Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lenny's Father ...

We can never pretend to gauge the love and mercy of God the Father. But, as Gil Bailie points out in this important post, the example of a father who practices his faith in attending Mass and living the faith and morals of the Church is of inestimable importance to passing on the faith to his children.

In the gargoylesque novel, The Dionysus Mandate, Lenny Schultheiss, AKA mort-rocker Doris Dahmer, has several flashbacks on his twisted path to redemption. This one (below) shows a sad estrangement between young Lenny and his distant, verbally abusive father.
A tall, gaunt man sat on a railroad tie. He stared down at the water between the ferries. Oil slicks undulated around bits of trash and debris. His waist-length black hair lifted lightly in the breeze. A voice from his childhood barked into his consciousness.

“Lenny, damn it! Get your hands out of that filth, boy!” His father’s voice growled at him from a distance of two decades. “Don’t you have a lick of sense?”
“I was just lookin’ at it, Dad.”
The gutter in front of their house often carried a mixture of water and chemicals from the rusting steel-mills of his hometown in Pennsylvania.
“How can you be so stupid, boy? I think I’ll start callin’ you Doris. How’s that sound, Doris? Doris? Doris?”
His father picked up the family cat rubbing against his trousers. Then he cuffed off Lenny’s winter hat for good measure. The boy bent over to pick up his cap and watched his father walk away. The man caressed the cat as he walked toward the house.
“You love that cat more than me!” Lenny shouted toward his father’s back. “I hate him,” he said to his playmate.
Lenny’s father dropped the cat on the front porch and entered the front door, wiping his feet. “Play good, Doris!” he called back at Lenny. “Hee hee hee.”
The boy rubbed tears on the sleeves of a plaid winter coat. His young face settled into a stony expression. He followed his father’s footsteps through the dirty snow and returned, carrying the cat.
“Here,” Lenny said. He threw the cat to his friend. He cupped his hands and lifted oily water to his lips.
“Gees, Lenny, don’t drink that!” his playmate said.
Lenny looked his friend in the eye. “Why not? You think my father would give a crap?”
“Well, he’ll probably beat the crap out of you if he sees you do it!”
Lenny looked down at the water in his hands, then toward the house. He drank it. He fought back a choking cough and smiled.
“Ah! Just like whiskey. Let’s go. Bring the cat.”
They walked around the house. Lenny led his friend to their secret hideout between decrepit garages.
“You ever kill a cat before, Billy?” Lenny asked.
“Come on! Please, Lenny! You’re not really going to, are you?”
“How many ways are there to skin a cat?” Lenny Schultheiss grinned and took the cat from his friend.

“Lenny, baby! Come on!” A young woman’s voice called him back to the present moment. “We have to go! They’re starting to load the ferry!”
The man tucked his long hair back up under a cap and stood up. I can bury you, Dad, but I can never get rid of you, can I?
The rôle of father and the task of fatherhood is a sublimely difficult one, especially today when "father" is synonymous with "dolt", "fool", and "know-nothing"; depicted as a Homer Simpson imbecile by prime time comedy writer stiffs.

The Massketeers are all fathers. We claim no special expertise, no extra dose of faith, hope, or charity. But where and when we are now, we lay before our children (where and when they are now) our witness to Catholic truth, the deposit of faith, and our fealty to the Church that Our Lord died and rose again to found. May our fatherhood and faith be filled and the difference made up by the grace and merits of the Son, the Word made flesh. Lord knows, we can't do it on our own.


Porthos said...

Nice bit of synchronicity over at the Cornerstone Forum blog.

Porthos said...

Oh, OK, not synchronicity, but complementarity.

Athos said...

Gil's post spurred me to excerpt about Lenny and his father, Porthos. His is a superb post, as is the article @ Catholic Education Resource Center by Barbara Kay:

Porthos said...

Read both, and agree.

David Nybakke said...

There is something almost true about this excerpt on Lenny as it so captures an image of fatherhood (thankfully small). On the other hand, we all know that good images of fatherhood do not sell, and therefore they simply are not brought to market in any fashion. So how do we stem the tide? Do we have to call everything that has gone on these past 40 years in church and society evil and terrible? Are all feminists evil and terrible? Are males (or for that matter females) who loathe the 'scratch and spit' version of fatherhood, aka Lenny's father, evil and terrible?

I read articles like the one Gil writes on as well as the one I include here Missing Fathers of the Church The Feminization of the Church & the Need for Christian Fatherhood by Leon J. Podles and I admit that I am leery of a movement for a return of the stiff and stifling role model of fatherhood. (BTW, these articles are not based on new revelations, but rather are a regurgitating of materials from 1996 - 2001.) I submit a quote from Leon J. Podles, and hope that the positive implication stated here is not a ‘harkening back’ to a super-man or rather the emotionally suppressed man. "Remember that the purpose of the Church is not to be a clinging mother. Pastors should not aim at bringing men in and getting them involved in all sorts of committees and devotions. Christian formation is necessary, but the role of the pastor should be a father, not a mother. The father’s job is to separate his children from juvenile dependence and send them out prepared for the battle of life. The laity’s role is out in the world, Christianizing our culture. Anyone who has tried to do this knows that it is a battle and that the Church needs more than just a few good men."

I believe in the Mystery – I believe somehow that we will come through this trying time of fatherlessness actually stronger in the faith - not by going backwards or forwards, but by a calling out aka Abraham and Joseph. Monday, March 19th I will raise up this hope up as prayer celebrating the feast day of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

David Nybakke said...

Going back over the article by Podles I can't help but feel he is missing something. It seems to me that he is as stuck in feminism as those he rips on for the feminization of the Church.

He skims or rather skips over the term 'religion' and its meaning to humanity. He tries to stay afloat using sex - just as Hollywood does today - only scratching the surface of our troubles.

I may be way off base, but undergirding all these 'yin/yang' considerations is mimetic theory and all of the related thoughts of Girard - the sacred and religion... If one has any respect for Girard theories, we must see them having more importance for humanity then these yin/yang aspects (they would have very little relevance otherwise) and then it must be brought into our discussions. If I had all day and all night and a lifetime I would insert the simple-dimple conversation piece here and we would have all our problems solved...not. But I don't have the time currently - another time - another day.

Athos said...

Monday, March 19th I will raise up this hope up as prayer celebrating the feast day of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

I am only just cracking Rohr's From Wild Man to Wise Man. So far, I hear him being fairly embedded in the good ol' progressive, reform stuff.

I'm inclined to agree with you, Aramis, that if we aren't holding the orthodox Catholic faith and keeping mimetic theory as a servant to the same, we are apt to fall into rehashes of pop psychology and feminist male-discounting on the one hand, or reversion to snort-and-spit stereotypes on the other.

And I mean hang on tightly to both the Church's Magisterium and Girard's insights. For, as I've said previously, coming at things anthropologically makes the Church's teachings manifestly the deposit of truth. Spirituality can conjure some mighty foul spirits left on its own, IMO.

David Nybakke said...

Amen to holding tight to both, the Church's Magisterium and Girard's insights.

Did you see papal preacher exalts non-violence, connects Nietzsche to Holocaust? Connecting the dots through this lens of "violence and the sacred" as Girard helps us explore "things hidden since the foundation of the world" seems more beneficial for fatherhood then all the rhetoric of feminism and masculinity. I am not trying to skirt the issue of sexuality, but isn’t the real issue that of passing on the faith?

Athos said...

Awesome link, Aramis. Many thanks! I would add from a Distributist pov (and with a wink) what Zenit quotes him saying:

Father Cantalamessa recalled the promise linked to the beatitude of the meek -- they shall inherit the earth, "which is realized on several planes, until the definitive promised land, which is eternal life."

"But," he added "certainly one of the planes is human: The earth is men's hearts. The meek win trust, they attract souls."

This definitely pertains to fatherhood also: eventually a meek father will find a son and/or daughter returning because of the attraction Fr Cantalamessa speaks about.

Porthos said...

I think (and I think all three of us have articulated this in various ways) there is one basic and important mimetic aspect re: maleness. It's about modelling. We are models of maleness, whether we like it or not. And men will look intensely for patterns of maleness to copy, whether anybody likes it or not. If maleness is not being modelled by the home male, or the older males, or males in leadership positions, it will be modelled by some other male(s). Period.

It's important to be a bit more precise about the objection to feminism, otherwise it just sounds like we want to return to Ozzie and Harriet or something. At some level, feminism wants feminized males, that is, males who are either modelled on females or modelled on feminized males. On one level, fine. I can think of much worse fates than to be modelled on the pattern of Therese, or Teresa of Avila, or Clare, or Catherine of Siena! But at the rubber meets the road social level, feminized males (and I assume--perhaps wrongly--that all three of us are to some extent such specimens, being products or our era and so forth) do not model maleness. However, men MUST have a model of maleness. So, young men, and perhaps young women too, will look elsewhere for their image of the male, namely, to their cohort.

Pop culture is perhaps the relevant barometer here. To be a female pop idol now (and this despite decades of feminism) you almost have to present slutness--or in other words, be an appealing appetitive object for the male cohort. There can be no Aretha Franklins, or Janis Joplins, or Carol Kings, or Phoebe Snows anymore. You gotta have (or obtain through dieting or discipline) the goodies, and know (or learn) how to dangle them in the correct manner. Talent or artistry is increasingly irrelevant.

Overall (panning back to the culture at large) this is bad news for both men and women in that it leads, on the male side, to an increase of both geeks and jerks. Geeks will not defend women, and jerks will not respect them (because jerks are compelled to earn the respect of the male cohort--the pack, the gang). Thus, women are more at risk than ever, and both men and women are suffering a diminishment of their endowment, their gift, as gendered persons.

Insofar as we are longing for a mere return to some kind of secure status hierarchy, we are not saying much and Aramis is right to criticize that. If we are pointing to a need for a more radical transformation, then we may be on to something.

We have not articulated that something yet, but Gil's and Athos posts are movements in that direction. For the tenth time, I could also point to Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers' "Behold the Man" series as an example of where we might want to be going. Since it's based on JP II's Theology of the Body, it's no mere appeal to the past or the status quo, yet it engages the present with a strong critique.

Mimetic theory has strengths and weaknesses here. The strength is that it understands the importance of modelling. The weakness is that cultural critiques from MT tend up in a certain indecisive cul-de-sacs ("While its true that blah blah blah, we don't want a return to the sacrificial order . . ."). Or the crude and transparently manipulative victimology that is starting to dominate many MT circles.

Gil Bailie is in this repsect a hopeful light, but it must be awful lonely standing where he is.

GA has some good points, or one particular good point: it offers a critique of victimology. The weak point of GA (or at least the weak point that you two would point out) is the emphasis on the market--yet the market may be essentially dehumanizing, as the example from pop culture above indicates.

Porthos said...

Re: meekness (Athos' comment) vs. the "approved" feminized male (my comment), an Evangelical pastor (himself a gentle but firm type) once told me, "Meekness is not the same as weakness." (Though he was speaking in general terms, I think he was delicately trying to address the snivelling, namby-pamby, insecure aspects of yours truly.)

In this sense, the model of St. Joseph is, as Aramis (and also Harold Burke-Sivers!) points out, vitally important.

Athos said...

In looking online (and failing) for Barbara Defoe Whitehead's seminal article, "The Failure of Sex Education" (Atlantic Monthly, '93), I found an interesting article that deals with mimesis, girls, and fatherlessness here:

Porthos said...

That is a terribly depressing piece.

Athos said...

What gives me some hope is seeing evidence both of its accuracy in fatherless boys in my school setting and evidence to the contrary - where father is not on the scene, yet the boy (or girl) is turning out quite respectful, virtuous, etc.

I sent it along to Bailie.

David Nybakke said...

Stuck in the mud, that is what we are - caught in the dung-heap of this world.

I just don't see any good approaching fatherlessness separate from passing on the faith/religion/spirituality and being called to the Church. Gender bouncing like that article by conservative David MacRae, on the one side and liberal Rohr's mens reform stuff on the other side is not going anywhere.

If we can't keep the focus, that the real issue here is the problem of "passing on the faith" (the underlying problem of fatherlessness) then who is going to do that?

David Nybakke said...

Is it all about sentimental stuff like: ?

I love this on one level, however I ask, is it pointing to Christ? Pop songs like this, though they can touch a cord in us, are they good mediators like say, Beatrice on the female side, or Joseph on the male side? Does it bring home the Gospels - does it pass on the faith?

Athos said...

Watch, pray, practice the cardinal virtues (temperance, prudence, justice, fortitude), and the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), assist at Mass, reverence Our Lady, love Our Eucharistic Lord.

To think we can mammothly change things borders on hubris. But loving one's friends and family, having mercy and compassion, and doing the above with gratitude ... well, what more is there to do, brother Aramis?

As far as the business about being "caught in the dung hill of the world," maybe we're all ready for spring and out of the light deprivation mode!