I was driving home from church a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning and it was Father’s Day. As is often the case, I tuned my car radio to the local public radio station. The announcer posed a great question: “What’s the best gift your father ever gave you?” My mind immediately went to my 12th birthday. For weeks in advance of my birthday, I had made it very clear to my parents, and anyone else who would listen, that I wanted a new bicycle. All my friends had English racers and I wanted one, too! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the bike I wanted, an English racer, as I recall, was a tall bike. It had skinny tires, at least three speeds, and hand brakes. It would be a huge step up from the little-kid bike I had. When I came home from school that birthday, my father led me out to our garage. I could barely contain myself as my dad pulled a tarp from my long awaited birthday gift. It was a “new” bike for sure, but not the English racer I’d longed for.
I stared in disbelief at the bicycle my father revealed and my heart sank. All I wanted was a bike like all my friends had. I wanted to be one of the “cool kids.” The truth of the matter is that my dad purchased a second hand bike. It wasn’t tall, it didn’t have hand brakes and it had big fat tires. Words cannot express my disappointment that day. I guess I managed a smile and a thank you, but it wasn’t sincere.
A bit of a back story is in order here. My dad was a poor farm boy from Kansas, and the oldest of nine children. His father was an alcoholic who often abandoned his family for long periods of time, leaving my father to be the “man of the house.” In a post-depression era, his family had little: they worked hard, lived frugally, and valued everything they had. So in hindsight, it made perfect sense that rather than spending a lot of money on a new bicycle, my dad would find a less expensive way to give me the gift I so deeply desired. I learned later that for weeks before my birthday, my dad would come home from work and spend hours cleaning, painting, and polishing that old bike to make it look like new. Quite a sacrifice after he’d spent a full day at work. He did it for me but I didn’t appreciate it.
In Luke’s Gospel last weekend, we heard the parable about the man, sometimes called “the rich fool,” who stores his wealth so that he can “rest, eat, drink, and be merry” for the remainder of his days. He does not see any of his wealth as a blessing from God. He fails to be thankful for all that he’s been given. He thinks only of himself. But God reminds him that those who store their treasures, accumulate great wealth, and care only about material possessions, are not rich in what matters to God.
When I think back to the day my dad gave me that bicycle and my reaction, it brings a tear to my eye. I’m saddened, not just because of my lack of gratitude and appreciation for his gift of the bicycle. Like the “rich fool” I took for granted many of the sacrifices my dad made for me that went unacknowledged or under appreciated. Today, I have nothing but pride and admiration for all my dad accomplished. He was a man of few words but great deeds. He never got the college education he so deeply desired, but he made sure his three children had the opportunities he never had. Most importantly, he raised us to be good, decent, faith-filled people. He passed on his values of hard work and honesty. He taught us to appreciate all the gifts we have been given and blessed with. He was rich in what matters to God.
Haven’t there been times when we’ve all been a bit like that “rich fool”? Times when we’ve wanted more or better? Times when we’ve been so centered on ourselves that we’ve ignored the sacrifices others have made for us? Times when we’ve failed to appreciate all we’ve been given? I know I have. So to answer the question — What was the best gift your father ever gave you? The best gift my dad ever gave me wasn’t that bike with fat tires. It was his example of living each day with gratitude for all the blessings that he’d received. So often, we take for granted all that God has given us. Our homes, our health, our families, our faith — everything we have is a gift from God. With grateful and thankful hearts, we are called to share those gifts with those around us for the betterment of the Church and the world. We are called to pass on our spiritual values and faith to our children, our grandchildren and all we encounter. Finally, we are called to give praise and thanksgiving to God for all the gifts bestowed on us, and for His best and greatest gift — the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, who frees us from sin and raises us to new life. And that, my friends, is the Good News.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father (Jas 1:17).
Anchor columnist Ada Simpson is former editor of Ministry & Liturgy magazine, holds an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry, and is the director of Music Ministry at St. Francis and St. Dominic parishes in Swansea.