He was one of those unfortunate people, nice as they might be, whose soul was destined to descend rather than climb to heavenly heights. After all, ‘Catholics Catholics ring the bell, Protestants Protestants go to hell’. We used to shout that over the fence between our school and theirs, even though we carefully never actually said that last, very bad word. So it must be true.
There was always hope that, surrounded by his female baptized children, my father might change his mind. His soul could still be saved.
For my sisters and me, however, having one parent who didn’t haul us off to church on Sunday opened up a huge avenue for traditions. It became a tradition to pretend you were sick. (We took turns with that.) It became a tradition to sign out of Catholicism when you were sixteen. (I’m proud to say, I started that one. I argued that I’d been marked as a baby and had no choice in the matter. By the time I was sixteen, of course, I knew everything and could make my own decisions.) The best tradition of all, though, was Easter.
My dad was witty, a prankster. He loved jokes and told them well. He also liked to entertain his daughters. Fly away Peter, fly away Paul…was one of my favourite magic tricks. He invented an Easter hunt that was unparalleled. Using that intelligent comedic mind, he’d leave written clues all over the house. We had to read each one and figure out the riddle, which would then lead us to the next.
At the end, we’d find the biggest treasures of all: the bunnies, chocolate or furry (never real), huddled in the crawl space under the stairs or the empty bathtub or in the garage. The clues led us down the stairs, out the back door, in the front door, all over the house and the yard.
Now in my sixties, I still lead the hunt. I am almost ten years older than my father got to live. I too am an atheist, though I would probably say my dad and I more closely resemble agnostics than heathens. I irrevocably reject Catholicism. I believe in same sex marriage and the power of women, only two examples of why I cannot abide that religious institution. I don't much like any of the organized religions, but I also have the philosophy that if it works for someone, go for it.
My sisters and I don’t care that we might look undignified as we race around the house with the kids. We honour the memory of our parents’ mixed marriage and our heathen tradition. Our mother, stricken by dementia, looks at us as though we’re the ones who’ve lost our minds. But we know she loves us and that she loved our father enough to defy the strictures of the time and marry him anyway.
He was adopted by the many clubs and associations that came with church life, such as the Knights of Columbus. He brought life to charity dances arranged by the Catholic Women’s League (my mother was President). He walked with his daughters in religious or non-religious ceremonies. He was a passionate, thoughtful, funny, loving man. So much so that the priest endorsed Dad’s burial in the catholic cemetery.
This weekend, we’ll carry on our atheist Easter. We’ll remember a man who absolutely must have gone straight to heaven, if there is one. We’ll have a blast and embrace each and every member of our fun-loving, crazy family, who always have each other’s backs, who forgive and accept and love unconditionally. Not a bad Easter message for a bunch of heathens.