On Father’s Day, a dad’s quirks and ways in which he molded his kids comes to mind. For example, what were my dad’s thoughts about religion? He never said. Yet my father attended Sunday mass without fail throughout my childhood. But was he a man of faith? Or was kowtowing to my mother his core belief? Does it matter?

Regarding religion, my dad’s actions pointed toward going along and getting along with my mother. Every Sunday, he sat at the end of our pew, wearing oversized, Fearless Fly sunglasses that masked his thoughts during worship. His mouth moved occasionally, not with prayer, but with chewing gum. The moment “Go in peace” was pronounced, he shot out of the church, unlocked our Chevy Malibu, and then it was off to San Francisco’s Chinatown for lunch.

In contrast, my mother embodied faith, love and the full-tilt guilt of her Catholicism. In her bedroom, she prayed on a real church kneeler. Nightly, we’d gather around a home altar featuring pictures of Jesus and Mary, the kind with eyes that followed you everywhere, and the phone might ring. I’d have to tell my friend, “I can’t talk now, we’re saying the rosary.” Then confusion on the other end, “You’re what?”

My dad never joined our prayer circle, nor did my mother nag. Maybe she was letting him off in lieu of the main events: Church on Sunday, Christmas midnight mass, or building a “grotto” in our backyard.

Asthmatic as he was, he dug a pond, at her request, and laid flagstones found at a nearby beach. We three kids worked like little convicts, hauling them to the car. When the pond was filled with water, he threw in a few goldfish. The final touch was a statue of the Blessed Mother, her arms outstretched, an invitation to her little fish friends. We later translated it to “Go with God” since they didn’t last.

So how do I view my father’s behavior, decades later?

Nowadays, when it comes to religion, there is polarization, iron-clad inflexibility, and derision on both sides. My father had it right when he role modeled tolerance and getting along. He loved my mother (in his own uncommunicative, unaffectionate way) and supported her by not complaining. I learned the statement, “I concede.” This is not important to me, but it’s important to you, so I’ll go along” is a powerful gift.

Their obvious differences about religion never created friction. There was an absence of arguments and peace prevailed. Lord knows my parents struggled with money, crime in our neighborhood, and being two immigrants from the Philippines trying to understand their American-born children.

Modern society tells us to put ourselves first and to never relinquish control. Yet my father’s patience showed me a practical way to accept others. “You just have to get along,” he’d say. Now more than ever, I see his wisdom.
Email Suzette Martinez Standring at suzmar@comcast.net.