Zelda Fitzgerald once wrote, "Nobody has ever measured, even the poets, how much a heart can hold." Perhaps what Fitzgerald meant, but was too gentle to say, was that love has no relation to reason or logic. A parent's love, for example, exists only for the sake of love itself. This simple fact makes it the purest of all our endeavors.

This thought occurs to me as Father's Day approaches. Memories of my departed father, imbued with sadness, regret, love, and pride, are all a little more urgent during this time of year.

More for Father's Day:

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  • Jean Fitzpatrick on Fathers and Spirituality

  • I can still recall with perfect vividness my father teaching me how to catch a football, or the firm grip of his hands as he hugged me after I won the 1976 high school oratory contest. I remember feeling like a grownup as I trailed him across the farm, trying to help out with various chores, or the abundance of joy in his face as I received my college diploma.

    I often hear folks mutter ugly and fearful words about parenting. They think that the burdens of parenthood will prevent them from pursuing their own individual pleasures. They think the inability to live whimsical lives means the death of something precious.

    But upon having children, their perspective often changes, because one experiences the joy and fulfillment of creating another human being not with thoughts but with feeling. What thoughts, after all, can compare to what parents feel when their child takes his first step, or falls in love? A parent's love is not understood in a series of thoughts. It is simply and sublimely felt. It reminds us what it means to be alive.

    I carry with me, as a source of rejuvenation, memories of my father's love, thoughtfulness, and even his kindly lash. I also recall, with horrible precision, the image of my father in the hospital--a patchwork of tubes snaking in and around his body. Even in this most desperate time, I believe he drew comfort from seeing some of himself reflected back in my loving gaze.

    Certainly it made him proud that I chose to embrace the values that he taught me: personal responsibility, economic independence, thrift, a strong work ethic, an essential optimism that things will work out for the best, hope in the future and in each other, the value of education and a love of learning, ambition, enthusiasm, a healthy dose of pride, determination, and perseverance.

    I now realize that these are essential ingredients for success in all areas of life. When we embrace these timeless values, the walls between us fall, and other differences--skin color, background, and politics--become inconsequential. We see that we all want the same thing: joy for our families and ourselves. There is more uniting us than dividing us.

    My father understood that faith and family values comprised the foundation that helped give solidity to our lives. Those same beliefs are what ground me as I go about my life. Every day, I try to model my conduct on the example that my father provided. I thank him for teaching me right from wrong and instilling in me the ideals that have kept me searching and striving to stay on the right side of our Creator.

    Though the memories of my father may attain some greater definition during this time of year, the values he taught me remain constant. They help me to understand St. Augustine when he said "my soul is restless, O Lord, until it rests in Thee." I may not always have happiness in my life, yet I do have peace. When I am at peace, my soul is at rest in the Lord. If we all embrace the wisdom of family values and faith, the soul of our nation can also find rest.

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