Mark Conforti: A Different Father’s Day
Father’s Day will be completely different for me.
Once an excuse to celebrate my dad, the annual day eventually gave way to my children creating cards and gifts for me. In recent years, the balance of being both son and father deeply satisfied my soul. What more could a guy want on Father’s Day than to tell his old man “Thank you, and I love you” only to turn around and hear these same sentiments echoed by his own kids?
But Father’s Day will be completely different for me, because my father died four months ago.
It was the most surprising and unexpected phone call of my life: 9:25 am, on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday in the church office. “NO! NO!” I screamed. My father had been battling bronchitis, but he was in remarkable shape. Energy and enthusiasm exuded from every fiber of his being. His name, Vito Conforti, Italian for “life with strength,” captured well his faith in God, devotion to my mother, and passion for his family. Of course I was not anticipating the phone call.
My wife, brother, and I immediately drove from Salisbury to our parents’ house in Huntersville. Upon arrival, after spending tearful moments with Mom, I felt drawn to the bedroom where Dad drew his last breath. There, beside his bed, lay Dad’s new slippers. Mom just bought him this pair — a Christmas present from a mail order catalog. Durable, rubber soles, with a fuzzy, cozy lining. And there they sat. Taking off those slippers must have been the last thing he did before falling asleep, and eventually drifting into the everlasting arms of God.
Over the past several months, Mom has given some of Dad’s personal items to my siblings and me. Receiving these treasures (his college class ring, neckties, and even these slippers) has stirred up for me mixed emotions. While I am touched to have these mementos, they also remind me of my new painful reality: I will never have my Dad on Father’s Day again.
So I hold on to my memories with a rock climber’s grip. I will never forget him saying, “Love ya’, Marky!” or “I’m so proud of you.” Nor will I forget his smile, his laugh, his way with people.
My mother and grandmother planted seeds of faith in my soul. Yet it was my father who cultivated and harvested the fruit. He did this by way of his strongest spiritual gift – encouragement.
Dad always found ways to encourage whoever was around him, including people he had just met. With a fervor surpassed only by his oversized heart, Dad would look a person squarely in the eyes, and say just what she or he needed to hear. Dad recognized an essential spiritual truth: when we encourage other people, we actively connect them with God’s work in their life.
Vito Conforti, my father, did this for me and a countless number of people. I pray that my life and ministry, in turn, brings the encouragement of God’s loving presence.
I may not ever fill my Dad’s shoes. But I will start by wearing his slippers.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Conforti is Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Salisbury. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org