I've been wanting to write this article for a while but haven't had the time until this week since I'm off from work.
As I have written in previous blogs, one of my biggest fears as a father is losing my kids to the popular culture; where moral relativism prevails, truths are distorted and compromised, God is molded into the image and likeness of the believer and licentiousness and confusion reign.
In an attempt to inoculate our children as best we can against this tidal wave of secular populism, we've tried to cultivate a strong faith foundation in our household through prayer, living the Sacraments, serving as examples of service and commitment to God and through my endless barrage of life lessons, that often prompt an unwarranted, "We know Dad! You say that all the time." from the peanut gallery.
Our kids have all attended Catholic schools throughout their educational lives, despite the financial burden at times. For our eldest daughter that meant fourteen years of parochial and Catholic preparatory school from Pre-K 4 through high school graduation (our younger two are still in Catholic schools).
This year, our eighteen-year-old started attending a public state university and moved away from home for the first time; eight driving hours away to be precise. And, as ecstatic as we were to see her growing into her own as a woman, it was terrifying to me to see her leave (because of stated fear).
In September, six-weeks into her college life experience, we went to visit her for the first time. Let's just say, our visit could have gone better. There was an obvious tension between her trying to assert her newfound independence and our cramping her style with, at least in her mind, the protective cocoon that we had raised her in.
Although there were many moments of levity and fun, the 3-day visit was a bit strained, to the point where, on Saturday afternoon, we had a no-holds-barred animated exchange in the parking lot of St. Thomas Moore Catholic Church, where we had arrived early for Vigil Mass and she threatened to go back to her dorm and us to go back home (to Miami) if she did.
It was a painful argument and my wife walked away upset, trying to gather herself and catch her breath. Fortunately, after our daughter broke down in tears and hugged me tightly, I was able to mediate a reconciliation between mother and daughter shortly before Mass.
When we got back Sunday night, after taking her to breakfast and the long ride home, I texted her the blessing that I give the kids every night before they go to bed and told her I loved and missed her.
Several weeks went by and we re-established our regular routines of communication via text or Facetime and everything appeared to be back to normal.
For years, I had suggested that she should write. I saw her burgeoning skills and she loved to read and devoured novels at an incredible pace during primary school. But, she always said she didn't like writing. I think it was more laziness than anything else but regardless, when she sent her college application, she wrote an essay that apparently not only impressed the admissions office but also the editors of a national women's web magazine, who offered her a job as a contributing writer. She has been writing for them ever since.
While expressing herself honestly and venting pent-up feelings, the things that most hurt was when she wrote, "Being independent, no matter for how much time forces you into evolving into your own person. I no longer agreed with my parents on everything. I no longer lived in a tiny, Miami Catholic school bubble." Then later, "I had grown into a different person. I had begun seeing the world through a different lens then they do."
When she called to get my reaction, as she does for every article she writes, I told her that there wasn't much to say. I told her it hurt me to read it and she said it hurt her to write it (So why the heck did she write it?).
Yet, I shouldn't have been surprised. In her brief college career, she was already starting to miss Mass regularly, something she never did during the past 13 years at home (when I attended a spiritual retreat and started going to weekly Mass). She became best friends with a former-Catholic-turned-Muslim girl, albeit, I'm still not convinced it's conviction rather than rebellion, and the girl's roommate, who is Jewish (How many jokes have you heard about the Catholic, the Muslim and the Jew who walk into a bar?) and taking a required course in philosophy with an atheist professor (Who would have thunk that in a public university the philosophy professor is atheist?).
She was being exposed to all sorts of worldly thinking that she was sheltered from at home. In all honesty, I wanted her to go to Franciscan University in Steubenville, where while discovering everything that other college students discover, my hope was to surround her with fervent Catholic students who would help her stay on the Catholic path. She didn't even apply!
Be that as it may, the article was really disconcerting. But, as God often works, it just so happens that the same week, I was preparing to teach an RCIA class (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which is a class for people who are converting to the Catholic faith, thinking about it or missing one of their Sacraments) on The Creed (what we believe) and it's first line, I believe in God the Father.
One night in bed, as I reflected on what I wanted to stress and, what I portrayed to be my daughter's drinking of the cultural cool-aid, I started thinking of the story of The Prodigal Son, or more importantly, The Merciful Father.
God was revealing to me what my actions should be; mercy.
After the RCIA class, I put everything aside and decided to forgive and forget (and pray as hard as I could for her return to the Church).
Serendipitously, or what we call God-incidentally, a few weeks later, she told us all about her Catholic boyfriend from Miami, who's actually taken her to Mass!
In subsequent weeks and months since, she has reached out to me several times on questions she has on arguments for and against the existence of God for a paper, and more recently arguments against moral relativism, which happens to be one of the favorite topics of my life lessons for my kids, to which I sent her an article I wrote and she cited in her presentation, texting me, "Because I have the coolest Dad ever."
Still, I know that doesn't mean she is not being influenced by society but at least, it gives me hope. Not all we taught her is lost.
As JRR Tolkein wrote best, "All that is gold does not glitter, Not all who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost." I can only hope and pray she gains her footing as she continues to go out the door...