Once when I was in London, I stopped on a street corner to buy a ticket for a double-decker bus tour. A 20-something young lady was selling the tickets, and upon hearing what she thought of as “my accent” (as a Midwestern American I don’t think I have an accent, but to a Brit I guess I do), she asked me where I was from.
“Oh a small town in the United States,” I told her. “You probably never heard of it: South Bend, Indiana.”
“Oh sure,” she said, “I love the Pacers! Reggie Miller’s my favorite player, except for Jordan. Do you fancy sport?”
“Yeah,” I said, surprised. “I like sports.”
“How do you feel about Manchester united?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, baffled but trying to be friendly, “I’m glad they were able to get together.”
Then it was her turn to look baffled.
Those of you who know soccer (or “football,” depending on where you’re from), will understand my blunder. Manchester united, with a lower case “u”, is a town with good community spirit. Manchester United, with a capital “U”, is the name of a famous football club, likely to engender brawling with devotes of opposing teams.
The British and Americans remain two people divided by a common language.
My humble origins also rose up to smite me when talking food with a friend just returned from China. This friend was trying to describe the taste of a sea food dish she tried in Hong Kong, and was looking for a comparison I would understand.
“Have you had calamari?” she asked.
I had not.
“Hmm . . .” she puzzled. “What about eel?”
“I’m from Indiana,” I told her. “If it’s not corn, or it doesn’t eat corn, I haven’t had it.”
I really shouldn’t give my Hoosier homeland a bad wrap. After all, Indiana gave the world Johnny Appleseed, Orville Redenbocker, Bobby Helms (“Jingle Bell Rock”), and even the television (sort of, Philo Farnsworth worked in Fort Wayne, Indiana for several years). I could go on, but I digress.
I was thinking about my cultural limitations recently after talking to a friend who’s teaching his kids Latin. This friend is a professor and happens to be fluent in Latin. It’s pretty neat for a father to teach his kids Latin, and it’s interesting how the things that we fathers know can open up possibilities for our kids. I thought of my own father, and looking at my siblings I can see how each of us acquired different interests from him. Several of my siblings are into construction and carpentry, several are adept at auto repairs. All of us are voracious readers, and several of us are into writing. A few are into art, we all play at least one musical instrument, and two of my sisters are scientists. You can see the threads of all of these interests running right back to Dad. He’s a real renaissance man, one of the rare bread of self-educated men who didn’t go to college, but who also never stopped learning.
And doing. He always had a project going at home. It wasn’t anything Dad ever said that got us hooked. He never told us to read, never carped at us to do physics experiments. We would just see him engaged in his various endeavors, and his enthusiasm made us kids wanted to try our own hand at whatever Dad had going. Bless my Mom, she was a good sport about it all and never complained about having a carburetor on her kitchen counter or having her pots and pans turned into a make-shift drum set. All that activity, all that doing, got us kids excited about doing things, too.
I don’t know Latin, though, so the chances of me teaching Latin to my kids are pretty slim. It made think that the corollary is also true: while our own knowledge and interests can open possibilities for our kids, our limitations can be limitations for our kids also. If we never pursue an activity, if we know nothing about some subject, the chances of our kids delving into those unknown possibilities dwindles.
Partly, there is no avoiding this. There’s an old saying: “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” There are only so many hours in the day, and as Aeneas told Hector, no man has been given all gifts.
But Jesus made it clear that we have to strive to develop ourselves and our gifts as best we can. In the parable of the talents, Matt 25, 14-30, Jesus tells how a man was going on a journey, and entrusted his possessions to three servants. Two of the servants used the talents entrusted to them to go out and trade, and they generated profits. The third, however, was afraid. So he took the talent entrusted to him and buried it in the ground. Upon returning, the servants who had profitably used their talents were rewarded, but the one who buried his talent was punished as a wicked and lazy servant.
As Jesus also told us: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all the house. Just so, your light must shine before others . . .” (Matt 5, 14-16).
I know life is busy. Sometimes it’s nice to kick back on the couch with a bag of chips. By all means, sometimes we need our rest and a chance to catch our breath in this hectic world. But I think that sometimes we fathers also need to look at ourselves, and assess what we’re doing to develop ourselves. Have we tried anything new lately? Have we found anything to be excited about lately? Surely amid all the wonder God created there’s got to be something we can be excited about. We don’t necessarily need to learn Latin, but could we learn a new prayer? How many of us know the Angelus? Come to think of it, when was the last time our kids saw us pray outside of church? Or could we tackle that home improvement project that’s been lingering? Whatever it is, after we’ve had our rest, we should muster our energy to burn our light a little more brightly. We are the light of the world, and that light starts shining at home.