We have spent so much time with Mark and Tracy Peterkins, they turn out to be like our adopted children. Hence, their three children, Stephen, Ben and Megan have wound up calling me “Grandpa Tony” and Jeanne, they call “Aunt Jeanne”. They love us both the same but have been taught to be rude to me by calling me an older title than my younger looking wife. It is a fond form of insult they learned from their father. We are neither. Officially, I am not their grandfather and Jeanne is not their aunt, but we are happy to be treated that way. For us, visiting the Peterkins’ would be like dropping in on any of our children and their families.
Two years ago I was here in Ottawa for the purpose of celebrating the older brother’s Christian “bar mitzvah” (a small coming of age party).
Showing no preference, we timed our visit to coincide with this special event and set aside Monday, August twenty-second for this very purpose. The idea was quite similar to the earlier one. As he did for Stephen, Mark invited both Pastor Ken Roth and I to take part in and pray a blessing over young Ben. Additionally, we were joined by Ben’s real, flesh and blood grandfather, Ed Dooner.
It all started at four in the afternoon as I waited in my car along Riverside Drive. It was Mark’s idea to bring Ben out to the Dooner family cottage that has sat on the bank of the Rideau River for at least seventy years. This is all meant to be a surprise, so when Mark turned the corner and onto the side road where I sat waiting, young Ben seemed slightly mystified by this turn of events. He was especially puzzled when his dad instructed him to get out of the van and take a walk with me. Though he was a little apprehensive, I bought his courage by giving him a brand new, commemorative “Buck” knife (something he has always wanted) that I had bought for him a few days before. He suddenly liked the idea of walking down a bleak country road with an old man. I made certain we had the compulsory and rather serious advisory conversation on the way, and though I didn’t quote Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” I shared some of the contents along with a complete exegete of 1st Corinthians 11:6 (actually 13:11), including a precise Greek translation of each word : ). Frankly, it was a pretty simple talk that could be summed up by the phrase, “Don’t be stupid.” This concept, he thoroughly understood. The rest of what I said will likely fade from his memory in a very short time.
Ken would be waiting with a ready canoe, where he would take Ben on a similar tour. Please note that Ken was given the more dangerous of the two chat events. I am well-known to have virtually no center of gravity and both Mark and Ken intended for Ben’s first day of manhood to not be his last as well.
While I am happy to take part in this special occasion, I have a compelling end in view when Mark makes some colossal meal to punctuate the festivities. I was not disappointed, as he offered up shrimp and sauce, hummus, rice crackers, baguette, grilled filet mignon wrapped in bacon, fried mushrooms, sauce, potatoes, fresh green beans, corn on the cob and more stuff that becomes a blur.
After all of the eating we celebrated by various presentations, including a sword with a blade big enough to kill Goliath if necessary. As a last act we all gathered around Ben, laid hands on him and prayed for him that he will become a man of spiritual valor.
Some might see this as a rather silly way to spend a day, but I think not. Almost all religions other than evangelical Christianity have what they might call “Rites of Passage.” I believe that symbols of this nature, especially where fathers pass a spiritual blessing on to their children, make unforgettable impressions that last for a life time. It is my guess that we don’t do enough of this sort of community event and leave our youngsters to pick their way through the faith on their own. I believe this almost picture perfect day will stick with Ben as long as he lives.