(The American Catholic will observe its tenth anniversary in October. We will be reposting some classic TAC posts of the past. This post is from September 1, 2013.)
Every Labor Day weekend two men always pop up in my mind: Saint Joseph the Worker and my Dad. When I was growing up I always associated Saint Joseph and my father. I thought of Saint Joseph as the strong, silent type. The Gospels recall no speeches or quotes of Saint Joseph, but it does remember his actions: the refusal to expose Mary publicly when he initially assumed that she had betrayed him, his leading his family into Egypt on the warning of the Angel, the years of Christ’s growth to manhood when Saint Joseph labored to support his family. That was my father, a man of actions and not words. My father was not a talkative man, he simply was always there when anything needed to be done. From going off each day to cut steel in the truck body plant where he worked, to repairing broken items around the house, to fixing a furnace for an old widow who couldn’t pay a professional to come to fix it and then asking my mom to buy the widow a sack of groceries because he saw she had no food in her house, to defending me from a child hood bully, I grew up under the protection and inspiration of my silent father.
I always assumed that Christ watched Saint Joseph as he went about his duties as a carpenter and helped him. One of my fondest memories of my father is him coming home dead tired from a long day in the factory, and then working late into the evening on a model car that I was racing in my cub scout troop that year. Dad was a first rate shade tree carpenter and mechanic. Dad attempted to pass these skills on to me, alas without much success, but watching him use tools skillfully has caused me to always appreciate the craftsmanship and patience behind someone who can use his hands to create and make things work.
Dad was no plaster saint. He enjoyed a beer now and then, and a joke and woe betide anyone who came between him and his paper each evening. For a man who never graduated from high school he had a keen intelligence as indicated by the crossword puzzles he effortlessly completed along with cryptograms in the local newspaper. Dad also enjoyed sketching and probably would have made a pretty fair artist. He would often play on the guitar, with mixed results, or so my brother and I would tell him! Dad would simply smile and continue on playing. After his death I was startled to learn that as a young man my father had written a song. I have always suspected that there were interesting facets of Saint Joseph that the Gospels failed to relate, just like the aspects of my quiet father that the world at large remained oblivious of.
Saint Joseph died before Christ embarked on His three years of effort to save us. I assume that Christ and Mary cared for him with love as he went through that grim passage that all of us must endure. My mother died at 48 of breast cancer and my father tended her with the greatest compassion imaginable during her long and valiant fight with the Grim Reaper. Dad was never eloquent on the subject of love, but his actions during that awful time taught me more about love than anything I have ever read in a book.
My father died peacefully of a heart attack in his favorite chair at age 57. Like Saint Joseph’s death my Dad’s death went unnoticed by the world, since my father had accomplished nothing that the world would consider great: he never held elective office, he did not become rich, never invented anything, no events of note at all. He simply was a quiet man who went about his work uncomplainingly, raised his family with my Mom the best way he knew how, was kind and charitable, a man to be relied upon. He was remembered fondly by all who had the privilege of knowing him, just like Saint Joseph I assume. On such humble good men and women are societies based, and societies, like their families, tend not to truly appreciate them until they are no longer there.