January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany to the Christian world. Having grown up in a Roman Catholic home, the word ‘epiphany’ had an extended meaning: it was the name of our parish church.
As a child of the 60’s, many parishes had their own school, and, you guessed it – I went to Epiphany School.
K through 8.
9 years. 9 loooong years.
Whoa! I started slipping back to my repressed memories. But I digress.
Other than being a feast day in the church, it’s also known as Three Kings Day, Little Christmas, and other terms to commemorate the three wise men visiting the newborn Jesus and bringing gifts.
Religious aspects aside, Mirriam-Webster defines the word:
noun epiph·a·ny \i-ˈpi-fə-nē\
· capitalized : January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ
· 2 : an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
· 3 a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b : a revealing scene or moment
Today, I want to focus on the third definition.
The day of January 6th has two additional meanings for me.
On that day in 1976, my father sat my brother and me down for a talk in our living room. We were 15 and 17, respectively. I knew this was going to be about something important because my dad was not a ‘family meeting’ type.
“Boys, starting today, I won’t be living here anymore. I’ll be moving up by grandma and grandpa.”
Because of the timing, the words came as a shock, but not a surprise.
I really can’t recall what he or my brother said for the next minute or two until I zoned back in.
“Michael, I want you to look out for your brothers and both of you to help your mom out as much as you can.”
For my whole life that I was able to comprehend words, my father had been telling me that I was ‘number-one son’, to ‘set a good example for your brothers’ and ‘if something happens to me, I expect you to be the man of the family’. Today, I assumed the job he was prepping me for all along – just not the way I expected it to happen.
Back in 1970, my father and mother separated for about 2 months. Because I was 11 at the time, I was sad but didn’t understand the dynamics of their relationship. In the following six years, I had a front seat for the disintegration of their marriage.
That chapter was closing and we were all embarking on new chapter of our family life. I always thought I was older than my years but the burden my father laid on me that day was almost tangible. I knew things were never going to be the same, and in some ways, that was good as it was painful to my mom and my brothers.
On that day, the Feast of the Epiphany, I was having another epiphany – exact to the definition above; it was the first seismic shift of my life. My father left our home for the second and final time.
‘Number-one son, you’re the man of the house now.’