A gospel preached through time and example

Bruce Chambers on Father's Day 2013 with grandsons Scott, 9, above, and Mark, 6, below. Photo: Simon Chambers
Bruce Chambers on Father's Day 2013 with grandsons Scott, 9, above, and Mark, 6, below. Photo: Simon Chambers
Published June 12, 2014

“My dad has become a great rector’s wife,” I remember saying in a sociology of religion class 20 years ago at the University of Toronto. I said it to get a laugh, but also because it was true. We were talking about the role of clergy in different world religions, and the discussion had turned to the unwritten assumptions of what a clergy person brings to a community.

One of those assumptions, in Anglican circles at least, was a spouse who would perform a variety of roles in the parish. And it was a role my dad was now filling.

For the first 14 years of my life, my mother had followed my father around North America as his work with TD Bank moved our family from Toronto to San Francisco to New York and back to Toronto again. She had stayed home to raise my brothers and myself, slowly getting back into the workforce as we got older and more independent (or at least less likely to burn the house down if we were home alone). When we were back in Toronto, my mom’s call to ordained ministry got more insistent, and she went back to school when I entered Grade 10. Strangely, when she was getting marked herself, her focus on my marks decreased.

I was very proud of her when she was ordained just before my graduation from high school. It was wonderful to see her grow into her role as a curate, then associate priest and eventually rector. But the change in my father was also there—more subtle, but something I could be just as proud of. Instead of her following him, he now followed her to Aurora, Ont., and then down to Scarborough. He sang in the parish choir, hosted the chancel guild and invited the church servers to barbecues, took home communion to shut-ins and performed so many of those welcoming ministries that a “rector’s wife” was expected to perform.

Even before that, when my mother’s master’s degree took up so much of her time, Dad took on the shopping, laundry and other tasks. Despite his penchant for burning anything that came near the barbecue, he cheerfully stepped up to do more work. (My brother and I, less cheerfully, did the same.) He managed this while continuing his work at the bank, fitting in the grocery shopping first thing on Saturdays, choir practice Thursday nights and other events around his work schedule.

As I was growing from boyhood to manhood through those years, I learned a lot from my dad about what it means to be a husband and father. I learned about putting other people’s needs before one’s own, and about sharing in all the work of the household.

I learned the importance of time. I valued then, and still value now, the opportunity to go for dinner and a baseball game with my father. Spending time together, doing something we both enjoy, is probably the best gift he can give me. And it’s a gift I pass on to my own boys—I’ve got a date with my son Scott to see a game and run the bases afterwards as my birthday gift to him. I’m sure it will be as appreciated by Scott as my own games with Dad are by me.

The lesson of time is about more than just spending it together. It’s also about taking the time to enjoy life where you are. When I was a teen, on a family vacation, we drove northwest out of Paris, intending to go southeast. My dad didn’t get upset at his mistake. Or if he did, he hid it from my brother and me very well. Instead, we ended up enjoying some beautiful French countryside, and still somehow arrived when and where we needed to be.

Now, when my wife and I travel with our two boys, we keep the driving days short, allowing time to stop at an interesting playground, climb a mountain or visit a museum. My boys may not smell the roses, but they at least have the opportunity to trample them during a game of tag.

And, much to the dismay of my sons, I also learned the value of puns and the other forms of “dad humour,” which, I’m sure, will embarrass Scott and Mark when they are teens. I learned to take photographs of them quickly so they don’t get bored and wander off or look sullen. And while I never learned to cook cheese soufflé like my dad, I hope to someday.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” My father often preached a gospel about parenting to me through those years. It was a gospel preached by example, not words. And that gospel is one that has guided my parenting. I hope my own boys are picking up that same gospel for when they are adults themselves.

SIMON CHAMBERS is communications co-ordinator for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.


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