The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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My daughter writes on her Father’s Day card,
“Thanks for baptizing me in the stream
and planting the seed of nature-love in my soul.”
Wow. I am a lucky man.
She’s almost fifty now.
And I’d almost forgotten
that I did that, in my young, gung-ho,
My wife and I were in our twenties,
the sixties were over but just barely.
The sixties were trying to figure out
what comes next, what to turn into,
and we had bought a place in the country,
a run-down house, which looked all right to us.
We bought it, whether consciously
or unconsciously I can’t remember,
because it had a stream running beside it —
a house with a stream, what more could you want?
We already had our daughter,
and during our first summer
in the house our son was born.
Just a little ways downstream
there was a waterfall,
a cascade running down sloping bedrock shale
into a beautiful pool,
not deep enough to swim in
but knee-deep, the water making
a fairly loud sound as it spilled in.
Small cliffs on either side of the gully.
And it seemed to us
that this would be a fine place
to baptize the kids.
I had no experience in baptizing, no credentials
other than a master’s degree in English.
But we did not put a lot of stock
in experience or credentials then,
not to mention institutional religion.
Do it yourself, that was the spirit.
A little presumptuous? I guess so.
But apparently my baptizing skills
were better than my carpentry skills,
or my maple-sugar-making skills,
or my skills at so many other things
I failed at — because
she turned out all right. A really
fine person, in fact, with an enthusiasm for life
that everybody notices — she who was
a toddler I held in my arms when
I put a handful of stream water on her head
and said a few inspirational words
that are too embarrassing to repeat here now.
And my son, a tiny baby
in my wife’s arms, probably asleep —
he turned out well, too. I can hardly believe
what a patient, good-humored guy he is —
a much better specimen of a human being
than his father, without a doubt.
Whatever else baptism is supposed to accomplish,
apparently our homegrown, slightly rebellious,
institution-scorning, fresh-air, warm-sunny-day,
waterfall version didn’t do any harm.
Miracle of miracles, good, sane, solid people.
When they were fifteen and twelve, their sister
came along, and baptizing was no longer
part of our priorities or repertoire,
so she’s had to get along without one.
And she seems to have managed very well.
She’s a speech therapist, for God’s sake,
a quiet, graceful woman moving through the world.
Maybe it was all those camping trips we took her on.
She spent a lot of time paddling around big lakes.
In any case, I’d almost forgotten
that baptism day. There’s a photo.
Did we know what we were doing?
We were young, with kids in our arms, standing knee-deep
in the pool at the foot of the waterfall, smiling.