“On the Day of Judgment we will not be judged for our ideas, but for the compassion we have shown to others.”

– Pope Francis

By day, I am a Catholic non-profit executive. By night, I am an accomplished short order cook for an exclusive restaurant that only serves the same four children each day. While my wife and I have done a lot of parenting things right, we seem to have missed the mark on getting our children to eat what we serve. We now find ourselves deep in a hole so full of frozen, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and Panera mac and cheese that we may never find our way out. Despite a daily recommitment to not fall into this trap, most nights, our kids order from a non-existent menu and are very stingy tippers. The brightest light is that our eldest, Annie, at 15, will often suffer quietly through whatever I put in front of her. She always offers an unprompted “thank you for dinner” and never complains.

Last week, we had one of those post-school “perfect storms” where each of the children had a different activity, mom had a work commitment, and dad was off to a parish later that night. We had a tiny window of 40 minutes to not only make dinner, but also eat it before everyone had to leave. I quickly threw some turkey burgers on the George Foreman grill. “Can I have a veggie burger?” Annie asked. “Nope – don’t have it,” I said curtly. As I flung the burgers onto plates and began reciting the mantra, “take another bite,” for what seemed like 432,420 times to the younger two children, I noticed Annie just staring at her plate. “What’s the deal?” I asked her, as I continued to run around the kitchen, distributing apple sauce. “I just don’t like turkey burgers,” she said softly. “Tough,” I retorted, “It’s what for dinner.” I then sprung into a lecture to all the children that sounded over the top to even myself. I referenced my upbringing, several third world countries, and Lent in the same sentence. By the time I finished lecturing, it was time to go, and Annie went without dinner.

The next morning over breakfast, Annie shared that she was hungry. I reminded her of her choice which quickly prompted her to remind me that she never complains, never asks for something different, and is always respectful – unlike the others. “Do you want to be like the others, or do you want to set the standard?” I shot back. With some sadness in her eyes, she said, “Dad, just because I set the standard doesn’t mean I’ll always hit it. I just didn’t want a turkey burger.”

As we drove to school in silence, I went from feeling convinced to convicted. How often in life and leadership do I push or even punish the all-stars because I can, and they will respond? How often do I make the standard bearers bear all the responsibility? While I may tell myself I am treating everyone equally, am I responding to those I lead and love with justice? Am I hearing their concerns and challenges in the context of our history, or simply what I want or expect in the moment? So often we are hardest on those closest to us because there is trust and respect, but does my response reinforce that bond or harm it? As I reflect on my relationship with the Lord this Lent, am I grateful for what He has done and is doing, while I ask for what I want or need?

Before she jumped out of the car at school, I was able to apologize to Annie for the turkey burger pressure, thanked her for being who she was, and promised the possibility of some veggie burgers the next time. As we continue through Lent, let’s not only give up meat on Fridays but let’s lose “the beef” we have when people don’t always meet our high expectations. Blessings around your table this Lent!

by Daniel Cellucci

March 10, 2023

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