Once upon a time, on a small college campus, in a small dreary town, in a small sticky-floored house dwelled a rowdy band of misfit frat boys. These boys gave each other silly names, such as Stork, Flounder, Toad, Hemo, Thai, and one particular bro they called Dad.
That’s what I call him too.
This is the story of how Dad the frat bro became Dad the father.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is home to the world’s steepest incline plane, a few dozen repurposed steel mills, the location of the movie Slap Shot, and the University of Pitt Johnstown. UPJ, as the townies call it, is the glorified branch campus where my father and all the “bros” of Delta Sigma Chi wreaked havoc and formed an everlasting bond in the year 1984. It was amid flying ping pong balls and many cans of Genesee that a brotherhood was born which still exists today.
Recently, I troubled my father to explain to me why fraternities such as his allure so many men. Why do exclusive communities captivate us, and can any good be salvaged from this “captivation”? I posed these particular questions, but not because I wholeheartedly believe that binge drinking and raging house parties should be defended as an inherently good and virtuous form of fellowship. I posed these leading questions because the fraternity is a perfect example of what I believe to be the human person’s innate desire for genuine community, fellowship, and relationships.
My dad’s answer was strikingly, and I must add, surprisingly profound. He began by defining the term “brotherhood” in the same sense as one might define any community: a fellowship which shares experiences and commonalities. For his fraternity, these shared experiences created what they refer to as “the bond”. The bond of their brotherhood was forged by the sacrifices they made during their pledging. They had all passed the tests and had all achieved a common goal. The commonality they shared was not merely a few Greek letters on a jacket but the hard work and effort they each had to exercise. Everyone had to pledge, meaning everyone had to learn the Greek alphabet, everyone had to memorize each other’s home addresses, everyone had to learn how to take care of each other. My dad and his friends were proud to wear their letters because they had earned them. A similar bond can be found amongst soldiers in foxholes, monks in monasteries, and even upon my own lacrosse team. Whether it be in a bootcamp, on a sports team, or while pledging to a fraternity, a shared commonality of experiences which includes sacrifice and struggle can instill a deep and lasting sense of respect and love for our fellow man.
My dad holds that the bond of his fraternity was one of love. For, they looked out for each other and grew to deeply care for one another. The personalist philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand called such a bond a triumphant unity between brothers; for they look upon one another in the place where each man in truth stands before God, whether he is aware of it or not.(1) Hildebrand claims,
“The true measure of the depth of a man will much rather be found in whether or not he is awakened to that spirit of true communion, in whether or not there has been a breaking-down of the inner walls of self-assertion, in the defenses of the sphere of his ego.”(2)
Nonetheless, the bond of brotherhood should not be revered as the greatest bond of love, and neither should the college fraternity be considered the highest form of community. My father understood this and his desire for genuine community and love led him on, past the gates of his college campus and into the great unknown of adulthood.
But to keep your attention and the story short I’ll cut to the chase.
After a few years of transitioning from frat boy to businessman …
Dad met Mom.
And everything changed.
What changed? The “bond” changed. For it was seeded in something stronger than the stuff of pledge classes. It was seeded in grace. When Dad met Mom, their bond was one of love and faith.
My father’s communion with my mother ranks exceedingly higher than that of his brotherhood. For the communion of man and wife goes beyond friendship. They do not simply share commonalities. They vowed to share their whole lives and their whole selves. Their genuine love for one another pays no heed to self-gratification. On the contrary, their love even extends beyond self-giving, for it gives completely of itself once and forever. This indissoluble bond of love is not forged by a pledge or by any earthly means. It is fortified by the grace of God. No other human relationship can compare to this true communion, a communion which leads to the full and everlasting flowering of the human person.
My father’s humanity, his personality, his spirituality truly flourishes when he is around my mother. The beauty of her goodness calls him on to be the man he was created to be. My father became a man not when he swore an oath to his fraternity, but when he swore a vow to his wife and to theirs future children. Now my dad dedicates all his abilities and love to a rowdy band of misfit kids who require him to sacrifice and to give of himself every hour of every day.
Dad’s “bros” will always be around (and they do come around often), but his wife and his family will be the rock he will stand, lean, and rest upon till the end of his days.
1. The Dietrich von Hildebrand Life Guide, 50.
2. The Dietrich von Hildebrand Life Guide, 50.
Image 1: My Dad and his fraternity brothers at a wedding.
Image 3: His current six pack of Fosters