Grace Notes (Resurrection Press).