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A Father Redeemed

My sense of Christmas joy is focused on a specific moment each year: when I stand in an Episcopal church at a midnight Christmas Eve service and sing the French carol "Angels We Have Heard on High."

One of my fondest memories of Christmas Eve involves singing this carol alongside my father when I was maybe 9 years old. Dad was a deeply shy man, so he normally would sing hymns in the softest tones. On this night, though, he sang it full bore, off-key, and with the deepest yearning that I had ever heard in him. Dad was drunk that night.

That night was the perfect image of the life Dad and I shared for many of my growing years. He was a melancholic, battered man, an Army veteran of World War II who saw many of his friends blown to bits. He sought refuge in alcohol, which made life pretty frightening for Mom, my older brother Randy, and me. But in church, I saw the gentle Cajun who grew up Catholic and who still feared God.

Only a few years after this Christmas Eve service, my brother became a hippie-turned-Christian (or a Jesus freak, as people called such converts in the early 1970s). Dad began reading the Bible to help my brother realize how far he had stepped off the deep end into religious extremism. Within a year, Dad faced the reality that my brother had found a relationship with Jesus that Dad had not discovered. Dad surrendered to Jesus.

Then his drinking simply stopped. He still struggled with anger. We still argued about the length of my hair, my failure to practice the piano, or my halfhearted efforts at homework. Still, I began associating Dad more with love than with fear.

I spent nearly every Christmas with Dad until his death in 1992. I know we sang "Angels We Have Heard on High" together many times, but somehow my keenest memory is of Dad singing it with such yearning. Now, when I sing this carol in my early 40's, I know a small measure of the yearning Dad felt when I was a boy. I close my eyes and imagine Dad in heaven, singing along at the top of his redeemed lungs, feeling drunk only on his adoration for God.

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