“I should have become a priest.”
I used to say that—the only truly meaningful words in my life—until the night my son stopped me. Funny how such powerful things could so abruptly end. Funny, too, how they could so abruptly begin.
I still recall Father Parker walking me from his evening study. “You are a faithful young Catholic, Jonathan,” he had told me.
I saw my parents’ car ahead, passenger window down, my mother sitting in the driver’s seat, her upper body partially obscured by the auto’s roof.
“You understand the Bible well,” the Father said, shaking my hand goodbye and opening the door for me.
“Father Parker,” my mother called.
He smiled and stuck his head inside.
“I know what you’re doing, preening my son for the priesthood,” my mother stated. “But you can be sure that Jonathan is not becoming a priest. He will be a doctor.”
My mother said no more, leaving Father Parker standing stiffly upon the sidewalk like my broken dreams, staring openmouthed and silent—a mirror-image to myself.
From then on, I had those words—“I should have become a priest”—I said them, and I meant them. I repeated them and they gained power. Yet, even after a lifetime, my son somehow found a way to destroy them.
We had just finished Thanksgiving dinner, and his wife excused herself to use the powder room. Stuffed, I leaned back while my son considered his goblet of apple cider.
“Dad,” he began without raising his eyes. “Mom told me something the other day. She said you were going to be a priest.”
My dinner suddenly seemed much heavier. When he finally glanced up, I nodded yes.
“She said it was a dream of yours. Did you ever regret it? Not becoming a priest?”
My eyes glazed over. Did I regret it? I missed seeing him grow up—not because I was too busy with my medical career, but because I was abusing cocaine, heroine, and various prescription drugs. That cost me my marriage, my practice, and sent me into a seven year roller coaster ride of on again, off again usage.
His question was almost laughable.
“Okay, I’m not stupid,” he replied to my silence. “I know you started the drugs in Medical School, and if you had gone to seminary instead, you probably would’ve come out clean.” He flicked his finger, tinging the crystal. “Still, I wanted to tell you something.” He indicated the turkey carcass, the half-eaten potatoes, the sea of gravy and spilt stuffing. “I wanted to say,” he continued, “thanks.”
“For what?” I replied with a shake.
“For not becoming a priest. If you had, I never would’ve been born. And, well, I wanted to thank you for that. For my life.”
He raised his glass in salute.
In all these years, I could not fathom any words more powerful than the ones I’d been speaking. Yet so abruptly, my son handed them to me.
Hesitantly, I lifted my crystal of cider, paused, and, ever so lightly, clinked it against his.