By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published June 13, 2018
The piece below is a reprint of a column written for the June 17, 1999 issue of The Georgia Bulletin, just days before Father’s Day.
If the love of a mother for her child is a sign of God’s covenant with us, then the love of a father for his child must be a sign of the strength that binds the covenant.
Okay, I admit I was nervous when I made my wedding vows. But I was full of unbridled excitement the moment I was about to become a father the first time. I was already hyped. It was around 2 a.m. Christmas morning, the birthday of the Son of Man. I had taken a nap hours earlier, in anticipation of attending the midnight Mass we didn’t make, so I was well rested.
I wanted to make a good impression on my firstborn, so I put on dress pants, a shirt with a tie and a sports jacket. Looking back, it might not have been a good idea to stand in front of the mirror tying my tie while my wife was screaming, “IT’S TIME TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL!” We made it to Crawford Long Hospital by 2:30 a.m. and our first child was born at 5:30 a.m. I vividly remember how proud I was holding our little girl in that hospital room. No Christmas gift could ever top the one of fatherhood. That morning God sent the world his only begotten Son, and sent me my only begotten daughter.
By the time I left the hospital, I was able to make 8:30 a.m. Mass at my parish, St. Anthony of Padua Church, Atlanta. Somehow I was drafted to be the worship leader for the service, so naturally I took the opportunity to announce the birth of our 7lb. 4 oz. girl. There are parishioners who still kid me about that to this day.
Four years later when the impending birth of our second child rolled around, the enthusiasm and excitement was still there; however, a different scenario took place. I was rested once again, I thought. I took another nap and around 10:30 p.m. my wife woke me up, screaming once again, “IT’S TIME TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL!” As my wife tells the story, I said, “Okay, turn off the lights when you leave.” It was the fear of being beat down by a pregnant woman in labor that caused me not to dress up this time. Casual would do just fine. We made it to Crawford Long Hospital once again, and our second child, a boy, was born at 2:25 a.m. on Oct. 27. It happened to be the same date I made my first holy Communion in 1963.
At the birth of each child, the moment I left the hospital I went from spectator in the obstetrics room to full-fledged father. The experiences I have learned from the previous years of fatherhood would have been a lot easier had it all been scripted out in a playbook like a football or basketball coach; however, there is no way to prepare for all the issues you have to face as father.
From the very beginning I have drawn upon the love God showed me as my heavenly Father and the example he presented to me in my birth father. I am blessed to have a father who cared for us, loved us and sacrificed for his family over the years. For many years my father worked most days assisting in his own father’s hardwood floor contracting business, followed by a shift of night work (with many nights of overtime) as a postal clerk at the U.S. Post Office. Despite his arduous schedule, he still found time to fulfill his responsibility as a father. He took me fishing, introduced me to tennis, carried me to the movies and on Sundays after church he took us to C.F. Page Confectionery for some of the best ice cream and milkshakes in Louisville, Ky.
My father has also been my spiritual mentor. He wasn’t the kind of father who dropped us off for Mass. No, we worshipped every Sunday as a family. Over the years my father has also prayed for me and my family before the grotto of Our Lady at Louisville’s St. Louis Bertrand Catholic Church. As I attended the Eucharistic Renewal service here on June 6, I was reminded of the feast of Corpus Christi processions my father and I attended together at Churchill Downs race track, site of the annual Kentucky Derby. From the mid 1960s to the early 1970s we processed with our parish, Christ the King, in crowds that numbered over 10,000 people.
Fatherhood can be like a roller coaster ride at an amusement park. There are highs and lows, twists and curves, moments of exhilaration and fear; yet, it’s a thrill a minute. There are so many moments of joy, laughter and happiness. My father taught me that being a good father means you have to be a teacher, a motivator and a source of support and comfort. It also means you have a to be a good listener, trusting and open to learning new things from your children.
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
To this day my father continues to teach me lessons in life. As I travel farther down the path of fatherhood each year, I have a greater appreciation for the fathers who have gone before me. I think the greatest gift my father imparted on me was the fact that he not only raised me as his loving son, but the effort he made to raise me in the ways of our Almighty Father. As I thank God for my father and celebrate my own fatherhood this Sunday, I hope I can successfully share the same gift with my children.
Since this column was written 19 years ago, my father, James L. Alexander, died at the age of 92 in November 2017. Before he passed away, he was able to share some moments with his first great-granddaughter, who was born in August 2016. This republished column is dedicated to my late father and all the fathers, living and deceased.