Despite the fact that the mid-summer sky outside their bedroom windows was still flecked with stars, we didn’t have to do much to rouse our children. We gave them a nudge, and then all it took was a couple of blinks to shake the sleep out of their eyes. Excitement did the rest.
Prepared like Boy Scouts, they all slept in their clothes, ready at a moment’s notice to pack themselves into the Town & Country like sardines in a tin can. And so at 4 in the morning, we set off for Florida, wide-eyed as we asked Mary’s guidance in the Rosary.
We were already two hours into our journey before the sun caught us — six travelers fueled by donuts and months of anticipation. But eagerness and sugar could only carry us so far. Somewhere between Nashville and Birmingham — after long pauses in Louisville and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and a playground not too far off the highway on the Tennessee-Alabama border — that fuel tank began to run dry. Seventeen hours after leaving home, we stopped for the night in Montgomery.
The next day, after four more hours of confined quality time — it should have been three, but we ran into the traffic of other sunseekers piled into SUVs and minivans with luggage carries on top — we arrived at our condo. We could see the surf and smell the saltwater from the balcony. The beach was calling us. So after months of anticipation, and 36 hours after leaving home, we quickly changed our clothes and went to the one place our family needed after being cooped up in hotel rooms and traffic jams: confession.
Half an hour before the vigil Mass, only the afternoon sun coming through the windows lit St. Rita Parish in Santa Rosa Beach, but despite the darkness, the church’s beauty was evident, highlighted by a dark wooden ceiling. The church was silent, and the line for the confessional was empty. After handing off Dominic, who was saving his screaming for the start of Mass, I kneeled next to the priest, an Egyptian who was also visiting the parish.
Normally, I’d keep the conversation of the confessional to myself, but if you’ve spent hours upon hours trying to navigate directions while breaking up backseat fights, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I mentioned impatience — even anger — toward my kids. Of all the sins I confessed, Father focused on this one particularly, and his wise words struck me.
“You have to remember,” he said, “that you are the father of this family. Your relationship with your children, and your wife, must mirror the relationship God the Father has with us. It must be loving. God is love. God is not anger or frustration. Certainly, there are times when correction is necessary, but it must be made out of love.”
I tried to follow this advice once the lights came on and Dominic’s mood turned sour. I tried especially hard during Mass as Jacob, the 7-year-old, battled rage because I wouldn’t let him leave the pew to help his mother fight the good fight in the cry room.
Soon enough, with our souls cleansed and our bags unpacked, we hit the beach, and the rays from above were glorious.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.