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A Legacy

He was once quite tall and carried an air of confidence and authority wherever he went. When he was young, he dedicated every spare moment, including his holidays, to Christian youth ministry. He had gone through a personal conversion in his early twenties and was very zealous in his beliefs and practices. He’d organize summer camps in the mountains for flocks of youth who had just gone through the hard years following WW2 and needed a father or an older brother figure.

Then came the challenging years when his own kids were growing up and turned into some idealistic but quite rebellious teenagers, determined to change the status quo and seemingly throwing all his teachings out the window. Not knowing how to react, he closed up to them, especially to his eldest daughter who left home very young and made choices he couldn’t understand at all. His heart was broken, but he kept it all inside.

He decided he couldn’t face her anymore, and so five long painful years went by. In the meantime, she got married and started having kids of her own. One day, he finally mustered up the courage to visit her and meet his son-in-law and two grandchildren for the first time. It was a very brief visit, but the first step had been taken, and the next ones were easier.

Family reunions soon resumed, like spring after a long, cold winter. Nobody wanted to talk about the past, and mistakes on all sides were forgiven. It’s not like everyone saw eye to eye, but a new sense of admiration and unconditional love was springing up, and along with that, empathy and wisdom.

I know this because I am that eldest daughter. When I spoke with my mom and other relatives, they all said they watched him go through an amazing transformation from a zealous but often intransigent believer to a zealous but more merciful and loving one.

When my own children grew into teenagers and young adults, guess who encouraged me more than once to stay close to them and show them sympathy and understanding? My dad. At the same time, I now knew firsthand what a big job he had had and felt more understanding for him.

Now he’s almost 90, his back is hunching and he doesn’t walk as fast as he used to, but he still reads, writes, prays daily, and helps the needy. He shows love and welcomes everyone in his home. He’s moved to tears watching a sunset. He has five kids, 14 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

He has passed on a great legacy and we jokingly call him “the patriarch.” But I think his greatest example was the day he said to me, “Please forgive me.”

Anna Perlini is a co-founder of Per un Mondo Migliore, a humanitarian organization active in the former Yugoslavia since 1995.

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