Pastor Walter Mitty decided to walk to the men’s breakfast last Wednesday. Tom Skilling on WGN had predicted severe weather at times during the day, but as Mitty looked out his bedroom window while getting dressed, the sky seemed to have temporarily cleared enough for him to make it to the Main Café. And if it started raining during breakfast, one of the guys could give him a ride to the church office.
The conversation at breakfast had been about fathers—what it meant to be a good father, what a good father looked like. It had started to get to be something of a head trip until Eric had brought up Pope Francis as an example of a good father.
His comment had thrown everyone off balance for a minute or two. Single, celibate, childless, yet they all caught Eric’s point. The pope with his humility and compassion was impressing the whole world as a leader whose power was spiritual rather than based on wealth or military might. He didn’t try to impress people with magnificent rhetoric. Instead, he led by example.
Eric’s comment provided an opening for Dominique and his pastor, who were both single, to consider how they were functioning as “fathers” to the children in their lives.
The sun was actually shining through one of the few blue openings in the otherwise overcast sky when the meeting broke up, so the pastor of Poplar Park Community church decided not to ask for a ride. But instead of heading toward the church office, something pulled him toward the Retro. As he walked the two blocks to Zaphne’s store, he figured out where the pull was coming from. It was Herman. Last year Herman was still fighting his cancer and Pastor Walt had bought three baseball cards—a Kerry Wood rookie card, a Tony Taylor and a Walt “Moose” Moran–for his brother for Fathers Day. But this year, he wouldn’t even be driving up to Manitowoc, deciding to let Susan and the boys have that day to themselves.
“Hey Rev.,” greeted Zaphne as he walked in the door. “Your arrival makes this an ecumenical event.”
Mitty looked around for a moment to figure out what Retro’s proprietor meant, until he spotted Fr. Bob Sullivan on his knees checking out some paperback reprints of Andrew Greeley’s novels.
“Happy Fathers Day,” said Pastor Walt to his Franciscan friend.
“And also with you,” replied the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. “I’m just checking out some ‘forbidden reading’ here. I’m going to miss the trouble maker’s columns in the Sun-Times, so I’m stocking up on his novels.”
“Aren’t you afraid that stuff will corrupt you?” teased Mitty. “Especially on Fathers Day, if your parishioners’ kids find out your reading stories with sex scenes in them, what will they think?”
Fr. Sullivan winked as he answered, “They’ll think I’m human, just like the good Fr. Greeley.”
After sharing a laugh, Fr. Bob got serious. “Zaphne showed me some troubling statistics,” he said.
“That’s awful.” Mitty shook his head after reading the page Fr. Bob had handed him.
43% of US children live without their father
90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes.
71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father.
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
Zaphne sighed. “I wanted to show that to you, because it bothered me when I read it and I knew you’d both understand, like my dad would, before he died, when something bothered me. See, both of you are like fathers to me.”
“Thanks a lot!” Mitty found himself replying, pretending to be offended.
“I’m with Walt,” added Fr. Bob. “We come here hoping to feel young again.”
Zaphne smiled. “I didn’t mean it that way, and you know it. What I meant is that I feel affection from both of you, and Michael too, and it feels good to feel that from really nice guys. But, see the thing is, I feel safe with you, because I know you’re not hitting on me. I can be daddy’s girl, like my dad made me feel. You know, the apple of his eye.”
As it turned out, the rain held off until the late afternoon, so Pastor Walt made it to the office and then back home without getting wet.
All day his mind kept going back to Zaphne’s statistics and her expression of affection and to the discussion with Ash and Eric and Dominique during breakfast. He thought about characters like Bashar al-Assad and Whitey Bolger who had been in the news and wondered if they had grown up without a strong father figure. He thought about what he could do as a single man. And he wondered how Susan and Matt and Brian were doing on their first Fathers Day without his brother.
When he got home, he noticed the red light blinking on his answering machine, so he pushed the play button. “Hi Walt, this is Susan. The boys and I just wanted to wish you a happy Fathers Day.”