But there was more to it for me than merely that. I started thinking about my uncle, one of my father's younger brothers, the fourth of five boys, the seventh of eight children. He was a beautiful soul, a talented musician, multilingual (he spoke six languages and was learning a seventh at the time of his death). He lived at home as an adult, helping to care for his parents and mentally-challenged younger brother. After his father's death, he became, even more than before, the prop and support for his mother and brother. It was he, more than his married brothers and sisters, who would be the travelling companion for his elderly relatives when they travelled overseas to visit my family. He also happened to be gay, in a place and time where that wasn't always accepted.
After my grandmother passed away in 1982, his brother went to live with one of their sisters and her family, leaving him at loose ends. He, who had always been the caregiver, was left with no one to care for. At age forty-seven, he had to re-evaluate who he was. I believe it was at this time that the conflict between his yearnings and his upbringing brought him to a crise de la foi. He spoke to a priest, who told him that nice Catholic boys from good families couldn't be homosexuals, and that he just hadn't met the right woman yet. And that, the family believes, brought about a crise des nerfs. Unable to reconcile the various aspects of his nature, and bereft of the identity that had been at the core of his life for his entire adulthood, he fell into a deep depression and ended his own life.
I only learned much of this information a few years ago, although I had suspected it for years. It was shared by my father, who, I believe, had been particularly close with his brother.
I'll be honest, tolerance is not the first trait that comes to mind when I think of my father. Particularly to a child, he came across as rigid and intolerant, with little patience for mistakes or foolishness. It took me a while to realize that was merely the outward demonstration of a code of honour so ingrained that it still awes me to realize how deeply authentic a life my father has lived. That code is based on faith in God, self-reliance and a deeply ingrained work ethic, and acceptance of others combined with the ability to think for oneself. What the child I was took as rigidity sprung from his attempt to instill that same code in his children.
Not all of it took. My faith is somewhat more free-form than his, and my work ethic is more conditional - I will work hard when I can't get out of it, and only to get back to my leisure activities. Somehow, I still got more of the faith than my brothers, where they got more of the work ethic. We all, however, seem to have learned the lesson of tolerance and acceptance.
And maybe, that's the most important thing our father taught us.