A couple years back, I read Englishman Tony Hendra’s autobiographical story of his long, formative relationship with Father Joe. The book (creatively titled Father Joe) commenced with fourteen-year-old Hendra’s affair with a married women. When the women’s husband discovered his wife and the neighborhood kid mid-passion, it was obvious to pretty much everyone that Hendra needed guidance.
Whisked away to Quarr Abbey (a Benedectine monastery on the Isle of Wright), Tony Hendra met and began a life-changing relationship with the elder, flat-footed, knobby-kneed priest, Joseph Warrilow. Warrilow was kind and firm and wise; and when Tony first met him, he said he “felt on the brink of learning an entirely new set of possible responses to the world.” Hendra’s days and conversations with Warrilow changed who he was and guided him through a tumultuous life. In fact, their relationship spanned nearly fifty years.
I was mesmerized by the story. It was more than the story, though; it was how this tale spoke to my own longing for elder spiritual guides. I believe we all long for our own Father Joe. We long for women or men who will see who we are – as well as who we are not. We long for wiser guides to point the way, older friends who are unflustered by our angst and chaos, entirely unimpressed with our masks and our pretenses and our false selves. We want assurance that we are not alone and that the world does not ultimately depend on us – we know we are too small for that.
Sunday is Father’s day, and when I think about what I want to give my sons – it is the sort of things Father Joe gave Hendra. Over the years (many years), Father Joe walked alongside. He told Tony the truth, even when it was tough. He surprised Tony with his easy forgiveness and generous grace (one thing Father Joe never did was shame or condemn, even when Tony was way out of line). Father Joe helped Tony become more of himself, his alive, free self.
That’s the kind of dad I want to be.
In the morning, we are taking the boys for their first adventure to Disney World. It will be a hoot. You may not hear from me next week, though. I’m going to be plugged in with the family.