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Trosley for June: Appreciating the wisdom of fathers

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Mothers and grandmothers are showered with affection and gifts on their special day each May. 

While fathers and grandfathers also are often the recipient of gifts, ties, and tools, what most of us really crave — appreciation — rarely makes the gift wrap table.

The culture has changed dramatically since the “Father Knows Best” days of my youth, but what I remember most on Father’s Day taps the wisdom Dad and my grandpas shared in passing. We didn’t have profound, deep conversations. We exchanged grunts and single sentences during fence-painting, roof shingle stacking, gravel driveway weeding and other manual tasks that used to be handled by men in their own back yards. 

“Marriage is not 50-50,” my dad told me while we were caulking cracks around the front porch steps. “Sometimes you have to give 100 percent, sometimes she has to give 100 percent. And you don’t try to balance the books on that if you want to have a happy marriage.” 

Dad took me to my paternal grandfather and namesake’s apartment over Frenchie’s Tavern on each Dec. 26, the feast day of St. Stephen. We cooked him a sausage and some hard-boiled eggs for the occasion, a Croatian tradition. Dad was attentive to his father — and patient to a fault — although he never quoted to me from Ecclesiastes:  (“Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy, do not despise him in your health and strength; for kindness to a father will not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins.”) He demonstrated it with his actions as a matter of routine. 

My Dad’s mother died when he was only two years old, but he honored her by instructing his sons to honor their mother, no matter how determined she seemed to make it difficult. My maternal grandmother, who lost two boy babies at birth and had two daughters, could not have found a more attentive son than her son-in-law. 

My maternal grandfather was also one to share wisdom, although it was mostly wisdom overheard. He and his fellow Sicilian immigrant raggazino would gather on a porch each day to burn a crop of tobacco and share gossip, stories of the old country and their favorite sayings. Nonno, as we called him, kept us occupied when the gathering was on his porch by giving us cans of water and paint brushes to paint the bricks on the porch pillars. The sun dried the water and he would tease us about doing a poor job.    

Meanwhile we were treated to words of wisdom in a language they thought we did not understand. Of a son who would not move from his parent’s home: “One who is comfortable will not move.” Of creating discord by telling a truth: “Eating makes crumbs.” On doing good deeds: “Do good and forget it, do evil and don’t forget it.” And a comment often made about elected officials: “Go to bed a jackass, wake up a jackass.” 

They told stories, often repeated them, but wrapped each one up with a saying that they had heard as children.

When the Trosley boys served early Masses, it was Dad who made sure we had breakfast before we left the house and both grandpas, neither of whom could drive, were in the back pew in the church. 

My paternal grandfather was not a patient man and he did not sympathize with explanations of failure. But he felt there was a lesson to be learned from such experiences and told us, “When you beg for pardon when no one is scolding you, you will get the blame because you blame yourself.” 

And when Dad scolded him for doing something dangerous, like using his oven to heat his apartment, he would say, “I blame myself.”

Remember your fathers’ words of wisdom on Father’s Day.  And if you don’t remember them now, don’t worry. You will. 

Steve Trosley is editor and general manager of “The Catholic Telegraph.”

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