As my siblings and I scurried for the door to catch the school bus, my dad would stop us for a moment and trace a small cross on our foreheads. The thick skin of his thumb against my brow felt warm and strong. At night, he’d perform his wordless ritual again as he kissed us goodnight and tucked us into bed.
My father has long since passed, but these golden memories linger. I still feel his gentle touch upon my brow as he signed me with the cross. And now, with four children of my own, I realize what my father was doing. He was giving us a father’s blessing.
In his book, Champions for Life: The Healing Power of a Father’s Blessing, retired NFL football coach Bill Glass writes that receiving a father’s blessing is a vital part of a child’s development. After thirty-six years of working with juvenile prison inmates, Glass believes a common thread among many young criminal offenders is the lack of a close relationship with a positive male figure. Without the presence of a wise male in their lives to teach and encourage them, young boys often seek the false blessings of a substitute father in criminal gangs.
To curtail this tide, Glass has made it his life’s mission to teach parents and others how to give blessings that can provide children with the inspiration, reassurance, and confidence to live life to their fullest potential. Bestowing a blessing, he writes, requires simply a gentle touch, a loving hug or a powerful verbal message of unconditional love.
My father’s example and Glass’ book inspired me to continue the blessing tradition my father started. As my four children ran toward the door during their school-age years, I’d stop them as my father had done to me and trace a small cross on their foreheads. Now that they’ve grown into adulthood with children of their own, I still cross their foreheads with the same love and respect my father gifted to me. And when my wife and I babysit our grandchildren, I bless their toddler heads with a sign of the cross as I kiss them goodnight and tell them, “God and Grandpa love you.”
Father’s Day is a day to remember both our earthly and our heavenly fathers’ blessings. If we were lucky enough to have a human father who blessed and loved us unconditionally, we might remember and thank him. If our earthly fathers were absent, physically or emotionally, it might be a time to reflect upon how our heavenly father has loved us unconditionally from the moment we were a mere twinkle in God’s eye. And if we are fathers ourselves—or men and women who father the fatherless—we might consider tracing the sign of the cross upon the young men and women in our lives, so we can bestow a father’s blessing upon those who yearn for the golden touch of unconditional love.
—brian j plachta
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.