Archive for the ‘Potpourri’ Category

Dear Readers,

After writing more than 70 columns about films, faith and family, I’ve decided to take a break.

I would like to tell you that I am flying to New Zealand for a small part in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit.”

But the simple truth is that I have a number of writing projects I would like to complete in the next twelve months. Discontinuing my monthly Reel Life Journeys column will free up the time I need for these new projects.

However, I did not make this decision quickly. Only after much thought and prayer did I see that this was the best road to take at this point in my writing career.

“My writing career”… I like the sound of that. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and thanks in large part to the interest and support shared by Rick Musacchio and Andy Telli of The Tennessee Register, I have a great start.

Looking back over these past six years of writing this column, I learned a number of important lessons:

~ Writing is hard work. I can remember only a few magical moments when whole paragraphs flowed through my fingertips. For the most part, I wrote my 850-word columns after purposefully sitting down at my laptop many times to write.

The editors asked that I e-mail my column to them on the Tuesday before the newspaper is published on Friday. That means during the previous week I would ponder the column’s topic, what movie to feature and other quotes or song lyrics I could use to illustrate the topic.

The columns I like the most had a rough draft done by Sunday, extra quotes added by Monday and a final edit before e-mailing the text to Andy on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, too many of my columns, either through procrastination, family duties, my daytime job or other diversions (the Chicago Cubs, pizza, Notre Dame football) did not see a rough draft until Monday, some updates on Tuesday and a final edit early Wednesday morning. I know that most newspapers have a hard print deadline and I know it’s best to get things done sooner rather than later. I just hope I didn’t cause too many late nights for the TR staff.

~ Live each day to its fullest. Unless you are Phil Connors, the weatherman reporting from Puxsatawney, Pennsylvania in Groundhog Day, you can never repeat today. As many others have tweeted or posted on Facebook, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.

~ Show respect to everyone. A simple school project of collecting one paper clip for every life lost during the Holocaust continues to teach valuable lessons of respect and tolerance to the students, parents and community of Whitwell, TN Middle School. We should remember that lesson and stop judging people because of their looks, their wealth (or lack thereof) or their religion and show them respect. We would all hope to receive the same.

~ There’s no crying in baseball.

~ Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. As Master Yoda so eloquently states, fear is often the root of many evils. But when we sing John Michael Talbot’s lyrics “Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest,” we know that our God is ever before us, guiding us in love.

~ Even the smallest person can change the course of the future. This theme from The Lord of the Rings is much more than supporting a three-foot, seven-inch hobbit on his quest to destroy the One Ring of Power. One individual, standing upon this rock in space we call Earth, is a minuscule part of the world’s population of 7 billion people. Yet that one individual, by his or her acts of kindness and love for other people, can start a chain reaction that will transform this world into a better place to live. You are just one person, but you have a very important role to play.

~ All you need is love.

~ The richness of life is not found in a large bank account. The first Reel Life Journeys column I wrote centered on the song “If I Were a Rich Man” sung by Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof. In this column I imagined what I would do if I won the Powerball lottery. I realized that the things I wanted to do most (write, talk to Grandma more often, spend time with family and friends) were things I could do now without the winnings. Carpe diem!

So thank you, dear readers, for your interest and encouragement through the years. It has been a pleasure and an honor to write this monthly column. I may yet show up on these pages again in the future. “God only knows when we will see each other again,” Hodel says to her father Tevye before boarding the train to Siberia. “Then we will leave it in His hands,” he replies.

The von Trapp family said it best in The Sound of Music when they sang: “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.”


Christopher Fenoglio is grateful for the loving support of his wife and family, to whom these columns are dedicated.


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As I wrote in last month’s column, there are changes all around us. The New Year has brought a new Administration, new ideas, new hopes for the future.

How do we deal with changes in our lives? Do we welcome new ideas and new ways of doing things or do we sit entrenched in our own certainty and fight against change, no matter the cost?

In the film Doubt, friendly Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is trying to build a new spirit at St. Nicholas in the Bronx. Taking over as pastor a few months after the assassination of President Kennedy, Father Flynn realizes that the world is changing.

There are many examples of change in their own school: Donald Miller is accepted as the school’s first black student; new technology (ball point pens, transistor radios with ear plugs) captures the students’ attention and disrupts the classroom; and even though Father Flynn still celebrates Mass with his back to the congregation, we know that liturgical reforms will soon filter down to the neighborhood parishes.

To help his congregation adjust, he first tells them that he understands. “Any one of you in these pews may have doubts…about what you’ve done, what you desire, even faith itself. Doubt can be a bond as powerful and unifying as certainty. Even when you are lost, you are not alone.” He then sets out to become involved and pay attention to his parish, especially the students. He gives extra attention to Donald, who has family issues and is teased by some of the students.

Father Flynn’s approach of meeting uncertainty with understanding and kindness is completely foreign to Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), principal of St. Nicholas School. She is proud that the students are uniformly terrified of her. “That’s how it works,” she tells novice teacher Sister James (Amy Adams).

When Sister Aloysius hears Father Flynn preach about doubt, she perceives this as a character flaw in him and advises the other nuns to be alert, as she is concerned about matters in the school.

When Sister James comes to her with suspicions about Father Flynn and Donald Miller, Sister Aloysius is immediately certain of wrongdoing and sets forth on a campaign to prove her beliefs.

Her certainty of Father Flynn’s wrongdoing starts a harmful gossip slowly erodes the power and respect that both have within the parish.

“It’s up to the audience to decide whether Sister Aloysius is a tremendous force of protection for children or if she’s simply a person who is using a fiery agenda to hide her real agenda, which is that she doesn’t like this guy and doesn’t like what he represents,” said John Patrick Shanley, the author of the Pulitzer-prize winning play and director of the film, in a recent interview with National Public Radio.

In another Sunday sermon, Father Flynn preaches about the cancerous effects of gossip in a community. He tells the story of a young lady who spreads gossip about someone she barely knows. That night, she dreams that the hand of God descends from heaven and points at her, pointing at the sin she committed.

Feeling remorse, she goes to confession and tells her priest that she is sorry for her sins. “Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys,” the priest tells her, “but I’m not letting you off the hook so easily. Go home and get up on the roof with a pillow and a knife. Slice open the pillow so all the contents fall out. Then come back and tell me when you have done this.”

The young lady goes home, climbs the stairs to the roof, slices open a pillow and watches as the down and feathers fly up into the air and float throughout the neighborhood.

The next day she visits the priest again and tells him she did everything he asked. “Now,” the priest says, “go home and gather up each and every feather.” “I’m sorry Father,” the young lady apologizes, “I can’t do that because the wind has spread the feathers all over the neighborhood. Some have even floated farther away.”

The wise priest replied “Gossip is just like the feathers. Once you let it out, the wind will blow it everywhere.”

I’m reminded of the e-mails that circulated the Web, erroneously proclaiming that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim and that he and his staff have taken great steps to hide this truth. And yet there is no proof whatsoever to confirm the e-mails’ contents or justify the spreading of this cancerous lie.

In this New Year, let us gather as one community, one country to express kindness and respect to all men and women, sanctify all life and work together to create good changes for all of mankind.


First published in the January 23, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2009 Christopher Fenoglio.

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In the very first column I wrote for this blog, more than three years ago, I described the things I would do “if I were a rich man,” as Tevye sang in Fiddler on the Roof.

While a couple of items were rather indulgent (new house, cars for everyone, lots of overseas travel), I realized that many could be accomplished without a fortune. The list empowered me to do the things I love, such as spend more time with my family, develop my skills as a writer, and communicate more often with family members who live hundreds of miles away.

It was the same feeling of empowerment felt by the main characters in the film The Bucket List, though they had, if you’ll pardon the pun, a real deadline to meet.

bucketlistposter250Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) and Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) find themselves roommates in the cancer wing of one of Cole’s hospitals. Both men receive news that they only have six months to live.

Carter expected to feel liberated once he heard how much time he had left on this earth. It turns out he doesn’t feel liberated at all. He’s depressed by the news, burdened by his responsibilities to his family and mired in the regret of not following his dreams to be a history teacher.

Edward, however, seizes the opportunity to go out with a bang.  He convinces Carter to leave his family behind for awhile as they live out the wishes on their bucket list – the list of things they desperately want to do before they “kick the bucket.” After lots of excitement, trips to faraway lands and luxurious accommodations, Carter reaffirms the love he has for his wife and family, and his new best friend.

If someone could tell you the exact time and date of your death, would you want to know? I don’t think I would—the big, red circled date on the calendar would be too much of a hindrance on what happens today.

I prefer the outlook put forth by John S. Dunne, CSC, my freshman theology professor at Notre Dame. As he writes in his book A Search for God in Time and Memory, Father Dunne believes that man fears what he can’t control. Man will pray for strength to change the things that should be changed, but he lets God deal with everything else.

(Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” comes to mind: God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.)

In this ideology, God is no more than a high powered executive who handles problems passed up the ladder.

However, if man takes the time to examine his/her own life, and compare it to the lives of great writers and philosophers from the past, man will find similarities and truths that resonate through everyone’s life. These truths illuminate another dimension of man, one that reaches beyond the self and one’s individual life story. In this dimension, beneath these life experiences, lies the possibility of companionship with a compassionate God.

This compassionate God is much more than a super CEO; he is Abba, my Father, who loves me today for who I am. He knows what’s best for me, including how long I should stay on this earth.

He has cleansed me of my sins and wiped away the fear of death. I trust that he has my best interests in mind and will keep me on this earth as long as he needs me to be here. Now unburdened of deadlines, I’m free to live fully in His love and to share that love with others.

As for my own bucket list, I have written a few items. Some are things I can probably do: run a half marathon, watch a Cubs’ spring training game in Arizona, take future grandchildren to Disney World. Some are things I dream about: take Linda to Hawaii and Rome, write a song that’s sung on the radio, and sing at Mass with the Holy Father.

Looking back over my first 50 years, I’ve already been very lucky, like Forrest Gump, to enjoy some unique experiences. I’ve gazed upon the Sistine Chapel, enjoyed beer in Munich, eaten fish and chips in London and bent backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone. At the stroke of midnight one New Year’s Eve (before I was married) I kissed a former Miss America. President Nixon patiently waited for me to take his photograph. I sang the National Anthem at Wrigley Field, chatted about baby girls with Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, and was beckoned on stage by Tim McGraw to help him connect with a young fan.

But NONE of these events mean more to me than taking Linda’s hand in marriage, watching baby Kristin open her eyes at the sound of my voice, celebrating with Connor after his marching band’s victories, or “high fiving” Tommy after he struck out the last two batters to beat the undefeated Indians.

Like in the film, all our life experiences should be judged by two questions: “Did you find joy in your life?” and “Did your life create joy for others?”

How will you answer? Your answer will be the true measure of your riches.

First published in the August 8, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio

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In 1965, 20th Century Fox released the film John Goldfarb, Please Come Home. A comic spoof on the Cold War, the film depicts the mad-capped events after a spy plane flown by John Goldfarb, a former Notre Dame football player, crashes in the fictitious Arab country of Fawzia.

John GoldfarbThe King (Peter Ustinov) keeps Goldfarb (Richard Crenna) prisoner, forcing him to teach a group of Fawzians how to play American football. Jenny Ericson (Shirley McLain) is a reporter who goes undercover as a member of the king’s harem.

Ambitious to make Fawzia known around the world, the king blackmails the U.S. State Department into arranging a game between his team and the icon of American college football – the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Jenny and the harem become the Fawz U. cheerleaders for the big game.

In the closing zany minutes, Shirley McLain’s character enters the game as quarterback and scores a touchdown to defeat Notre Dame (while simultaneously striking oil to scatter all the players, belly dancers, camels and goats). The university unsuccessfully tried to stop the release of the film, especially because the way-out plot depicted the Notre Dame players “as undisciplined gluttons and drunks.”

Some people say that the film is one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of Notre Dame football – at least until this season.

This was a tough year for Notre Dame football fans. The young Irish team struggled most of the year, losing many games by lopsided scores.

For me, the low point of the season was the loss to Navy, snapping a 43-game winning streak by the Irish over the Midshipmen.

Afterwards, the TV announcer asked Coach Charlie Weis what the end of the winning streak meant to him. Coach Weis responded by saying “I don’t care about the streak. I care about these young men.”

“Don’t care about the streak?” I yelled at TV? For us alums, “that’s our history too!”

The words hung in the air as I gave more thought to Weis’s care about the players. Earlier that week, the older brother of one of the freshman players had been shot dead in Chicago. Coach Weis spent hours consoling the family. On Friday, the day before the Navy game, more than 50 players and coaches traveled to Chicago for the funeral. They went to pay their respects and support their teammate, a member of their Notre Dame family. Years later they may not remember the tough games, but they’ll remember the valuable life lessons taught by Coach Weis.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote “we, though many, are one body in Christ.” We should not “grow slack in zeal,” but “be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer.”
(Romans 12:5, 11-12)

I learned the lessons of family and Notre Dame at a very early age. Dad and I would drive from Illinois to campus to watch the games during the “Era of Ara,” the great years under coach Ara Parseghian. While Dad never attended Notre Dame, he was a devoted fan of the football team.

Later, a month before I entered the university as a freshman, we visited my grandparents in Indianapolis. Grandma was baking Snickerdoodle cookies in the kitchen and Granddad was sitting in his favorite chair, writing in a black scrapbook.

He then called me over and gave me the scrapbook. It was filled with newspaper clippings about the life of Knute Rockne, his amazing career at Notre Dame and his death from a 1931 plane crash.

Inside, Granddad had written “To Christopher Fenoglio (on the occasion of his acceptance by Notre Dame); the first born grandchild of our first born, this scrapbook is presented in the hope that his sojourn under the Golden Dome will increase and nourish his faith in Christ and His Mother Mary. – His proud Grandfather, A.D. 1976”

While Granddad never attended Notre Dame, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mother created a strong tie with the university.

Notre Dame football ticketsThe scrapbook included a ticket stub to the 1935 football game between Northwestern and Notre Dame. I figured that Granddad was a fan and had gone to the game in his youth. I stuck the ticket stub in the scrapbook and forgot about it. Eight years later in 1983, Granddad passed away.

Just this past September, twenty-four years after her husband preceded her in death, Grandma passed away at the spry old age of 92. They are now reunited in heaven after so many years.

A couple weeks ago, I received a letter from my aunt after the family sorted the collections of my sweet, pack rat grandmother. Inside was a ticket stub to the same football game. On her ticket she wrote “I had a good time – but did it rain.”

A call to Mom brought to light more details about these two tickets, now reunited after so many years.

Since my grandparents married in June 1936, they must have traveled together to the game during their courtship. They probably stayed with Granddad’s sister, who married a Notre Dame graduate in the Log Chapel. I had no idea there was another family connection to Notre Dame.

The Irish lost that game in 1935, but our family has thrived. Now there’s an even stronger family connection to Notre Dame. I graduated in 1980, my sister Cathy and husband Joe graduated in 1981, brother Andy graduated in 1988, nephew Rory is a current freshman and aunt Peg is working on her Master’s from the university.

The future looks bright for our team, as they won their last two games of the year. We just need to continue to support the coach and the team. The rain will stop one day; the sun will glisten again on the Golden Dome.

Stay strong and keep the family united. We are ND.

Originally published in the November 30, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio

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A Profile of Faith

In love and work, you often have to make a choice.

For best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, the choice was easy – create characters in his novels with many of his own faith-driven values.

The NotebookIn Sparks’s novel The Notebook (also a film from New Line Cinema), Allie has to choose which man to marry. Does she play it safe and follow through with her engagement to Lon, a wealthy, powerful lawyer? Or does she follow her heart and go back to Noah, with whom she shared a romantic summer?

These choices, says Sparks, are what life is all about.

“Everybody confronts these issues on a daily basis – what kind of person we want to be, the kind of life we want to lead, which values are more important to us,” says Sparks in a 2004 interview. “Sometimes you make the right decision and sometimes you make the wrong decision. In Allie’s case, she made the right one.”

Sparks has made many choices since he graduated with honors from Notre Dame in 1988. A business finance major who ran cross country and track (he helped set an Irish school record in the 4 x 800 relay), Sparks held a number of jobs before renewing his interest in writing novels. After selling The Notebook to Warner Books and feeling good about his work on Message in a Bottle, he chose writing as his fulltime profession.

But he still makes choices about his writing, especially what he won’t include in his novels.

“I don’t write about adultery or profanity. I don’t write gratuitous love scenes. If there is a love scene in the novel, it’s between adults. It’s not lust, it’s love based. There’s a sense that the couple will end up together in the long run anyway. They’re not perfect, but introduce me to the perfect Christians and I’ll write about them.”

The characters in his novels are usually Christians with strong faiths that play important roles in their lives. Sometimes that faith is front and center, such as in Jamie, the daughter of a Baptist minister in A Walk to Remember. In other works, the faith is reflected in the character’s values toward family, community and doing the right thing.

In The Notebook, Allie’s faith is reflected in trusting herself to make the right choice, despite the hurt it will cause another. She ultimately makes up her own mind, drawing upon her values to guide her decision.

This instinct, a strong belief on one’s own values, is similar to what Sparks uses to make decisions about his novels and his life.

Nicholas Sparks“I rely a lot on intuition, but my intuition is based very strongly on faith and morality. This all comes from being raised in a very value-driven household. I was born and raised Catholic, my wife is Catholic and our kids go to parochial school. I think about the values I’d like to instill in my kids, how I want my wife to view me as a person, how I want friends and other family to view me as a person. I’m very well read in the Bible, having read it about seven times from cover to cover.

“It’s the same thing as asking me how I write. You have a lifetime of experiences drawn from a number of areas and then the answer comes. Hopefully you have a deep well [of values and experiences]. If you have a shallow well, you have nothing.”

For example, Noah writes a love letter to Allie every day after their summer together. Similarly, Sparks wrote his future wife “about 150 letters” during the two months after meeting her during Spring Break. “You have to draw your characters from somewhere. You draw them from yourself, from people you know,” says Sparks.

The Notebook was originally inspired by the story of his wife’s grandparents. “They had a truly magical relationship, one that withstood the test of time and circumstance,” says Sparks. “But The Notebook is a novel, not a memoir of their lives. Above all, it is the story of everlasting, unconditional love. It is a story about a couple that loves each other through every challenge that life throws at them, from the beginning of their lives, through the middle of their lives, to the very end of their lives.”

Based upon his success with eight best-selling novels and some very popular movies, Sparks has made a number of good choices with his writing. Millions of readers would agree.

Originally published in the July 18, 2004 issue of Our Sunday Visitor.
Christopher Fenoglio

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Singing in church choirs has given me many opportunities to travel and meet people of different races, colors and creeds.

As a member of the Notre Dame Glee Club, we once traveled by planes, trains, buses and boats to perform concerts in Western Europe. There’s nothing like traveling overseas to give you a new perspective of our own country. But the true value was meeting people with entirely different life experiences.

Sometimes we stayed in peoples’ homes, other times we met the locals after the concerts. We listened to their stories, enjoyed their customs and saw the world from a different point of view.

Their buildings were old, some still scarred by war. Their family histories were deep, some still scarred by oppression and conflict. Many do not enjoy the personal freedoms we take for granted. I could see the differences with my own eyes.

You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. (John 20:29)

Dachau TowerA memorable stop during this trip was at Dachau, the Nazi’s first concentration camp in Germany. Built to hold 5,000 individuals, Dachau’s barracks during the Holocaust once held more than 30,000 Jewish people. Many did not stay very long.

Today, the mechanical components of the genocide remain the watch tower, the gas chambers, the crematorium. The old foundations of the barracks are now filled with glistening white rocks. Mass graves at Dachau are covered with flowers, memorials and reminders that we should “Never Forget.”

JeffreyIn an old photograph, my college roommate Jeff Rubenstein stands in front of a large plaque written in Hebrew. He said later that visiting Dachau, where so many Jewish people who shared his faith were indiscriminately murdered, made him both sad and angry.

I learned about different faiths because I was there. But for the students of Whitwell Middle School, an extraordinary program teaches them the lessons of tolerance and diversity, even if most of them never leave the hills of rural southeastern Tennessee.

Paper Clips is an award-winning documentary that describes how a school program reached around the world to touch countless communities, people of different faiths and even survivors of the Holocaust.

Principal Linda Hooper said they had a distinct need to teach their students about tolerance and diversity. “Our entire town is only 1,600 people. There are no Jewish people, no Catholics. The school has only five black students and one Hispanic student. (In 1998) we didn’t have a clue what different people were like,” she states.

Assistant principal David Smith and 8th grade teacher Sandra Roberts had a goal: “to teach the students what happens when intolerance reigns and prejudice goes unchecked.” They decided to teach the students about the Holocaust.

During their classroom discussions about the six million Jews killed by the Nazis, one of the students asked “what does six million look like?” They decided to collect six million of some object to better comprehend the number.

After searching for an object small enough to collect, they settled on a paper clip, which was used by Norwegians during World War II as a symbol of unity against Nazi Germany.

So began the campaign to collect six million paperclips, one for each of the victims.

But instead of placing a large order at Wal-Mart, the students wrote letters. They sent letters about their program and asked for a paper clip from famous individuals. They received letters and paper clips from Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and entertainers like Tom Hanks, Bill Cosby and Tom Bosley.

The next year, national journalists discovered the program and wrote articles for The Washington Post and the NBC Nightly News. Within the next six weeks, the school was inundated with millions of paper clips.

Most shipments included letters from Holocaust survivors, their family members, even the soldiers who liberated the camps at the end of the war. The authors praised the students for learning the valuable lessons of respect and tolerance. They were pleased to send a paper clip so that the memories of their loved ones could finally rest in peace at Whitwell. The program indeed changed the lives of many students and teachers.

The “Children’s Holocaust Memorial and Paper Clips Project” is open to the public. It is located behind Whitwell Middle School in an authentic German railway car used to transport the victims to the camps.

The lessons of tolerance and diversity are just as important today as any day. We should support efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur. We should celebrate our country’s diversity, not segregate people into separate camps.

Our leaders will do well to remember this lesson. If not, they should visit Whitwell Middle School and learn a few things.

Whether you believe by faith or learn by sight, the path to enlightenment is worth the journey. Our society needs tolerance and respect. The price of ignorance, intolerance and racism is way too high.

First published in the August 10, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
Purchase from Amazon.com:
> Paper Clips DVD

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My father was John Wayne.

Not literally, as if I was the result of a Hollywood lifestyle or the offspring of one of the actor’s three marriages.

Figuratively speaking, my father during my childhood years was John Wayne — bigger than life, a commanding presence at home and work, a movie star among mere mortals.

The first-born in an Italian-American home in Terre Haute, Indiana, John Richard Fenoglio was raised under the influence of America’s “greatest generation,” so called by Tom Brokaw in his book by the same name.

According to the book’s cover notes, “this generation was united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values — duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country and, above all, responsibility for oneself.”

During my father’s youth, America was focused on World War II, coffee and gasoline was rationed, and the Hit Parade on the radio featured Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra.

War movies filled the silver screens during the next decades, often starring my father’s favorite actor — John Wayne.

According to the World War II portrayed by Hollywood, John Wayne was a hero simultaneously in all four service academies: Army (Back to Bataan, The Longest Day), Navy (Fighting Seabees, In Harm’s Way), Air Force (Flying Tigers), and Marines (Sands of Iwo Jima, The Flying Leathernecks).

Though he tended to act first and ask questions later, no one doubted whether John Wayne’s character was in charge. He was — and so was my father.

Following graduation from Indiana University’s Medical School, my father’s residency programs guided us to homes throughout Indiana, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, and finally to his general practice in Rockford, Illinois.

When he came home after a long day of caring for patients and managing the office staff, he usually kept his boss’s hat on, ordering his seven children to pick up our stuff, feed the dogs, help Mom and let him know when dinner was ready.

We all knew when he was home.

Yet he wasn’t all business and commands. There was indeed a softer, emotional side to my father.

From him I learned the language of music, with which orchestras, big bands and vocalists use to convey a wide spectrum of human emotions.

In my altar boy days, I watched my father read from the lectern as a lay minister. He pushed all of us in our studies and school sports. He encouraged us to have a professional career that was not tied to any one location.

We drove to museums, ballparks and historical sites during memorable family vacations in the black station wagon. Just as John Wayne barked in Sands of Iwo Jima, when our father yelled “Lock and load,” we knew it was time to go.

Watching John Wayne films became a calming diversion from my father’s stressful days with his medical practice. Perhaps that’s why he enjoyed The Quiet Man so much.

In this atypical John Wayne film, the actor portrays Sean Thornton, an American boxer who returns to Ireland and his birthplace “White O’ Morn,” a wee humble cottage near the town of Innisfree.Quiet Man2

After arriving on the Dublin train, he meets many of the townspeople, including matchmaker Michaleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) and Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond). But neither makes an impression on him like Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), whose interested eyes and fiery red hair foretell the passion and conflict that will fill their lives together.

Along the way we’re treated with the delightful differences between American and Irish cultures over courtship, personal fortune, gender, religion and social conversations.

Thornton, who left America after killing another boxer in the ring, just to win a large amount of money, realizes he can’t escape his responsibilities. He must fight again for money to win the respect and love of Mary Kate. In the end, he wins the love of his Irish wife, the friendship of his brother-in-law, and the respect of the entire village.

Watching The Quiet Man gave my father a welcomed escape from the extraordinary pressures in his ordinary days, even if it was only for a few hours. Perhaps he even enjoyed the idea of living in a distant country with his own Irish wife, my mother Judith O’Connor Fenoglio. He certainly relished the moments when he called out to her just like Sean Thornton, “Woman of the house, where’s my tea?”

So this Father’s Day weekend, give your father a call and if possible, do something special to escape the ordinary. Create a new memory, a new expression of love.

Me? I’ll be in Indianapolis to bring a little Irish to my Dad. I’ll find the place where he is lying, so I can kneel and say an Ave just for him.


First published in the June 15, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Quiet Man (Collector’s Edition)

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