On Pentecost, Puns, and My Pops

by | Jun 29, 2017 | Blogs, Faith & Family, Spirituality

My dad has lived all over the world – from Iowa to Italy, Brazil and back. As a result, he’s spent years of his life navigating multiple languages. Because of this acuity for words, he’s become a man who produces eye-rolling, head-shaking puns. Rather than discourage him, the pained reactions from the victims of his puns fuel his fire.

Once, back in 1995, my dad spoke up during the announcements portion of mass in São Paulo. It was an English-speaking church community connected to the international Catholic school where my parents were teaching. Everyone had some fluency with Portuguese. It was Pentecost. My dad started narrating the story of a newly arrived English speaker in São Paulo who went out to run errands. The anecdotal character had limited Portuguese vocabulary, but he knew the only way to expand it was to dive in. He wandered into a shop that sold various toiletries. He saw a comb, which he needed, and was pleased with his quick recall of the Portuguese word for comb: pente. Unfortunately, he blanked on how to formulate the rest of the sentence regarding the cost of the comb. So he simply held up the comb to the vendor and asked, “pente cost?”

The communal groan was particularly memorable. I’ve never heard “Pentecost” in the same way since. I don’t doubt that my dad’s puns have ruined words for other people. They are memorable. So is he.


In Brazil, many indigenous, cultural, and syncretistic traditions weave their way into the practice of Catholicism. Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition initially developed by enslaved West Africans, is one of them. Dance is an important aspect of Candomblé. In fact, the word Candomblé means “dance in honor of the gods.” The horse is an important symbol in this tradition, as the person doing the ritual dance summons a divine spirit to take him/her over like a rider mounting a horse.

When my dad moved on from that school community in São Paulo, he was gifted a sandstone sculpture of a horse; the sculpture still holds a prominent place in my parent’s living room. The school janitor carved it for my dad by hand, a sign of their friendship. The horse is unbridled, confidently traversing rocky terrain with its head bowed-down, as if summoning the energy from within to march ahead. Much time and thought was put into this personalized gift, and I suspect the detailed craftsman was also an observant friend.

An educator for the past 37 years, the various communities my dad served knew to expect him everywhere. Seventh-grade girls basketball game? He’s there cheering. Rotary Club fundraiser? He’s serving the food. Parish First Communion? He’s cantoring the mass. It’s hard not to remember Steve Hanson when he is everywhere. He’s a true workhorse. He is a man possessed by the Holy Spirit.


My dad just retired, but retirement will not contain him. Inactivity isn’t in his blood. In Portuguese, the noun ‘retiro’ is used colloquially the way we use ‘retreat’ in English – the activity people undertake to take stock of their lives, usually in a spiritual sense. As a man who truly credits God for the things he accomplishes, my dad would not have taken any initiative to see himself recognized. But this was the desire of many community members, so he retreated to the party thrown to celebrate his years of service.


At the actual Pentecost, there were people gathered together from every nation under heaven waiting for the Holy Spirit. While we weren’t quite every nation, we did represent most of the places my dad has lived and worked.The party wasn’t Pentecost, but as we stretched out our hands in a gesture of blessing over my dad, we confirmed that his work isn’t done. We need him to continue being the Holy Spirit’s ‘horse.’

After the blessing, the former school board president who hired my dad approached me and said, “If this community only knew half of what your dad has done for us! He is so humble, such a gentleman, and a true Christian.”

The apostles were suspected of having too much wine at Pentecost. Maybe I had a little too much wine at the party, but wine wasn’t the spirit moving my heart and deepening my love for my dad.