by Marguerite (Peggi) Tustan
“Why didn’t you come to America? My mother waited for you,” Mary asked her father. Her bold question stunned the rest of us seated around the picnic table. No one dared move. No fly dared buzz. Long seconds ticked. Finally, after it was clear he would offer no response, we resumed our polite conversations.
In 1926, my mother Mary was born in a tiny village of Eastern Slovakia to unmarried parents, Matej and Maria. Matej’s family was prominent. Maria’s was poor. Citing class disparity, his family blocked their marriage. After a few years, the shame of bearing an illegitimate child compelled Maria to cross the ocean and forge a new existence for herself and her daughter in the new world. Before Maria left, Matej promised he’d follow and marry her in America. He never did.
After a decade of separation, both Maria and Matej married others. Maria’s marriage provided her daughter Mary with a stepfather in name, but not in heart. The stigma of illegitimacy scarred little Mary in an era when children were punished for their parents’ indiscretions.
After Mary reached adulthood, married, and bore children of her own, she made several trips back to her hometown in Slovakia to visit relatives. Sadly, during these trips, her father refused to see Mary because it disturbed his wife.
I accompanied my mother on her final visit to Slovakia. She was seventy-seven-years-old. A dozen years had passed since her previous visit. Her father, Matej, was now widowed. At age ninety-nine, he retained a sharp mind. He resided with his son. Since his wife was no longer present to object, Matej (and his son) hosted a picnic in my mother’s honor.
The gathering was cordial. When suddenly, barbecued chicken leg in hand, my mother turned to her father and posed the question she held in her heart since childhood, “Why didn’t you come?” His broken promise not only marred Mary, it robbed her of a father’s love. Though Matej’s ancient eyes softened, he never answered his daughter’s question. Surprisingly, this failed to disturb my mother. In the waning hours of their relationship, his answer no longer mattered. Her satisfaction came in the asking.
Twenty-four days after the picnic, Matej died. God preserved him fully cognizant until their father-daughter reunion was accomplished.
A lifetime void of her father’s love shaped my mother. She craved affectionate. She showered hugs and kisses on all in her path. Our family never doubted her love, for she ceaselessly declared it to us. And although we loved her well, it never satiated her longing. Nothing can replace a father’s love.
The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
God is our heavenly Father. We are his children. Just as a father’s love satisfies a primal need in a child, our heavenly Father’s love satisfies a primal need in us. I once viewed God’s love as I viewed dessert: an enjoyable extra that the well-disciplined skip to avoid the calories.
I was wrong. Love is the main course. Experiencing God’s love is the foundation of a healthy spiritual life. Each one of us needs our Father’s love.
Marguerite (Peggi) Tustan is an ordinary woman living an extraordinary real life in Christ. I write, teach, and mentor women in Northeast Ohio. The above post is an excerpt from my book in progress, Do You Really Love Me, God? Stop by and visit me at www.peggitustan.com.
Cover photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash
Thank you for sharing your story, Peggi. My grandmother came from western Slovakia with her mother and brother. They also had a sad story. I never knew the whole story until I was an adult and my great-grandfather had passed away. He spoke English but rarely talked. The person I wanted to talk to only spoke Slovak. In those days it wasn’t “cool” to know another language than English. Researching my family tree, and talking with my Grandmother, many things came to light. Life is heartbreaking and there are many scars. Still, my grandmother was big on giving hugs and kisses. They are all gone now and I’m the oldest generation, but one.
Like you, I didn’t know these stories when I was young. Most people didn’t talk about family wounds back then. But as my mother got older, she shared more of her heart and hurts and stories. I was privileged to be with her on that last trip to Slovakia.
I agree. When I was growing up, it wasn’t cool to speak another language. I didn’t learn much Slovak growing up. We spoke English in our home because my father was a new immigrant learning English. As an adult, I’ve taken Slovak language classes and and am currently being tutored in Slovak on Preply (online) so that I can converse with my Slovak relatives.
Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts with me!