Fr. Peter Daly
February 7, 2012
Fr. Peter Daly talks of the death of Joe America, a parishioner and father of 14 children.
We buried Joe America this week. He was 3 weeks shy of 92 years old.
His name really was “Joseph America.” The family legend was that the last name was changed from something else when his ancestors entered the country. The immigration officer kept asking, “What is your name?” and the ancestor kept saying, “America, America.” So there you have it.
The remarkable thing about Joe America was not his name but his family. Together with his wife Minnie they had 14 children, 10 girls and 4 boys. It was a great, beautiful brood. All the babies were born at Providence Hospital in Washington, DC, which is run by the Daughters of Charity. Another family legend surrounds the birth of the tenth baby, John. Evidently the Sister in charge of the hospital came into Minnie’s room and said, “This baby is on the house. Every tenth baby is free.”
Tragedy struck the household when the youngest child, Jimmy was ten years old. Joe’s wife Minnie, the mother of all those children, died very suddenly of a blood clot that went to her lung. They were on the way to the hospital.
Joe was stunned, but never waivered. He knew his role as father.
By trade he was a machinist. He worked for the Bureau of Engraving. He made money, literally. He invented some of the processes that the government uses to print the bills and stamps. He invented a machine to put glue on stamps. He could make anything mechanical.
But his real job, and his true vocation, was being a father.
Within a year he retired from his job at the Federal Government. (Thank God for traditional pensions.) He came home to be “mister Mom.”
In his early days, after high school, Joe had been a baker. He had also watched his own mother raise 4 children in the midst of the depression on her own. Joe’s father had abandoned the family. He was not going to repeat that part of the family story.
So he took over the difficult job of taking care of the children. He still had 10 of them at home.
It was his true calling. For the younger children he became both mother and father. He was cook, counselor, disciplinarian, provider and mentor. Most of all he was an example. Every day he said his own prayers beside his bed. Every Sunday, or rather Saturday evening, he lined everybody up for mass. He read the scripture, made his confession, gave to the poor and fulfilled his duties.
He was something that is very badly needed these days. He was an example of true “fatherhood” and a reflection of the fatherhood of God.
Joe was a good father, not a perfect father. Only God is perfect. He had his faults and weaknesses and temper like everybody else. But his children never doubted his love or lacked for his attention. He was a man of simple tastes and willing sacrifice.
In an era when many children grow up without the example of a father, Joe was an antidote to abandonment. In an era when many children do not have an example of masculine love, he was a sign of that love. There were disappointments, of course, but all the children are good people. And all have an awareness of God and seek him in prayer.
Joe America was a remarkable man. What was remarkable about him was not his name or even the number of children he had. It was the way he fulfilled his vocation of fatherhood.