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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Raising Daughters, College and The Notebook...

Appropriated for a 12-year-old?... 
There's a fine balance between being a strong father and alienating your children.  It's a fine line I don't always walk too gracefully, especially, in recent weeks, according to my wife.

Raising two teenage daughter, well, one is sixteen and the other a few months shy of the teen threshold, is proving to be a bit of a challenge for me.

Maybe, not so much in the typical sense of teenage rebellion or defiance that parents brace for and expect, but in my own internal struggle of trying to cope with my girls growing up faster than I am ready for and wanting to impart to them the wisdom that has taken me a lifetime to attain, so they can circumvent the many pitfalls, missteps and confusion I experienced, especially when it comes to God, faith and morality.

My high school teen is heading into her junior year and starting to look at universities to apply to and I'm terrified at the state of academia in some of the more liberal renown schools she's been mentioning; even some of the Catholic institutions are a little suspect, with the exception of the ones that she refuses to consider (Because they are my suggestions!).

If there's something I've heard over and over in recent years is how easily Catholic kids, who are not deep-seeded in their faith, even those who attended parochial schools all their lives and Mass with their parents on Sundays, go off to college and lose their faith or end up agnostics, at best, after a heavy dose of mostly Atheist professors for four years and coed dorm roommates, who ridicule the faith, because it doesn't agree with their morally questionable lifestyles.

It's like that often-used Dostoevsky line from The Brothers Karamov, "If God does not exist, everything is permisible."

While nothing new, it's still hard for me to grasp that soon, my daughter will be in school exposed to a vicious cycle of reinforced waywardness, even more than I ever encountered because now, everything is permissible (As evident by the 58 different gender options on Facebook!), as she tries to live on her own for the first time, while still growing in the maturity needed to balance her newfound "freedom" with the responsibility that "freedom" entails, while making decisions that may be heavily influenced by her friends.  I know because I was there.  Unfortunately, I may even have been one of the bad influences that led innocent kids astray!

Of course, every student is different (and I don't just mean in gender identification sense, which is confusing enough!) and, as my own daughter says, I have to "trust the way we raised her" (I hate it when my kids make more sense than me!).  Yet, my concern is real nonetheless.

Meanwhile, my younger daughter is miss lovebird.  She has been having boyfriends practically from the time she learned to write and currently has a "romantic" interest, who comes over and she goes to his house as well.

He seems like a good kid, who comes from a good family.  Yet, the other day, I had a bit of a meltdown when she told us, nonchalantly mind you, that they watched the movie, The Notebook, together.  What?  Are you kidding me? 

Granted, some of you may say, it's a touching story about steadfast devotion that bolsters the wedding vows of, "Till death do us part," and "In sickness and in health."  But, how about all those flashbacks to hot scenes in their youth, the angry fighting that lead to hot scenes and, then, after they break up and she's engaged to another guy, they get together again and more hot scenes?  It's a hot scene fest! They can't keep their hands off each other and, worse of all, they're not even married!  In fact, the movie never really says whether their hot romance and cohabitation ever leads to marriage!  

So, there I was, making the point to my 12-year-old daughter, in my own animated way (And, I can get a bit passionate when I'm stressing something important, which at times, can be construed as anger, even though I wasn't), that if sex is the message the culture continuously tells kids is OK, then it's what kids will think is expected of them.

In other words, if making out, heavy petting and, dare I say the act that a former U.S. President called, "not having sex," is alright in movies, social media, books and TV shows, then kids have the pressure of living up to those expectations.

If it leads to sexual relations then, well, that's why some public schools systems, across the country, are passing out condoms and artificial birth control; whether the child's parents approve or disapprove, since the message is clear; teens are nothing but animals, who can't control their hormones, and having sexual intercourse is what it means to be "in love," and what it means to be an adult.  As a father of two girls and a 9-year-old boy, who is fortunately still clueless, it's a frightening prospect!
Still, my wife says she can't believe how belligerent I have been acting with the girls lately.  "If you think you're going to draw them closer to the faith in that way," she said one recent night when we were alone, "you're very mistaken.  You're going to drive them away!  Even if you were right, you're coming across like a fanatic."

It's a sobering thought and she is totally right; just don't tell her that, please! (Let's see, I have the kids and the wife sounding smarter than me.  All I need now is for the dogs to make me look bad. Then again, they usually do when I forget to walk them!)

In any case, as I thought about my abrasive advice-giving to my daughters, it became clear that all my recent anxiety and aggressive tendencies stem from fear.  I'm afraid of failing as a father, due in part to insecurities about my own inadequacies and failures.  In the meantime, I may be alienating my kids instead of fathering them.    

St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take over us, it drives compassion right out of our hearts."

I guess it comes down to a lack of faith, which is a consequence of my lack of trust; in, as my older daughter in her astuteness pointed out, the way we raised them (although, we're not raising the boys that will come knocking at the door, but I'll put that aside for now!), in their own judgement, as smart and independent thinkers, and, most of all, in God.  I'm not trusting God and, by now, I should know better.

I think, for me, it is easier to trust in God when it pertains to me and my wife because I've accepted that we are not in control.  My faith is, for the most part, unwavering.  Yet, when it comes to my children, the difficulty I'm finding is that I've gotten so used to being in control and I forget that, eventually, I'll have to let go and place them in God's hands too.  The question is knowing when (albeit not yet!).

It's remarkable how when you think you are starting to understand the intricacies of God, he humbles you by showing you just how little you really know.

The proverb  writer stated it best, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make straight your path." (Prov 3:5-6)...   


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Faith, Reason and Man's Search for Truth...

"Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves."

-- St. John Paul II (1920-2005), also known as St. John Paul the Great was a Pope, Theologian, Author and one of the most influential and inspiring figures in modern world history.  In his youth, Karol Wojtyla was an actor, poet and writer, before feeling the call to the priesthood.  As a young priest, Fr. Wojtyla, was a university professor in Poland, who attracted students because of his profundity, communication skills and warm and candid personality.  Many of those college students became lifelong friends, who he helped through marriages, family and vocations.  He experienced firsthand the wrath of Nazism, followed by Communism in his homeland.  Ironically, he later helped bring down Communism in Poland without a single shot being fired.  He was elected pope in 1978 and served in that capacity until his death in 2005.  His passion for marriage and the family grew stronger during his papacy, as he developed the Theology of the Body, which started gaining form while he was still a university professor.  He wanted to be known as the pope of the family.  On April 27, 2014, Pope Francis canonized him, along with Pope John XXIII, as saint.  His feast day is October 22nd...