In honor of the year of St. Joseph I’d like to share stories of men in the Philadelphia area or nearby suburbs who are living out their faith courageously. Will you help me? Is there a man in your life who reminds you of St. Joseph? How so?
Throughout the year I’ll share some of the stories in this column. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just send a summary of the man you would like to highlight and I will contact you for more details. Thank you!
This Friday, March 19 we will celebrate St. Joseph’s feast day. On the same day, my own dad celebrates his 64th birthday. It seems fitting then to highlight my father as the first man in the coming series on “modern day Josephs.”
I imagine St. Joseph to have been the strong silent type. Mild-mannered and perhaps a wallflower. My dad is strong but rarely silent. With a fierce fighting spirit, he’s also the first one out on the dance floor. And yet he has quite a lot in common with St. Joseph.
My dad grew up in Levittown, one of eight children.
Wild in his youth, “BC” he would say, his path was likely straightened when he met my mother at the age of 15. They lived just a few streets away from one another and in high school they took the bus to school together. This is where Dad laid his groundwork.
My mom, a serious student was humored by my dad who was a bit of a cut up. They dated and got married at 19. Despite an offer from my mom’s parents to live with them, they took a mortgage out on their first home. Dad enrolled at Bucks County Community College and after one semester dropped out. School work didn’t take well with him. But he had hustle and got a job in sales.
As they prepared to start their own family they looked to Scripture for guidance. They decided not to use birth control and to trust in God’s word. Dad was especially convicted by Psalm 127:4-5: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them.” (And they have been blessed! Today as I write this my parents have 11 children and 36 grandchildren with three babies on the way.)
My Lutheran grandmother would worry about my mom every time she announced she was pregnant again. My dad would say, “Mom, which one would you send back?” She would chuckle and say, “you know you’re right John,” and that would settle the matter until the next announcement.
As a child, I always thought my parents were happy with each pregnancy. Not until adulthood did they reveal some of my siblings were conceived during extremely difficult circumstances. My dad’s sales inventory was stolen once and soon after they found out they Mom was pregnant. And another time my grandfather was battling cancer, a battle he would eventually lose.
But with every pregnancy, regardless of circumstances much like St. Joseph, my dad put his trust in the Lord. My father also trusted in God for providing. St. Joseph did humble work; a carpenter who provided for Mary and Jesus.
My dad worked in sales, a difficult job with little security. Yet he trusted. Over time he used his sales experience to start his own business which became quite successful.
With matters of faith Dad was no nonsense. While under their roof you went to church on Sundays. If everyone behaved, we stopped for donuts on the way home.
We were all sent to Catholic school for our education despite the expense. He encouraged us to reach our potential and join extracurriculars, even coaching many of us.
Dad embraced all the teachings of the faith and modelled them well. We were taught about chastity and the evils of pornography. Dad was vigilant during teenage years to be sure we weren’t going astray.
When the girls in my family became old enough to date he would tell us often, “Remember you’re a diamond. But he may be a marble.” We would roll our eyes. But in preparing to write this article and talking with my sisters this was one of our favorite Dad jokes.
Life wasn’t always perfect and there were difficult and stressful times. But as my brother Dan noted, we learned from Dad that every man struggles with something. But with God you can overcome it.
Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic Dad learned that his business would no longer be able to distribute their main product. Such news would be enough for many men to shut down their business. But not Dad. He decided the business would pivot and find a new product to sell.
Then COVID hit. National sales conventions were cancelled and so were Dad’s plans. But he will be carrying on as he always has.
As the oldest in the family, Lisa, explained: “Much like St. Joseph followed the prompting of the angel in his dreams and followed God’s lead and entrusted his family to God, my father always tried to do the same.”
Thanks, Dad, for being a modern-day Joseph!
Kim Griffin is a member of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Philadelphia.
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