Here, dear friends is a lectio divina based on the verses of Matthew 25:34-40 in honor of my father who has lived his life fueled by them.
Happiest of birthdays Dad!
Last year you rented an apartment in Sori, Italy, for you and mom and my family of five. We ate every night on a balcony four floors above the Mediterranean Sea, round umbrellas covering the sand in a grid in front of us. We could hear the waves as we went to sleep and the sounds of Sori awakening each morning. The bells in the church were just across the square at eye-level. We were just a five minute drive up the Ligurian coast from where I was born.
On a Tuesday morning the three of us, you, me, and mom, put on walking shoes and hiked the road to Pieve Ligure. You pointed out your bank, your favorite coffee shop where you learned to drink espresso, and the market on the corner of your street that had been turned into a bar. We passed the train station where you had stood on the platform, an American going to medical school in Genoa. I could envision you with your red beard, bellbottoms, and an open anatomy book, glancing up for the train occasionally. You were only twenty-two but determined. Your clarity on your desire to become a doctor and determination to do the work has given me the courage to take great risks for the visions God has placed in my heart. When I was sixteen and spending an hour and a half in the living room nightly at the black veneer piano, you leaned over and said these words, “You are sixteen and you can do anything you set your mind to if you start right now.” You believed in me before I even knew how.
We chatted as we walked along lanes covered with bougainvillea about how mom had made the hard decision to leave the baby with you and teach at an International school nearby. You studied your medical books during the day, learning Italian by painstakingly translating one paragraph a day and then two and then whole pages. Your stalwart perseverance still stuns me. You’d care for me for a few hours, give me a mid-morning bottle, and slip me into the pocket of the blue backpack, walking the passagiata from our four story apartment in Pieve Ligure down to the fishing village of Bogliasco. I would fall asleep to the rhythm of the waves crashing on the rocks of the riviera and you would study during naps. Last July as we trekked that same passagiata something about the waves combing over and pulling back thousands of pebbles sounded like home.
We talked about how our living overseas had changed the direction of our family, how hospitality to strangers had been woven into the warp and woof of our days. We talked about how the long Italian meals, spending hours at the table and lingering into the evening with half empty glasses of wine had become our family’s favorite way to share life. Most importantly, the needs of the world had come close. Like Albert Schweitzer, you invested much of your life helping meet the most pressing medical needs of Africa.
The three of us sat down at a restaurant overlooking the sea at a table set with orange glasses and grey fabric napkins, sipped cool white wine pressed from grapes grown on the terraces up the mountains behind us. We ate piles of succa della noce, a wide pasta with a creamy walnut sauce made only in that area. Forty years before you had watched our neighbor Mamonna on the apartment balcony painstakingly rub the paper thin exterior of the walnuts between her thumb and forefinger, to assure the sauce was never bitter. We sat during dinner and watched lovers dive off of rocks into the azure water below. They would pull themselves up and sunbathe on towels covering the rocks. I could imagine you and mom laying there, just 18 months after you were married, both of you brand new to adulthood. Decades later I watch you together, your small daily kindnesses of washing the dishes after a long day in the operating room, the way you talk about your loneliness when she’s traveling as if the music has gone out of the house. You have had plenty of accomplishments but your beautiful and hard-won marriage may be your greatest. You teach us to pull in close, to do the work, to love through dark days, and then abundantly celebrate coming out the other end.
I’ve learned much from you Dad:
how to curate opportunities for my children, choosing a common interest and investing time. I was seventeen when you sat with me and scratched a translation in Italian of “O Mio Babbino Caro” on my sheet music at the piano.
to courageously ask questions and not to fear that they are doubt but an opportunity to deepen belief.
to always serve with compassion, caring for the suffering with dignity.
how to be a good friend. I remember you and mom flying halfway across the country to sit with a friend who was getting a bone marrow transplant.
to be a life-long learner. I’ll never forget how tired you were, how you would sink onto the living room couch at the end of the day wondering if you were too old to learn new technology. You were 57 and taking classes to learn how to bend the arms of a DaVinci robot with minuscule finger movements confident the tiny incisions would help your patients heal faster.
to always care for the weak among us. When your precious mother, my Nona, had alzheimer’s, you brought her home, giving her gentle baths in your large sunken tub, whispering to her quietly, and tucking her into the large bed in the guest room.
to dig daily into the Word. When I was ten you inked tiny brackets around passages from Mark, encouraging me to read the verses on my own, and then sitting at the wooden table in the kitchen to discuss it over cereal.
the value of time together. Thank you for renting a cottage each summer so we can bring spouses and grandchildren who run the long halls and wrestle like bears on the grass on the back lawn.
Most importantly? You taught me that the secret of fatherhood is lavish love. Whether it’s an extravagant four-course meal overlooking the Provencal mountains at Bastide de Gordes or the ring you had circled with diamonds and “vintaged” to fit my style, you pour out lavish love. And we all feel it Dad. You open your heart and it all pours out…and in that, you give us glimpses of the Father’s love.
Happy birthday. I love you dearly.