What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. –Matthew 18:12-14
My father, Juan Pablo, had no formal education. He first came to the U.S. under the Bracero Program, an immigration agreement with Mexico that allowed young men like him to come and work in the agricultural fields of the U.S. in the absence of the U.S. born young men who were deployed to serve in World War II. As the years passed he would become a butcher, an auto mechanic, and later run the waxing machinery at a paper company that specialized in wax coated paper boxes for produce. He was for the most part a self-taught man. I was proud of him for all that he accomplished in spite of the limitations that his life imposed upon him. He was far from perfect, but he was my father and I loved him dearly.
My father lived with a deep sense of insecurity that periodically erupted in ways that affected all of us in our home. He struggled with the demons of feeling that he wasn’t good enough, capable enough, or smart enough. We lived in poverty, a confirmation that my father wasn’t good, capable, or smart; at least a self-confirmation for him. What my father had difficulty ever understanding was that we his children thought he was a good man, capable of many things, and smarter than most. We did not view our poverty as the sign of my father’s inherent faults. Even as children we understood instinctively the systemic nature of poverty. What was difficult for us to understand was why my father couldn’t see that what was most important to us his children was that if we ever got lost on the road of life he would come and find us.
One day my brother Paul ran away from home. He was only 8 years old. I don’t remember what caused him to take such a drastic step, but I do remember that he felt hurt by something that had happened that very day. He packed up a little bag and took off. My siblings and I were all worried but my mother told us he would be alright. She observed that he had taken no food. Skinny, lanky Paul had a voracious appetite. He would be back as soon as he got hungry!
I later learned that my mother knew where he was. He was under the trees just beyond the field that was our backyard. I sensed my mother’s sadness but she knew Paul well enough to know that it would help to let him cool off a bit. But then at dusk it began to rain. Fortunately my father arrived at that very moment. He set his lunch pail on the kitchen table, listened to what had happened with Paul, and without saying a word walked back out the kitchen door into the rain. My siblings and I watched him as he crossed the field behind our house and then we lost sight of him as day turned to night. We kept trying to look out beyond the field, attempting to squint our way through the darkness; a way to avoid having to talk about the vulnerable sadness that had filled our hearts.
We heard my father before we saw him the cracking of twigs under his feet, the soft brush of high field grass against his khakis, and then his silhouette just came out of the darkness. He was carrying Paul who seemed unable to get as close to my father’s chest as he needed in that moment of his lost-ness. Paul was drenched from the evening rain. My father gently handed Paul over to my mother who then took him into our one bathroom and helped him bathe while my father wiped his face dry and then sat down to have his dinner. We quietly sat at the table with my father, and while he would never speak of what had happened with Paul that day, I’ll never forget that he smiled at us, a smile that made us feel loved and safe.
Later when I would hear Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep and hear the words that God our Father in heaven is not willing that any little one should be lost, I would remember my own father and how he had gone and looked for Paul. The memory helped me understand both the pain and the joy of the good father that Jesus spoke of. It grew my trust in God who is like a good father.
On this Father’s Day I remember my father and pray that all fathers may know that we their children love them and are grateful to God for them. I also pray that fathers everywhere will believe that we do not expect them to be perfect or to provide us with perfect lives. We only expect our fathers to love us and be there for us when we get lost. As people of faith we are grateful for God who loves us as a good father, and for our fathers through whom God has given us life.
May God bless all of our fathers in the all the ways they need. Happy Father’s Day!
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño