Father’s Day is about celebrating where we come from

June 15, 2024

Thomas Froese

The view from inside Joe’s Diner in Lee, Mass.


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(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, June 15, 2024)

Lee, Mass – In a way we’re all homeless vagabonds, it seems to me, running from one fear or another.

In my case, when younger, I ran from home because of issues, and because any young man or woman, even from a fine home, needs to leave sometime to find some authenticity.

The first time I ran, I mopped floors in a mall and lived with friends. The second time, I sold vacuums and lived in a dumpy hotel called “The Leonard.” By the time I announced to my father I was leaving again, this time to extended family, he said he’d break my legs.

Of course it’s hard to get far with broken legs. Regardless, I left again. Fifteen years later my father – remember, fathers have their own fears – was still so sore that he told my bride-to-be that he’d boycott our wedding unless the prodigal son, so-to-speak,  returned to make amends.

It comes to mind because my bride and I – we married 23 years ago – took a road trip recently. We knew our destination, but didn’t realize that it was in Norman Rockwell country, where the renowned American illustrator had lived for many years.

In small-town Massachusetts, three hours from Boston, we even found ourselves in Joe’s Diner, the location in Rockwell’s illustration, “The Runaway.” It shows a runaway boy sitting in a diner, a large policeman beside him, the boy’s meagre bag of belongings nearby. It’s Number 302 of 322 cover illustrations that Rockwell drew for The Saturday Evening Post.

As you might imagine, it’s close to my heart. I’ve had a print of “The Runaway” hanging on one wall or another for more than 30 years. Then, somehow, I was there, unplanned, sitting on that diner stool with my burger and fries and astonishment, really, wondering about it all: running and grace and ungrace and these important matters.

I share for two reasons. First, I’m not alone. Neither are you. No family is perfect. Some are great. Most are a mixed bag. Some are toxic. In fact, before stumbling upon Joe’s Diner, my bride and I, while driving, learned about one family while listening to author and journalist Philip Yancey read his backstory, his recently-released autobiography, “Where the Light Fell.”

When he was a one-year-old, Yancey’s father died. Needlessly. Then his mother led the home with ungrace, if not, sometimes, religiously-driven evil. Listening, at times I thought my head would explode. Philip somehow managed. His older brother Marshall? Not so much. In her 90s, mother sent Marshall a contrite letter. His response? “It’s 45 years late.”

“What power has kept them from speaking for half a century? The same force of stubborn pride that so often divides families, neighbours, politicians, races and nations,” writes Yancey.

His many published titles have sold 17 million copies in dozens of languages. Now we know why these books often explore human suffering, disappointment, and God’s grace.

So, no, we’re not alone.

I share also because it’s Father’s Day weekend. And despite messy families, and sometimes messy fathers, it’s still a day to celebrate. We’re not celebrating a perfect world or perfect people, after all. We’re celebrating where we come from: life, even from brokenness. This is the human condition.

My own father, by the way, never broke my legs. And years later he did attend my wedding, giving a father-of-the-groom speech better than most. Later, he knew his grandchildren well. I made sure. So with some work, and some grace, sometimes roads can lead to surprising places.

If I live long enough I’ll  keep that old Rockwell print for 30 more years. To me it expresses the good grace, if not good humour, that’s involved in breaking those difficult family cycles that need breaking.

In my own family we’ve even named our dog Grace. Like that other grace, Grace needs care. Plenty. Daily. But when this dog runs, especially between some favourite tombstones, you should see her go.

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June 15, 2024 • Posted in
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2 thoughts on “Father’s Day is about celebrating where we come from”

  1. If I had to write anything about my late Dad, it would be something similar to this; imperfect yet genuinely loving and caring.

    Thanks for the piece Thomas. I will keep referring to it from time to time

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