I was only six years old, but I still remember how the fear gripped me as the fire spread, the tears I shed as his mother died, and laughing out loud as I met Thumper and Flower. The Disney classic movie “Bambi” was an emotionally powerful movie for a young child. So when four year old Allison selected the DVD of “Bambi” and asked if she could watch it, I readily agreed, knowing I would need to sit next to her as she watched this movie for the first time.
We sat snuggled on the couch with our bowl of popcorn between us as the movie began, and I couldn’t help but think that one of the great blessings of having a four year old is the chance to relive again all the great childhood moments. It has been over 40 years since I saw “Bambi” at a drive-in movie. I was excited to watch it again and experience it with Allison. Not having been tainted by 40 years of life, Allison colors everything with her view, one of complete awe, wonder, innocence and joy for life. It is truly a gift to have this moment and see “Bambi” again through the eyes of a child.
The movie begins and we are laughing out loud together as Allison meets Bambi, Thumper and Flower for the first time. And then appears a scene that lasts just a few seconds, one I barely remember. The edge of a mountain, rising high to the sky upon which stands The Great Stag, Bambi’s father. It can’t be on the screen more than a few seconds and no words are spoken, but the message is clear. The Great Stag is majestic. The Great Stag is respected and wise. The Great Stag is someone special. And I hear Allison whisper to herself, “Just like my Papa.”
So touched at her obvious respect and adoration for her Papa, I was reminded of a particular day sitting in Mass when I was distracted by a young father with his infant. All through Mass the father was gazing at his tiny child, and the look of love on this young dad’s face was simply beautiful. A few rows over sat a family I know, the mom happened to be out of town, but there was Dad with his two young children. His daughter had her arms wrapped around his right arm, and his son had his arms wrapped around his left arm. In our 112 degree heat, I am sure this made Dad sweaty and hot, but his face said, “I’m comfortable.” Across from me, a toddler began to get restless as they do in Mass, and the father reached down to pick her up and calm her by holding her close in a tight embrace. Behind me, a woman my age sat next to her father. As they stood to receive Communion, I noticed he walked with a cane. Along with his family, slowly but steadily, he made his way to receive Jesus.
I was dazed with the images of all the fathers here in Mass. What great love I saw on their faces, in their eyes, in their arms and hands as they gently guided their children, as they showed mercy for those who had not yet learned to control their impulses. I consider all the fathers sitting in Mass today, who are doing the absolute best thing that any father could ever do for their child, loving our Lord Jesus and trying to live their life according to His will. I am flooded with gratitude and hope for our world.
Allison’s Papa is her best playmate. Allison is her Papa’s best helper. The two of them can usually be found together, either engaged in some “pretend” game, or as she trails him around helping him work around our home and yard. They water flowers together in the afternoon and, after dinner, she puts on her dress up clothes and he is her dance partner. When it’s time for bed, he is her horse and carriage, riding her on his back to bed.
The Catechism tells us that our family is a “domestic church,” a community of faith, hope and charity; assuming a singular importance in our church. It is in this role that the men in our lives pass on the gift of faith and teach us of unconditional love and mercy. This Father’s Day I am reminded of all the men in our lives, those who have biological children and those who have chosen not to have children or have been unable to have children but, like our Heavenly Father, have offered paternal care. I think of my own life and the men who have been my protectors and mentors-my step-father, uncles, priests, friends and fathers of friends. This Father’s Day I honor and ask God to bless all men who have offered their faith, wisdom, guidance, protection, mercy and love.