“The witness of Christian life given by parents”

The witness of Christian life given by parents in the family comes to children with tenderness and parental respect. Children thus perceive and joyously live the closeness of God and of Jesus made manifest by their parents in such a way that this first Christian experience frequently leaves decisive traces which last throughout life. This childhood religious awakening which takes place in the family is irreplaceable. It is consolidated when, on the occasion of certain family events and festivities, “care is taken to explain in the home the Christian or religious content of these events”. It is deepened all the more when parents comment on the more methodical catechesis which their children later receive in the Christian community and help them to appropriate it. Indeed, “family catechesis precedes…accompanies and enriches all forms of catechesis”.

General Directory for Catechesis, n. 226.

Photo by Joshua Ommen/flickrCC

Respect has no substitute

Respect has no substitute; neither assistance nor obedience nor love can supply it or take its place It may happen that children are no longer obliged to help their parents; they may be justified in not obeying them; the circumstances may be such that they no longer have love or affection for them; but respect can never be wanting without serious guilt. The reason is simple: because it is due in justice, because it is founded on natural rights that can never be forfeited, even when parents themselves lose the sense of their own dignity.

– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)

Thoughts for a New Father

My best friend and his wife recently found out that they will be welcoming their first child into the world this spring. At his invitation I sent him the following thoughts about fatherhood, having endured loved it through nine years and four kids. The remarks have been edited to remove personal information.

#1 – Congratulations! You are no longer in control of your own destiny.

Here’s the thing: you are now 100% responsible for another human being in this world. You have established a relationship that, short of death, cannot be severed or broken. (And I’m not even sure death breaks it.) You have to make sure that this little person is fed, cleaned, clothed, educated and loved. Every decision you make from here on out will have to include this as part of the equation — everything from “Should I take this new job” to “What type of milk do I buy for the family?”

So forget about the myth of the autonomous individual making his way in the world. It’s not true to begin with, and now that you have a child it’s even less true.

(By the way: Your wife is 100% responsible, too. It takes 200% to raise a child.)

#2 – You will be amazed at what you will endure for your child.

Let’s just get this one out of the way: within the first year of your child’s life you will be graced with the following bodily fluids flowing from your child onto your person: urine, poop, vomit, regurgitated milk, mucus, and a couple I still haven’t identified. If you have a boy, you’ll get it within six months. (Our oldest was so consistent about trying to pee on us that we had our own little maneuver when changing him: we’d take his diaper off, then immediately use it to cover him back up because you could be sure that as soon as fresh air hit him there would be a stream shooting up.)

The thing is, you won’t care one bit. I know I was worried about how I would handle these things, but the first time our oldest looked into my eyes, smiled, and vomited all over my shirt, I didn’t give it a second thought because I was so much more concerned about him and how he felt. The “oh-my-God-my-child-just-unhinged-his-jaw-and-spewed-on-my-leather-upholstery” reaction gets pushed out of your mind because you’re so focused on making sure that your child’s OK.

#3 – The most important thing you can do for your child is put your wife first.

This may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that your relationship with your wife is more important than your relationship with your child. It only takes a few minutes on Google to find statistics on how divorce and broken families screw over kids in major ways. You and I are both fortunate enough to come from families that, despite lots of trials and tribulations, have remained intact. I don’t know about you, but seeing my friends who have parents who are divorced, I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. Not that they aren’t decent, well-adjusted people, but I also know that they’ve had to endure a lot more crap in their lives than I’ve had to, even given my family issues. Having an intact family has been a great blessing in my life.

One of the promises I made to myself when my first child was born was that I would do everything in my power to ensure that he had that same advantage. Which, ironically, means that I invest more in my relationship with my wife than with the kids. Which, again, isn’t to say that I come home, throw some food into their room and say goodnight. But I want my kids to know that I love their mother and that they are a result of that love — and are loved as a result.

#4 – Decide now what your values are.

This is important for two reasons: a) so that you can pass on your values to your children, and b) so you know where you priorities are. The first is pretty straight forward: start thinking now about the lessons you want to impart to your child so that you won’t be reacting later on to lessons he’s learning somewhere else. (Children are sponges that soak up everything in their environment, whether you mean them to or not. This was hit home to me the first time my oldest started talking about Star Wars, even though I had never tried to intentionally pass it on to him.) And start thinking about what values you will and won’t allow into your house (via tv, the internet, etc.).

The second is a little more subtle. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with is the things that I have to give up in order to be a halfway decent father. There are so many conferences, classes, and other opportunities out there that I would love to participate in that, if given the chance, I could be gone every other weekend. But I know (and my wife reminds me) that doing so would be a very bad thing for the family. So we compromise and work out what things I do and what I don’t.

The point here isn’t that I’m “paying the price” for putting my family first, but that my wife and I make those decisions together. If she thought we could maintain a happy home life together even if I was gone more often, then I’d be packing a lot more suitcases. But that’s not a decision I can make on my own. By talking through our values and how we’re going to put them into practice, she gives me a level of accountability that keeps me from doing anything to the family that would compromise my stated values. That’s a good thing.

On the Usefulness of Death Panels

It seems to me that, in the cacophony of debate surrounding health care reform and the so-called “death panels,” that a simple foundational reality has eluded some people: Death panels would be immeasurably useful in modern American society.

Which is to say, they are useful in a society that has largely abandoned the traditional family and the network of support it ensures.

In the past, the elderly were largely taken care of by relatives — usually adult children — in the context of an extended network of family who lived in geographical proximity to one another. There was no question of mom or dad moving to an assisted   living facility; they simply moved in and were cared for at home, with other family members offering support and assistance as needed.

Today, this reality no longer exists — as I see it, for two primary reasons. First, children no longer live close to their parents. I live six hours from my mother; many of the friends I know live even further than that from their parents. In a mobile society, distance limits the amount of direct care children can provide for their aging parents. And given the quality of health care seniors now receive, most are able to live more active lives than their parents are their age. (My mother certainly doesn’t want to leave her home to live with my family. We’d crimp her style!) Second, the Boomers had fewer children than their parents did. This means fewer children sharing the responsibility of caring for aging parents which leads to additional stress as family.

These two factors are only exacerbated when aging parents enter the final phase of their life on earth. Again, given the quality of modern health care, this phase is often marked by catastrophic illness that even the best hospitals and doctors are unable to treat. In this situation children are called on to make excruciating decisions regarding how their parents will be treated and what medical interventions are appropriate. Most are not prepared to make these decisions, either a) because they do not know what their mother or father   would want, or b) because their own unresolved emotional issues make them less likely to accept the reality of impending death and more likely to choose superhuman interventions that only prolong dying. (I’m speaking here extraordinary measures such as choosing to resuscitate a patient in a coma who has gone into cardiac arrest while in the final stages of pancreatic cancer, not ordinary care such as nutrition and hydration either naturally or artificially administered.)

Caring for the dying elderly, especially those we love, is a thankless and heartrending task! And given that reality, the truth is that death panels would be enormously efficient and useful by taking the messy, painful, difficult — and most of all human! — process of dying and placing it in the hands of an impartial and disinterested group of individuals.

And isn’t that what we all want for our loved ones?