The priest who baptized my son ten years ago is a good man. He’s not a pastor of any local parishes; possessed of many gifts of intellect, he works for the diocese. By a twist of providence he has started helping out in our parish from time to time, largely because of his impeccable Latin. It’s a delight to see him again after ten years.
His father passed away recently. I have not seen him since, although I hope to do so in the near future so as to pass along my condolences. I never met his father, nor have we ever spoken of him before. As a priest in the Catholic Church it is not easy for him to do so.
How hard that must be. I tell people about my parents all the time: that my mother is a teacher like me, that my father worked in some truly crazy job sites when he was younger, the vacations and the holidays and all the rest. Father can’t do that, or can’t do it easily, and everyone knows not to press (I’m not even sure I should be writing an obit for him, but fools rush in).
But I do know something of the father through the son. You can tell, I think, that his father was one of those formidable men who make their sons despair of ever living up to them. I’ve heard he was a force of intellect, and I can see signs of it in the son. But I can also tell, I think, that he loved his son very much. Unloved sons don’t grow up so well.
The son is a gifted, polished homilist with a razor wit and a cutting sense of humor. He’s also an affable fellow with a great smile and reassuring presence. He created a beer-and-pizza men’s group at my old parish ten years ago, which I always greatly appreciated even if I could seldom attend.
He was delighted to meet Gregory, the boy he baptized, and has not missed a chance since to shake his hand and ask how things are going after Holy Mass. We laugh together about difficult mass readings when his Latin gets stretched to capacity. You can see his father in how he takes on the role of spiritual father to us. Who else would one learn it from?
He’s unfailingly polite. He comes from an old school Italian family but gave my wife rave reviews over her lasagna many years ago at the standard “ask Father over for dinner” ritual. Who knows how many tears his mother and father shed trying to mold him into that sort of man (aside: my wife’s lasagna is amazing).
As a miserable failure of a father, for so I feel some days, I envy the success of Father’s father. I understand he had many children. I don’t know that they all grew up quite so well–anyone can look at their own family to see that we take different paths–but I’m sure Father is not a self-made man. He’s made, in part, by his father, and his father did a damn good job.
Nothing we do as parents guarantees a good or bad outcome for our children. They succeed or fail often in spite of all that we do. Vanity of vanities. Yet our children are also our legacy, and we do achieve a kind of immortality in them. Our children rise up and call us blessed, not necessarily by word, but by their lives. The priest who baptized my son tells me, by his life, everything I will ever want to know about his father. Maybe they got along, maybe they didn’t, but whether he knows it or not Father is an icon of his father.
Father’s father is just famous enough to have a lot of people writing things about him in the days after his death. Some of it is mean. Most of it misses the point. But I suppose we all get ground up into fertilizer eventually, and metaphorically is just as humbling as the real thing.
Still, memory exists to preserve the immortal part of man from the dung heap. How we remember people matters. I remember him whom I never met through his son. I hope that’s worth something to someone somewhere.
RIP, Mr. Scalia. You raised a good son.