Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

My father’s perfect gift

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published June 3, 2024

I was terribly critical of my father when I was a child. I compared him to the “Father Knows Best” kind of dads on TV, who wore fine suits, smoked pipes and doled out wise advice to the family. My dad, on the other hand, was a quiet fellow who liked Bermuda shorts, cigars and going to the racetrack. 

He loved my mother dearly and never missed a chance to get her flowers and chocolates for special events. No wonder their marriage lasted 35 years with hardly a snag. The family photos show them, the dark-eyed Tom and his beautiful Gracie, poised over a birthday cake or sitting by the ocean’s edge 

It seems that the whole fatherhood thing mystified him. He wasn’t sure how to react when my sister and I returned from shopping and showed off crispy new dresses and shiny shoes. Instead of a compliment, we got a practical response: “Are those shoes comfortable?”  

Did he love us? He must have, but in a court of law, the evidence would be deemed scanty. We didn’t go on outings with him and he wasn’t one to deliver sage advice. We got a peck on the cheek when we left the house, but that was the only show of affection.  

When Father’s Day rolled around, my sister and I fretted over what to get our dad, since he didn’t do woodworking, he wasn’t keen on fishing and he wasn’t a big sports fan. So after mulling over what would make the perfect gift, we settled on ties and after shave. He never seemed to mind.  

The first time I ever saw him cry was at the airport, when my newly married sister and her husband were leaving for a year overseas. Later, when she was back home and had her first baby, a sweet little boy, my parents were over the moon. A baby girl followed, and she also brought my parents great joy. But tragedy hit the heart of the family, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and despite our fervent prayers, she died when that precious girl was 2.  

After my mom’s death, my father and I started forging a closer relationship. My mom had been the letter writer in the family, but now I began writing to him, and he replied in dark blue ink on big, yellow sheets of legal paper. He enjoyed my stories about Funky, my tomcat, and when he sent money, he’d tell me not to spend it all on cat treats. He mentioned how empty the house seemed without my mother, and on Palm Sunday, he took a cross to the cemetery for her.  

We took a cruise together a few months after my mom’s death and we tried to enjoy ourselves, but everywhere we went, it seemed we had forgotten something. I kept imagining how she would have loved the vast, rolling ocean and the turquoise sky. One night I found him sitting alone on a deck chair, weeping. I forgave him everything at that moment. You see, I realized that all along, we had shared a great treasure, a shining gift, since we had found our moorings in the same person. 

If I could go back in time, I’d tell that little girl to stop being so critical. Maybe my dad never learned how to sail the dizzying seas of fatherhood and maybe he wore Bermuda shorts instead of Brooks Brothers suits.  

Maybe he never delivered words of sage advice, but in his own way, he gave me the perfect gift. He taught me it is possible to love another person with all your heart and have a storybook marriage, and for that I will always be grateful.

Lorraine has written eight books, including three mysteries and a biography of Flannery O’Connor. Her website is Artwork is by her late husband, Jef.