October 2017

Lessons from my father

It will be how I fulfil my role, and the relationships I nourish with my Sisters and those beyond the congregation, rather than ‘the what’ of my role, that matters most, writes Sister Patty Fawkner.

BY Patty Fawkner SGS

A true story. Thirty-six years ago this month my father died. Dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer 18 months earlier. The cancer spread to the brain and after a series of strokes, this vital, relatively young man could neither walk nor talk, and had very restricted movement. It was as quick as it was brutal.

I was teaching at a primary school in the same city but at a distance from my family home. Each weekend I’d make the long trip across town to the western suburbs and stay with Mum, accompanying her and other family members in visiting Dad in a nearby hospital.

Something began to niggle. My father was a man of simple and deep faith. As a child I often saw him kneel beside his bed in prayer – a beautiful and poignant image that stays with me. Perhaps Dad wanted to pray now. If so, I knew that it would be up to me, the “official religious person” in the family, to take the initiative.

Before returning to my Good Samaritan community one Sunday afternoon, I decided to go back to the hospital on my own and ask Dad if he would like to pray.

Dad seemed both surprised and delighted to see me. I was nervous and a wee bit embarrassed, but determined to help my father pray.

“Would you like to pray, Dad?” I asked. He nodded his head. I didn’t trust myself to make up a prayer, so decided to pray the Our Father. I got two words out, “Our Father”. I broke down sobbing. My darling father, who could hardly move, reached out and hugged me – the two of us locked in a sodden embrace.

This experience, brief and poignant, has become for me the defining image of my relationship with my father. I wasn’t Dad’s “official religious person”; I was his daughter, and he, my darling father, in his incapacity was lovingly fathering me. It occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now, it’s not about roles and titles – it’s all about relationships.

My community of Good Samaritan Sisters has recently called me to be their leader, or “superior”, which is the rather anachronistic title we use internally. Our Constitutions spell out my role and responsibilities and I will endeavour to fulfil these to the best of my ability. But I know that it will be HOW I fulfil my role, and the relationships I nourish with my Sisters and those beyond the congregation, rather than ‘the what’ of my role, that matters most. To me and to them.

Recently I read a profile on Tracey Fellows, who is among just five per cent of women heading one of Australia’s top 200 companies. Fellows had just moved from being CEO of Microsoft Australia to becoming the REA Group (the multinational digital advertising company) boss. She was asked the best piece of advice she’s ever been given. Tracey takes up the story.

“When I first became CEO of Microsoft Australia, I was given a mentor, Umberto Paolucci, who had been the first CEO of Microsoft Italy. He said to me in this thick Italian accent, ‘Tracey, it is all about love. People don’t want pretty words and they don’t want pretty pictures; they only want to know what is in your heart and only when they know what’s in your heart can they follow you’.”

Tracey Fellows reflects on this advice. “I realised that the leaders I admired most weren’t the smartest or the most articulate; they were the people you just believed in so you wanted to do your best for them.”

We Good Samaritans are a community of 207 women who want to seek God, to sister each other and be good neighbours to those we meet along the way, especially the stranger and the ostracised. We want to lovingly care for our fragile planet, the common home of all of us.

Titles, role descriptions, key performance indicators and the like are all important and necessary. But as my darling dying father reminded me 36 years ago, what matters most is being in love and reaching out in love.

Patty Fawkner

Sister Patty Fawkner is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She is an adult educator, writer and facilitator with formal tertiary qualifications in arts, education, theology and spirituality. Patty is interested in exploring what wisdom the Christian tradition has for contemporary issues. She has an abiding interest in questions of justice and spirituality.

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