He was a simple man, quiet and reserved, but a man of wisdom and love. He loved people, and they loved him. He was the best of teachers, not only with words but through his example.
In 1954, I graduated from Buffalo Technical High School and had won a scholarship to attend the Pratt Institute of Design in New York City. I spent two weeks at Pratt and returned home. Something didn’t seem right.
My return puzzled my parents. My father sat down beside me and asked what had happened. I couldn’t give a clear answer, but I told him that perhaps I should get a job as my brother had done.
I had scarcely finished the sentence when he grasped my hand and placed it next to his on the table.
“Look at our hands,” he said. “I never wanted you or your brother to have hands like mine.” His hand was calloused and twice as large as mine.
My mind drifted back a few years when I recalled him giving the same talk to my brother when he came home from the Army. My brother chose work over college.
Staring at my father’s hands, I understood what he was trying to tell me. For 40 years, he worked at Pillsbury Mills, where his hands became calloused and scarred.
But these beautiful, manly hands were to become my passport to more years of college than I ever dreamt. Eight years of college and two degrees later, I recalled his words to me at that kitchen table: “As long as these hands can work, they will supply what you need to complete your education.”
Spending three years at Buffalo State College, my life changed once again as I entered the seminary to study for the priesthood.
His advice to me at that time was simple: “Follow the call you have received, but make sure that you become the best priest you can be.”
I then began an eight-year journey of countless challenges – the study of Latin was my greatest. After my first year, a seminary professor advised me that I would never make it; the road ahead was too difficult for me.
Coming home that day, I went to my room, closed the door and began to cry. I heard the door open and my father enter.
“What happened?” he asked. I told him what the professor had said.
He smiled and placed his big hand on my shoulder: “Did you tell me that God called you?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Then don’t you have enough faith in him to help you?”
Once again, the man with the beautiful hands shared with me his wisdom and faith. My father strengthened my resolve that God really was calling me.
Through the years of my priestly life, my father would often teach me what faith can accomplish against insurmountable odds.
The only thing in this life stronger than his hands was his faith.
Often in ministering to people, I use my hands to touch and comfort the needy, the troubled and the dying. It is at these moments that I look at my hands and remember the large and scarred hands of my beloved father. And I am humbled to know that these blessed hands worked so hard to make my ministry as a priest possible.
My last act of love when he died was to kiss his hands and bless them with my tears.
On Father’s Day and every day, I remember.
Monsignor Robert K. Golombek is pastor emeritus of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Town of Tonawanda.