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A few years ago, when I was keeping a blog as I discerned religious life, I interviewed my mom about her experience of being the mom-of-a-sister-in-training. Almost five years later, in honor of Father’s Day, I decided to do the same with my dad. There’s a lot of honesty in here, and yes, there are some #dadjokes. Read on to get a sneak peek at what Dan Kemme thinks it’s like to be the dad of a daughter who is also a sister!
Tracy: Ok, dad, first questions: What was I like growing up? What did you think I would be when I got older, or what did you think I would do with my life?
|Dad and I at the Reds' game|
a few years ago.
Dan: Well, let’s see…You were a lively, happy, friendly child. You weren’t shy at all; you always seemed to like people, especially as you got older. When you were young, we used to joke that you would be a waitress when you grew up, because you were always pretending to take people’s orders at family parties.
As for the career I thought you’d follow, I’m not sure. You were always smart and bright, so I thought you might pursue a profession like doctor or lawyer, maybe even engineer. Then in high school you started to really like languages, so I thought you might do something with that. I thought you might be a teacher. But, career aside, I always thought that you would grow up to get married and have kids.
T: So, since you always expected that, what was it like when you first learned that I might want to be a sister? What did you think or feel initially?
D: I was a little surprised at the beginning. I was confused as to why you would consider that life. Yea…confused was the biggest thing. And surprised that it was something you were seriously considering. It seemed to me like it could be a lonely life, an isolated life, because you wouldn’t have that immediate family, you wouldn’t have a husband or kids.
T: What did you know or think about Sisters before I became one?
D: I hadn’t had much contact with sisters over the years; I did have a few in grade school up until 7th grade. Overall, the sisters I knew in grade school had joined their congregations as teenagers, and some could honestly be mean and nasty, but not all the time. When you were growing up, you had one sister for a teacher. I remember that she was a nice lady, and you liked her. Also, we had a nun at our parish for a while. But yea, I didn’t know too many sisters. Once you got out of college and were living in Texas, we got to know those sisters. They and all the other ones we have met now seem to be friendly, happy, caring people.
T: What was it like watching me go through the process of becoming a sister? Is there anything that sticks out as surprising, or difficult, or confusing, or good?
D: It wasn’t necessarily surprising. I had to learn about the process itself, because I didn’t know anything about it. We talked about it with you but weren’t super involved in it. I liked hearing about your classes and stuff. And…oh, I guess there was one surprising thing! I was a little surprised when you were a novice and had to be home by a certain hour and were only allowed to have a few days away. I know that’s a universal church rule for novitiates, but it seems more appropriate for teenagers maybe. For young adults entering, and especially for adults like Andrea who had previously made a life for themselves and lived on their own, it seemed a little silly.
T: Haha! I agree, Dad. Ok, so now that I have been in the congregation for five years, has your perception grown and changed at all? How do you think this life suits me?
D: Hmmm…I don’t think my perception has really changed all that much. I do have a better feel for what being a sister means and what sisters in your congregation do since I have met more of them. As I said before, the sisters I meet are uplifting, positive, and seem to be happy people.
I think I will always have some questions or confusion as to why you chose this life, but you seem happy and fulfilled in what you’re doing, so I’m happy for you in that. It’s very different than anything I ever wanted out of my life or what I expected of your life. I struggle with some aspects and probably always will. But like I said, I see that you’re happy. I know you like living in community and that you find fulfillment with the sisters in your house and the people you serve. It seems like the life suits you well. I hope it continues to fulfill you.
T: What it is like being the Dad of a young Sister? What is hard? What are the gifts?
D: What do you mean young? (laughs at himself. Dad joke #1. I laugh, too, and groan a little. J)
Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is what happens when I meet people, or when I run into people I don’t see that often, and, you know, you talk about your family. When I tell people you’re a nun, it usually sparks a conversation. Most people say, “That’s great!” or “That’s wonderful!” I usually explain that, yes, you felt called to work with the poor, and they think it’s a really good thing. And then, people remember that, because it’s a somewhat unusual path in life. Of course, I always tell people that my son is an engineer and is married with a baby. They think that’s great, too, but more normal. So when I run into people again, they usually remember, “Oh yea, you have a daughter who is a nun.” Like the doctor I see, she always remembers that I have a daughter who does “interesting things.”
T: Have people asked you weird questions? Or have people had anything negative to say?
D: Honestly, no, not that I can think of.
T: Very cool. Ok - What new things have you learned or experienced as a result of me taking this path?
|Dad and I in Quito, Ecuador, when he came to visit me|
during my volunteer years. (February 2010)
D: I’ve experienced the places you’ve been. I’ve learned a lot more about the Hispanic culture…and become practically fluent in Spanish (laughs again. Dad joke #2. He did definitely learn some great go-to phrases while visiting me in Ecuador; I’ll give him that). When you were living in El Paso, we went to the clinic in Mexico to meet the people there. We got to meet the different people you worked with there and go to different churches. I’ve also experienced various ceremonies at the Motherhouse that I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.
As I said before, I’ve learned about the process of becoming a sister. But I still think they should just call it 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. (I giggle) The steps are confusing to keep track of! When you entered the novitiate, I thought you took vows.
T: (laughing) I know! Andrea’s brother thought so, too.
D: Yup! You stood up there and pledged to do something. I thought it was vows. (Playfully assertive) And I believe that Annie’s father agreed with me on that, too.
Seriously, though, I’m proud of you, and Nathan and Jenni, too.
T: What are your hopes for my future?
D: I sort of already answered this one. I hope you continue to find your life fulfilling and enjoy living in community. I hope you always have good friends and relationships. That’s important.
T: Knowing that it was confusing for you, what words of wisdom do you have for other parents of young women or men discerning the religious life?
D: It would depend on what they were thinking or feeling. If someone was distraught or confused, I would probably reassure them. I’d remind them that it’s not an overnight process: “Your daughter or son will try it, and they’ll have time to see if it’s what they really want. Your daughter or son may discover that it’s what they’re called to do; they might find it fulfilling.” And I’d tell them that you went through it and that you really enjoy your life.
T: You know, I’m thinking about my upbringing, and how you raised me in my faith. You yourself were always a dedicated Catholic, participating in the church fathers’ group, being a Eucharistic minister, going to Mass every weekend, and praying with us each night before bed. I remember you always asked us, “What are you thankful for from today?”
D: (I can hear him smiling) Yea…I always wanted to end the day with you like that. If you were upset, or if you had a tough day, I always wanted you to go to bed thinking about the good things.
T: I’m so grateful for that. I still need that practice today! But you know what, it’s interesting – you instilled the Catholic faith in me, and yet, it was still surprising and confusing that I became a Catholic sister. I think it’s probably that way for a lot of Catholic parents; they don’t want their kids to become sisters, brothers, or priests. I wonder why that is.
D: Yea, that’s true. Maybe it is just the perception that people have of religious life; people still have old ideas about it. But I know you are happy.
T: Knowing that your faith has always been important to you, I wonder what would be more difficult for you as a dad: if I had gotten married and had a family but totally abandoned the church and had no faith life whatsoever, or the fact that I embraced it so much that I became a Sister.
D: (chuckles) Hmm – I don’t think that first scenario would be any easier. Yea, they both have their struggles. If you abandoned your faith but were still living a good life, I would be okay with that. I think I would hold out hope that someday you would come back to your faith.
T: What do you think it was that made you hold onto your faith all these years?
D: I’m not sure. I’d have to think about that one for a while…Well, part of it was just growing up. My parents were pretty involved in church and made sure we went every week. My Dad was in the choir, and my mom helped out at school which was also a part of church.
You know, I haven’t always been perfectly steady in my faith. There were times when I struggled or questioned things. But I never walked away. I identify with being a Catholic, practicing the faith, going to Mass every week. I find meaning and purpose in it.
If I think about it, I know that my Catholic faith helped me in family life. I always felt a strong obligation to my family. I always wanted to make sure to provide well; I never wanted to do anything that would hurt or bring shame on the family. I always wanted to have a happy home with mom and you two. Faith helped me; it nurtured that feeling of responsibility.
T: Hopefully faith gave you support and strength when you needed it.
D: Yes, definitely. And also the fact that it was a partnership. Mom was very committed, too, to living out our faith and family life as a partnership. Neither one of us was going anywhere; we were going to get through rough times together. That helped us.
T: So, in honor of Father’s Day, what do you most enjoy about being a Dad?
|Dad with granddaughter Lucy.|
D: I knew I wanted to be a Dad. I think I most enjoyed watching you two grow up and having fun with you, and helping you learn and grow. Now, I still enjoy watching you both grow and evolve as you move from being young adults further into adulthood. Of course, now I also enjoy Lucy, my grandchild. I love seeing her almost every week and watching how she grows and changes.
T: And, finally, what would you most like to do on Sunday for Father’s Day?
D: I’d just like to spend a good part of the day with my family, having a good time with everyone. For me, I don’t have to go anywhere. I mean, I guess some years we have gone to the Red’s game, and I like that, too. But for Father’s Day, mostly I am happy being at home or Nathan’s house or your house just spending day together and having dinner.
T: (I smile) You don’t need much more than that, huh?
D: Nope. I’m a very boring person.
T: (I laugh) Anything else, Dad?
D: I think that’s it.
T: Well, thank you. I hope you know how grateful I am for everything you do…and for playing along for this interview. I’m glad you’re my dad.
D: And I’m glad you’re my daughter. I wouldn’t trade ya.
(We both laugh)
Thank you, Dad! Happy Father’s Day!