My dear Catholic Dad
Yesterday I honored my wonderful mother, Catholic through and through, and today I’d like to tell you about my dad. I still have more reasons to share why I’ll never be Catholic again, but no two finer Catholics have walked this earth, in my opinion anyway, than my own parents. And in the context of these objections to the faith they held dear, I want to honor them for living out that faith.
My father’s life began in tragedy. His mother, for whom I’m named, died shortly after giving birth to him from an infection likely contracted because her obstetrician arrived drunk to the delivery room. Dad never knew her. His father, as happens in losses such as this, blamed him.
My grandfather married again when Dad was five…a wonderful Catholic woman who loved and cared for him as if she had bore him. We knew her as Busi, which is Polish for grandmother. It seems that Dad and his father had a bit of a strained relationship most of their lives; I don’t know that Dziadzi (grandfather) ever quite forgave Dad for the death of his mom.
Dad met Mom when they were both just out of high school, and they married four years later. Three days before their first wedding anniversary their first child was born, and almost every year between that and their eleventh, they welcomed another. Each son and daughter was a true blessing from God to them, and they did their best to express their gratitude by training us in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” guided by the principles absorbed through their own Catholic training.
My father was the disciplinarian in our home, a role which he took pretty seriously. There were many days when we kids really wished he didn’t. But virtually (‘cause I really don’t remember – it’s been awhile) every time he had to punish us he’d remind us that it hurt him more than it hurt us. Of course, we didn’t believe that for a second then, but now that I’m a parent myself, well…I totally get it.
I related some yesterday about Dad’s relationship with Mom and their shared faith. He loved her and he loved God. Whom he loved more, God only knows. But some of the decisions he made regarding his children gave evidence that, though he loved us greatly too, God took precedence. Dad’s commitment to the Church’s stance on divorce, and God’s hatred of it, meant that when my divorced brother remarried, my folks did not attend the ceremony or reception. That must have been so hard for them both, especially for Mom. But that’s how serious my dad was about his faith…about living out what he believed to be true, even when it hurt.
And when my previously married husband and I made plans to wed, Dad “strongly suggested” we go through the Church’s annulment process, which we did. But when we realized it could take a year or more, I told him we were considering marrying in a Protestant church then again in a Catholic one when the annulment came through. Not a good idea. I’ll never forget storming out of their house in tears after hearing him say he would not walk me down the aisle in a Protestant church.
We waited for the annulment, but within seven years I had left the Church and had to punch my dad in the gut again. We discussed it; he tried to persuade me back. When I skipped my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary Mass because of my conviction that its sacrificial nature was dishonoring to God, they were hurt and they told me so. But they let me join them in the celebration afterwards. I’ve got to believe that at least they recognized I was following their lead in my commitment to live out my faith.
When the priest sex abuse scandal broke, I wrote a letter to the editor of our local major newspaper critical of the Church and emailed it to my folks before it was published so they wouldn’t be quite so blindsided. Poor Dad. His own daughter’s public calling out of the Church he loved struck him so hard, he said something that must have pricked him as much as it did me. In all my years as a father, he told me, I’ve never been ashamed of any of my children, but “I’m ashamed of you.” The next day my doorbell rang, and it was a delivery of a bud vase with a single, long-stemmed rose, and a card that simply read, “I love you. Dad.”
I’m not the only one of my siblings who rejected what my father told me he considered a special gift to us, that being the Catholic faith. How he and Mom must have struggled in dealing with the various wayward ways of their other children I can’t even say. I just know that it amounted to a very heavy burden.
But though they condemned some of the beliefs we held, they didn’t condemn us, and they didn’t reject us. I can’t speak for my siblings, but even when Dad was angrily pointing his finger in my face defending his faith, I knew where he was coming from. I got it. Truth matters, especially about God, and if you sincerely believe something, you ought to be willing to stand up for it, even though it may hurt those you love.
That’s why I’m writing this series.