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Religion On A Sleeve

A Son and His Father

About 22 years ago, during a discussion with one of my brothers about religion, the issue of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary came up.  When I tried to point out the reasons why it was important to pray a Rosary every day, my brother got irritated with me and told me he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

In a final attempt to try to convince him that he should at least make an effort to start praying the Rosary, I said: “Did you know that Jidu prayed the Rosary every day on his way to work?”  He snapped back and said, “Yes, but he didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve like you do!”  I got the message and stopped talking.

My grandparents on both sides of the family were of Lebanese heritage.  In the Lebanese language, a grandfather is referred to as “Jidu.”  When I was growing up, my grandfather (Tom Williams), lived next door to my parents, and to all of his grandchildren he was known as “Jidu.”

Jidu had the instincts and manner of a true warrior: tough; no-nonsense; rugged; fiercely independent.  As a teenager living in Lebanon, he had personally experienced war and hardship.  He once told me that he had to personally bury people he knew who had been killed in the war. 

He was brutally honest and always spoke his mind without any fear of what other people would think or say about him.  He wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything.

Although he was tough and rugged, Jidu had a tender heart and was a fierce defender of his family and friends.  He treated all of his grandchildren like they were his own children.  He was like a second father to all of his grandchildren.

When I was in grade school, every day the school bus dropped me and my brothers and sisters off at Jidu’s house.  Instead of walking home, we usually went into Jidu’s house so we could watch the Mickey Mouse Club on television. 

When I was twelve years old, I took over a paper route delivering newspapers for the Peoria Journal Star.  Whenever it was snowing or raining hard, Jidu would get in his car and drive around until he found me.  I would then hop in his car and he would drive me around my route until I was finished delivering papers. 

Shortly after I started delivering papers, Jidu offered to drive me around my paper route every Sunday morning if I was willing to get up early and go to Mass with him and help him out with his Laundromat.  Of course, I agreed, so every Sunday after the 6:30 a.m. Mass at St. Mark’s, we would go to his favorite restaurant to eat breakfast and then we would stop at his Laundromat to clean up,  empty the change in the machines, and replenish the vending machines with candy and soda.  After we were finished at the Laundromat, we would pick up the newspapers and he would drive me around my route.

It was during those Sunday morning trips to St. Mark’s that I saw Jidu pray his Rosary.  Every Sunday after we got in his car, he would pick up his Rosary and start praying.  He never asked me to pray with him.  While he silently prayed the Rosary, I would just sit, look out the window, and daydream.

A few years ago my dad told me that when he was a teenager, he spent a summer in Minnesota with one of his dad’s brothers (Ed Williams).  Every morning my dad’s Uncle Ed would wake him up at 5:00 a.m. and they would get in his car and drive to Ed’s shoe repair shop where my dad helped out.  My dad told me that every day on the way to the shop, he would lie down on the back seat and sleep while his Uncle Ed drove the car and prayed his Rosary.

There was a commercial that started airing on television in the late 1960’s that started out by showing a young man and his five or six year old son painting the side of a house – the father on a ladder with his paint brush, and the son standing on the ground with his own (small) paint brush.  The next scene showed the two of them washing a car – the father using a hose and the son using a squirt gun.  The next scene showed them walking on a paved road.  While they were walking, the father picked up a rock and threw it.  The boy imitated his dad by also picking up a rock and throwing it.  Finally, the father sat down, leaned up against a tree and pulled out a cigarette.  He then placed the cigarette in his mouth and lit up.  The commercial ended by showing the boy sitting next to his dad examining the package of cigarettes that his dad had set down beside him, and then looking up and watching his dad puff away on the cigarette.

The commercial conveyed a powerful message that no one could argue with – that boys look up to and imitate their fathers.  If the commercial showed a mother and her son doing the same things, it would have had minimal impact.  Everyone who saw the commercial intuitively knew what the message was.  No explanation was necessary.

In college, I majored in accounting and minored in music.  During my junior and senior year, I was a member of two different choirs, one of which was an all men’s chorus.  One of the events we performed at was for the parents who were on campus for “Parents Weekend.”

Prior to the performance, all of the students in the chorus were gathered with their parents in the lobby near the entrance of the auditorium.  While everyone was visiting with each other, I saw a student who was known to all of us by his nickname: “Bear.”  Bear was a big, uncouth, obnoxious, burly guy who always put on an act like he was the meanest, baddest guy on earth.  When I looked at Bear’s dad, he was acting in the same objectionable way his son always acted. 

One of the students had a laugh that sounded like: “he, he, he, he, he, he, he, he.”  I looked over and saw him standing with his dad.  All of the sudden his dad started laughing: “he, he, he, he, he, he, he, he.”  Same exact laugh. 

A few minutes later, I saw another student who always walked with a swagger – just like one of those bull-legged cowboys you would see in a western movie.  As we were walking toward the entrance of the auditorium, I noticed his dad walked the same way as his son.

The whole experience of seeing the dads acting just like their sons was strange but enlightening.  It was obvious that each of the sons inherited their father’s traits, mannerisms and habits.

A father wants his son to believe he’s smart.  A father wants his son to believe he’s strong and courageous.  A father wants his son to admire and respect him.  But are there very many fathers who want their sons to believe that they are holy?  Has your son ever seen you routinely do anything “holy” (other than go to Mass on Sundays)?  I not only saw my dad do the typical things that men do, but I also saw him routinely stand up for his faith and do holy things.  His primary concern was to be an example of a devout Catholic for his children.

The “religion on his sleeve” comment that my brother threw in my face bothered me for a long time.  Not so much because he said it, but because I wished that more of my family members and cousins had seen the same side of my grandfather that I saw. 

I saw a warrior pray the Rosary – a warrior who had the humility to pick up a string of beads so he could petition the Queen of Heaven for assistance.  All of my brothers and sisters (as well as my cousins) had great admiration and respect for my grandfather, but they didn’t get to see what I saw.  What I eventually realized from the experience with my brother was that our Savior expects me to wear my religion on my sleeve, so I can be an example to not only my own family members, but also to each person that I come into contact with.

It’s not enough for our sons to see their mothers and grandmothers pray and lead lives of holiness.  Most men don’t follow the example of their mothers when it comes to holiness.  They need to know that it’s not a girly thing to be holy and to practice their faith out in the open.  It is the father (or grandfather) who has the greatest impact on a boy when it comes to the boy’s holiness and spiritual development.

It’s never too late to start wearing your religion on your sleeve.  The boys that you have influence over need to see and experience your faith, humility and leadership.  God expects this of every Catholic man.

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