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Fathers Day fathers way
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Last night, we’d planned a free-flowing Fathers’ Day event.  Mothers’ Day had received full attention, with a mass, dinner, all-male cooks and servers, a procession of husbands and sons bearing roses, mariachis and music and dancing and even White Zinfandel only for the ladies.  So it only seemed right to organize something for the dads.  All we needed was an organizer.

I had plans to be out of town at a very large graduation event.  Meanwhile, at the last minute, we scheduled a Confirmation mass for migrant workers about to leave town following the cherry harvest.  During their short sojourn in the San Joaquin Valley, they’d received intensive instruction from our catechists in the field.  Bishop Blaire was elated to preside at the ceremony.

So much for that large graduation event.  Seven young agricultural workers, one of them a woman, filed up the aisle and fulfilled an impossible dream.  

And when it was all over, we processed over to the small hall for a big meal.

The large gym had been reserved for the Fathers’ Day event.  So our helpers had packed the smaller room with perhaps twenty tables, tons of food, sodas and a giant cake.  Meanwhile, only three families showed up in the gym.

Strange, how we want to demonstrate how grateful we are for our fathers, but have such a hard time doing so.  In fact, relatively little had been done for the larger event.  We ended up re-directing those three families towards the smaller hall.   There, the music, laughter and animated conversation was spilling over and echoing into the empty gym.  There, the tempting smells of birria, frijoles, arroz, and tamales blended with the alluring vision of that magnificent chocolate cake filled with strawberries and bananas, topped with fresh whipped cream.  And there, the newly invited guests mingled with undocumented foreigners whose hard work had brought, not long ago, asparagus to our marketplaces and, now, bright red cherries to our homes.

How I go to the Central Valley
But this shifting of programs, from a large graduation gathering in lovely Los Gatos and a major Fathers’ Day event in our newly-painted gym to a crammed, somewhat stuffy and unapologetically noisy Confirmation party in our left-over room, only reminded me of how I got to the San Joaquin Valley.  At the age of sixteen, raised by my beloved father to be a successful business man, I took a month from summer ’71 to volunteer with migrant farm workers in a Christian youth program.   There, in Sunnyside, Yakima, and Toppenish, Washington State, a dozen of us taught in the school, helped build permanent housing, distributed clothing and other necessities, assisted the kids in learning to swim, spoke to farmers and contractors and people who defended laborers’ rights.  There, too, I met Our Lady of Guadalupe.

No sooner had we returned to Seattle, than I began volunteering with the United Farm Workers, and helped pass a resolution in our church on their behalf.  But deeper than any political activity, something began stirring that would change my life.  For the first time, I wanted to learn Spanish and to invest my life in an Hispanic universe.  I began a long, slow process of faith exploration which would lead me ten years later to the Catholic Church.

Any illusions of entering the business world began melting away.  I now considered becoming a missionary.  And that Lady - the one wrapped in the sun and standing on the darkened moon - would begin appearing again, and again, and again in my life.  Three years later, I would change my college of choice from Dartmouth to a smaller school in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe (formerly in New Mexico, later near Portland, Oregon) would become a home away from home.  And ultimately I’d find myself in Cesar Chavez’s old stomping grounds, here in the San Joaquin Valley, serving mostly Mexicans as a Roman Catholic priest.   My poor dad would have to put up with all this craziness, bit by bit.

Dad’s been with the Lord for 9 ½ months
Well, dad’s been with his Lord now for nine and a half months.  Today is his day.  He’s up there, seeing everything from a different point of view.  I hope he can celebrate the unexpected twist of events in his first son’s life.  (His second son now lives and works with the Massai near Kilimanjaro.) I credit him with instilling the values which ultimately helped me go this way - respect for others’ differences, focus on lasting values, looking for treasure in the least expected places, and appreciating the labor of those whose blood, sweat and tears keep our country afloat and our world still turning ‘round.

From that densely packed, noisy room, we all spilled out into the gym.  I came to write this article.  Everyone else stayed to dance the night away.

-Just like that night, long ago, in the zone of conflict in El Salvador, when, threatened by soldiers and kept awake all night by government operatives, to the chorus of howitzers pounding the forested hills to decimate the armed resistance, warned not to proceed, accused of financing the guerrillas, and carrying food, medicine, supplies, money, and a fattened ox, a dozen or so of us reached a cut-off population of peasants near the border of Honduras in 1988.  Having just graduated from seminary, on the way to a summer’s stay in a Big Sur monastery, I joined that delegation and began learning Spanish.  That dangerous month culminated in much the same way as last night: birria, beans, rice, and tamales (Salvadorian style), laughter and song.

Those fathers who hadn’t yet been killed danced the mid-June night away.