My father’s greatest gift of all


This will be my father’s 88th Christmas. He is at the age where every Christmas he experiences is a bonus in his long life. I watch him as he naps in his chair near the fireplace on my recent visit. A heavy sweater keeps him warm.

There is a frailness about him now; an uncertainty in his stride. I measure his life’s journey against the memories I formed of him in my youth. He stood strong then. I recall when he led my brothers, sisters, and me through the snows of December to find that special white pine to serve as our Christmas tree. He never seemed to get cold. He never seemed to get tired. He could lift the weight of the tree up onto the roof of our station wagon with ease. It seems as if it was only yesterday.

Back then, he would walk us down Lakewood Avenue every Sunday morning to attend services at Holy Name Catholic Church. And, during Advent, he would have us kneel at the manger set displayed at the front of the church near the altar. “There is Jesus in the manger” he would say. “And there is Joseph, Mother Mary, and the three wise men.”

He would continue by recounting the story of the first Christmas as we listened. A ceramic angel held its place at the top of the small wooden stable. Christmas trees, decorated with colored lights, surrounded the scene. We all know the story. It is a story that has been told and retold through the centuries. But I wonder if we really appreciate its meaning.

GIFT OF LARGE FAMILY

Life gave my father seven brothers and sisters. It gave him a wife and seven children. It gave him good health and the opportunity to earn his living. And, he made the most of it. I always counted on my father. He was always there for me. There were times that I thought those days would last forever.

Ecclesiastes 3, in the Old Testament, teaches that “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”. It instructs that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to get, and a time to lose.”

My father is the last surviving sibling of his family. In recent months, I think life is reclaiming many of those gifts it has given to him in his younger years. And, that makes my heart heavy.

But I find solace in the Christmas season. Christmas reminds us that a child was born one starry night, long ago, to give men hope; hope that a better world awaits – a world without greed or envy, suffering or hatred; a world of peace and brotherhood. My father deserves a place like that. I believe that one day he will see it.

And, I believe that we each will have the chance to share in the promise of that better world because one child, born on that special night, would grow into a young man and offer himself up on a wooden cross so that we might be saved. The Lamb of God.

So many people search for the meaning of Christmas but are unable to find it. But it is not far away. The meaning of Christmas can be found just down the street in a small wooden manger near the front altar of a quiet church.

My father taught me that lesson all those many long years ago, and of all the gifts my father gave to me in my life, that is his greatest gift to me of all.

David Bobovnyik is a lawyer from Youngstown, who writes for The Vindicator from time to time, often about growing up on the city’s West Side.

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