Both my parents are deceased, and while I miss them both on a daily basis, when it comes to matters of religion, it is my father I miss the most. And I have been missing him a lot of late.
My father, like me, was raised Catholic, and from what I’m told, he was a good Christian boy who went to church every week, and even was an altar boy at some point. During his late teen years, after a car accident that ended what could’ve been a stellar sports career, my dad, in his depression, fell in with the wrong crowd. Although I’m not entirely sure of the timeline, the point is that by the time he was with my mom, he was also an addict, and this obviously affected every facet of his life. He went to rehab, I was born, and life was great… for a while. There were further relapses that led to my parents getting a divorce, and eventually to him deciding that enough was enough. During this new and final rehab phase, my dad reignited his connection to God as he sought His help to finally kick the habit. It worked, wonderfully; my dad was finally free of that monkey on his back, and in the process, he had found again his connection to God. With the difference that it wasn’t via Catholicism. My father had embraced a Protestant/Evangelical approach to Christianity, becoming the first in my family to break away from Catholicism.
My father was never a pastor, but he was certainly a missionary, taking his personal story and his testimony of God to others who were like he had been. I have memories of dad visiting Puerto Rico (my dad pretty much lived in the states most of my life) and me staying up with my mom or grandparents so I could hear him speak in various Christian radio shows he would go to. My mom and my grandparents gave me a religion in raising me Catholic, but it was my dad who worked to get me to have a connection to God. He would talk to me of Jesus in a way that was different from how it was done in mass, read the bible to me, continually ask that I read it on my own. I was too young to truly grasp what he was doing, to treasure the message that my dad was trying to convey to me: that I could have a personal relationship with God beyond the rituals of the church. At that time I would just nod, promise I’d read my bible, then proceed to not do it.
During my early teenage years, I got to spend a lot of time with him, especially over a couple of summer-long visits once he had moved to Florida. By then dad had remarried and was working as a counselor to at-risk teens with an organization called Youth for Christ. During my stay with him that summer, I went to his church, not Catholic church. Moreover, when I say his church, I mean at least 4 or 5 different ones, of different denominations. This, in fact, was the case every time I visited him over the next few years. I don’t recall when exactly was it that I asked him about it, but I did, and while I also don’t recall his exact answer, the gist of it was that he was always seeking God, and at different churches, he learned different things. By this time my dad was also enrolled in theological school, so it made perfect sense: he was doing research. Maybe neither of us understood it as such then, or maybe he did, but it is obvious to me now. My dad never stopped seeking God. Even though he was a devout Christian who had a personal relationship with God, he never let that be a static issue or a given. He never stopped seeking God.
My dad died when I was 19. He was one month shy of his 41st birthday. I was devastated, of course, but I had no idea at the time of the true extent of the loss I had just suffered.
After my dad’s death, I abandoned my faith. I still believed in God, but I didn’t care to think about it beyond that, and I stopped practicing my religion with very few exceptions (as when the family was all together, and I just went along). I left Puerto Rico, moved to Miami, and with the freedom of being by myself for the first time in my life, I went to mass maybe once or twice, then stopped altogether. I called myself Catholic, but it was a hollow title. And then a couple years later I went and converted to Judaism.
The story of my conversion to Judaism is for another time, but as you can probably imagine, it wasn’t an easy time for me by any stretch of the imagination. I was perennially confused, lost, and overcome by guilt at the possibility, and later the actual act, of leaving the faith of my childhood for something entirely new. And that’s when it hit me: My dad, by his actions, had shown me that it was okay to do something different in your search for God, that you could follow a new path, unlike the one you had been on as you sought to know God. I wanted to talk to him every single day to try to make sense of what was going on in my life, but all I had were his lessons to guide me.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he would’ve agreed with my choice, but I do think he would’ve supported me wholeheartedly. And he would’ve been there for me every time I had questions of faith.
When I started to lose my Christian faith, I missed my dad and wished he had been there to talk to.
When I was seeking for God in esoteric corners even as I told myself I wasn’t seeking for God at all, I missed my dad and wished he had been there to talk to.
When I learned about, got involved with, and eventually converted to Judaism, I missed my dad and wished he had been there to talk to.
When my mom died and I was angry at God, I missed my dad and wished he had been there to talk to.
When I had a crisis of faith and felt like I was losing my Judaism, I missed my dad and wished he had been there to talk to.
When I got divorced, and in the process left behind my orthodox practice of Judaism, I missed my dad and wished he had been there to talk to.
When I fell in love with a Christian woman, dated her long-distance, and had the most beautiful baby with her, finally fulfilling a life-long wish to be a dad, I missed my dad and wished he had been there to talk to.
And now, as I stand at a new crossroads in my life, one I have hinted at but haven’t yet talked about fully because I am still figuring things out myself, I miss my dad and wish he was here to talk to.
But he’s not, at least not physically, so as I said earlier, what I have are his actions to serve as my guides. Of all the lessons my dad taught me, by word or example, the most important one is to never stop seeking God. Even if it takes you to places far from where you started, never stop seeking God.
I am a seeker, like my father before me.
And Dad, this time around, I am reading my Bible.