He likes rhubarb, polish sausage with sauerkraut, and mincemeat pie. He looks like Paul Newman and walks with a John Wayne swagger. (My sisters and I thought he was just cool, but later in life we found out one of his legs was a little longer than the other.) My father, William Michael Short, was born on Thanksgiving Day, 1924, after dinner, in Yonkers, New York, the “city of gracious living,” as he loves to remind you. He and my mother met on a blind date, got married in 1953, and settled down in Ridgefield, Connecticut, to raise their clan of eight children.
My dad loves the simple pleasures of life: homemade chicken soup, big-band music, dancing, gardening, a good western movie. He still enjoys flying down a snowy hill on a toboggan. Dad is always the pusher, and as he jumps onto the rear three inches of the toboggan, he yells “Yahoo.” Many a child dives out of our path as our six-person toboggan barrels down Veteran’s Park Hill with Dad yahooing. My sister Meg remembers as a six-year-old trying to climb out of the Space Mountain ride at Disney World. Dad laughed reassuringly and told her to sit down and holler like him.
For as long as I can remember, Dad has donned a costume at Halloween to hand out the candies. One year he was a manly Snow White; the next, Groucho Marx. Another year he wore a Cat in the Hat hat, one loose eyeball, and glow-in-the-dark fangs.
I asked my siblings for their thoughts of Dad. My brother Mike thought of Dad’s work ethic. “Every month Dad’s van would pull up with part of the New England forest in it for our organically fueled heater,” recalls Mike. “First came the chain saw work, then the hours of sweat, muttering, and wood splitting with the old-style sledgehammer, spikes, and long-handled ax. Dad never asked for help, but his work was so continuous and thorough, it appeared to my slothful teenage eyes an appealing activity. So, a grayed Tom Sawyer got this lazy boy off the La-Z-Boy every time his van showed up full of wood. My enjoyment of chopping wood with a purpose lasts to this day, as do his words of advice: ‘If you do this long enough, it will help your baseball swing.’ It did. ‘Watch the ax head. It can fly off in any direction!’ It never did.”
My sister Cathy also thought of Dad’s hard work. “He always closes his letters with ‘Work hard and pray a lot,’ ” she says. “This never sounds phony because it’s what he does. He has worked hard all his life. He built the two homes we lived in and he did all the repairs. No repairman has ever set foot in them. And he prays throughout the day. He would say a morning rosary with us in his noisy work van on the way to school. He would lead us in nightly family rosary, and he would go to a weekly Eucharistic adoration in the wee hours of the morning. But my most powerful image is of catching him kneeling at the foot of his bed, late at night before he retired, saying personal prayers.”
All four of us sisters have this vision of Dad. All eight of us children have remained true to our Catholic faith, and two of my brothers have become priests.
Greg, one of my priest brothers, thought of Dad’s self-restraint in speech. “He never uses profanity or takes the Lord’s name in vain. I saw him hit his thumb with a hammer once and all he came out with was ‘phooey’ and ‘give me strength.’ ”
My sister Nancy thought of Dad’s quietness. “He is so humble. He never talks about himself or complains. I remember him asleep after dinner one Friday evening in Lent and Mom telling me how tired Dad gets from fasting. I marveled that he was fasting even though he was working so hard and that he never ever said anything about it.”
He keeps so quiet about suffering that when he gets sick, he gets very sick because he won’t stop working until he’s about to keel over. I remind myself that suffering offered up to God leads to purification and peace of the soul. Dad had a lot of suffering as a youngster, from the death of his younger sister when he was a toddler and the death of his mother when he was in his early teens. Dad’s peacefulness and trust in the Lord are fruits of that suffering and examples for me in my life. My parish priest once told me that my father was a very holy man. He could tell from his face and the way he acted. I have always thought that too. One year, when my sister Cathy wanted to resize Dad’s wedding ring as a gift, he told her where he was keeping it. On his dresser was a Sacred Heart statue: he had placed the ring on the blessing hand. “It was another quiet but powerful lesson learned from Dad,” Cathy says. “Work hard and pray a lot and leave the results of my work in the hands of God.”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We love you!