“Dad, you don’t get it, do you?”

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This article by my son John in America Magazine explains exactly what I had to learn many years ago on my first service trip with John and accompanying students while we were working with Haitians and Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. I share the article and my own personal reflection.

On one of our last days in the mountains, I left lunch early on our lunch break to return to the work site where the group had been working on a project with the residents in a small mountain village.  I wanted to get more work accomplished on the project we were doing (building a sanitation system), maybe completing the project or getting closer to completion before we left.

John searched for me and found me in a pit with shovel and pick in hand. He asked me what I was doing. I told him, “trying to finish the project.” He then said to me: “Dad, you don’t get it, do you? Why do you think we are here?” To which I, as unknowingly uneducated as I was, replied: “to build a sanitation system for the community”. He then told me I was wrong and why.

He gave me the real reasons why I and others should be there. It was not the reason I had given, far from it. As I later reflected on this conversation, I began to understand the truth in what he had told me. He had opened my eyes to what service ought to be and mean and its true ends, just as John explains in his article.

I have since seen service in a completely different light – it’s more about relationships and not so much about visible achievements. Yes, visible accomplishments are sought and are and can be certainly good. But there are different and better ends to service which can be more productive than those we so often want to have or which we see as the goals. It was a great lesson for me which I will always remember.

It also showed me that our younger generation can often have great insights about life and its true meaning. They can be wonderful mentors to us as parents if we but lesson and learn.

John McLaughlin served on the IVC National Board of Directors for six years.  He is an attorney in the Washington DC area and is General Counsel and Board Member of Cavalier Logistics.  His many service roles have included serving as a member of the President’s Council for Gonzaga High School, Chairman of Gonzaga D.C. Classic Basketball Tournament for 25 years, and a former Board Member for Red Cloud Indian School, among others.  John and his wife Christine have been married for 45 years and have five children and five grandchildren.

7 Responses to ““Dad, you don’t get it, do you?””

  1. Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

    Knowing your work, I would have to say your lesson was well learned. I tell my people if we are not able to waste 15 minutes with someone, we are unable to be a friend.

  2. Jim Haggerty

    thanks for your insight John and also for the link to your son’s article. To accompany others, I think, is the same as being fully present to another which makes service an act of love. Jim



    • Christian

      Fantastic blog you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any mesgsae boards that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of community where I can get opinions from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Appreciate it!

  4. Louise M Sandberg

    Thanks for your honest and humility in admitting you did not get it. Much like St Francis who thought God telling him to rebuild the church meant physically until he embraced the leper. My brother has a similar ministry to your son connecting those in US with 3rd world poverty and emphasizing the relationships and ongoing growth and change. Thank you for your service to IVC. I have been a member on Long Island, NY for 12 years now.

  5. Mehmet

    Hello there! This is my 1st comment here so I just waentd to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thanks for your time!

  6. Tom Carty

    John, thanks for sharing your son’s article and your post about what it means to be a man with others.


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