Honoring a Father’s Love

COMMENTARY for Father's Day

Love at its best need not be asked. Rather, it greatly desires — and takes the initiative to seek out — the good of the beloved. These words are exemplified par excellence in our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to die for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).


For almost nine decades, my dad, rooted in the Lord, has also striven to exemplify these words, as my extended family and I, and many others too, can gratefully testify.

Joseph Nash will turn 89 in October, and he often refers to himself as a “Depression kid” (as in the Great Depression). Dad was raised in a loving, single-parent Catholic home in the 1920s and ’30s in Cleveland, and it was those experiences that laid the foundation for the man he is today.

Dad’s parents divorced when he was a small child. He was raised by his father, while his older brother was raised by his mother. Dad and his father lived in many places back in the day. A single 150-square-foot room in a multifamily dwelling was standard fare, with a single bathroom that was shared with other tenants, sometimes up to 20.

Amid their struggles, though, Dad’s father nurtured the Catholic faith in his son, and so Dad did not grow up bitter and resentful about his poverty, yearning for an “American Dream” marked by the best money could provide.

Instead, Dad learned that the most important things in life cannot be purchased monetarily: chiefly, the love of God and the love of family — and how prioritizing the former cultivated the latter. This was done imperfectly in his youth, as Dad’s father struggled with alcohol. Yet, unmistakably, his father never raised a hand to strike him. Dad always knew he was loved amidst very difficult financial circumstances, and he strove to love his father in return.

Following the death of his father and Dad’s service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Dad settled in Detroit, where some of his father’s relatives resided. Dad married Mom in February 1950, and together they exemplified the self-giving love of Christ in a 61-year odyssey of sacramental love.

You can’t talk about Dad without talking about the love of his life, Genevieve, and Mom and Dad’s marital witness prompts me to recall the words of Bishop Robert Carlson. He’s now the archbishop of St. Louis, but at one time he served as the bishop of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D. Archbishop Carlson was — and still is — nationally known for fostering priestly vocations. In Sioux Falls, part of that program involved having his seminarians live with him during the summer.

“They can hear me preach” at Mass, Bishop Carlson told me in an interview in 1997, “and then watch me like a hawk to see if I believe anything I said.” As his seminarians were persuaded by Bishop Carlson’s summertime witness, so my siblings and I have been edified by the actions of our parents, day after day, year after year, including:

  • in their mutual love for another. Ours was a stable, peaceful home, because Mom and Dad would quickly resolve conflicts that arose, instead of harboring grudges. When asked to impart wisdom at a parish celebration of marriage, Dad simply penned, “Don’t go to bed mad at each other.” His words distill well the counsel of St. Paul: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
  • in their openness to children, showing us again and again that another brother or sister was a far better gift than the biggest and best house, car or vacation. Mom and Dad had a total of 12 children, including three who were miscarried and an older sister Catherine (third overall) who died shortly after birth.
  • in sacrificing to send us to Catholic schools, providing us further formation in knowing Christ and the fullness of his truth that sets us free. In the process, they taught us how to joyfully do more with less and to get by going without non-necessities.
  • and in welcoming my little sister Mary, who had Down syndrome, and whom Mom and Dad didn’t expect to bring home from the hospital after she was born, because she had congenital heart and lung problems and needed emergency surgery. But Mary eventually came home and confounded various doctors and others by living 42 years with God’s grace, her family’s love and her own joyful tenacity. Mary undoubtedly required more care than her other siblings, but Mom and Dad showed us once again that we grow in love by giving love, not by withholding it for ourselves.

Which reminds me of a 1986 Newsweek cover story, “No Baby on Board.” It detailed how many upwardly mobile married couples had deliberately chosen not to have children, preferring instead a more affluent lifestyle without all of the hassles and expenses of raising children.

The profiled couples, assuming they have persevered in their marriages, are now approaching retirement or have already reached it. I wonder how they feel about their childbearing choices now, especially as they envision and journey through their retirement — especially their most challenging twilight years — without the incomparable love and support of children and grandchildren, or what I like to call the “greatest retirement policy.”

Dad is reaping the benefits of that retirement policy, receiving back in abundance the love he has instilled in his children and grandchildren for many years. Our angelic Mary, who lived with Mom and Dad her whole life, died in July 2008, and Mom went to her eternal reward in May 2011.

But Dad’s journey today is not an isolated, solitary one. He is sustained by and gives witness through his continued walk with the Lord, including meditating on the life of Christ in his daily Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy and regular daily Mass. And he is uplifted by regular visits from his children, grandchildren and — most recently — his great-grandchildren, though some of us farther away have to typically check in via a frequent phone call.

For everything he has done, and everything he continues to do, we all join together in paying special tribute to Dad on this Father’s Day, and we thank the Good Lord that he is so much a part of our lives.

Tom Nash is a theology adviser at EWTN and the author of
Worthy Is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass (Ignatius Press).