Saturday, March 15, 2014

Our Father Who Art ... Where?


Mindy (not her real name) was one of my actresses.  She turned 30 and panicked.  She paid thousands of dollars to a dating service and began hyper-dating, a lunch date and a dinner date every day with a different guy for several weeks straight.

Finally she settled on a guy who proposed to her.  Disaster was written all over the relationship.  He was strange and very controlling of her.  She invited me to her wedding.

I wrote her and told her that I could not come to her wedding because I did not think she was making a wise choice in marrying this guy.

She never spoke to me again.

Apparently, I was the only one who had said anything to her.  Her father, at least, remained silent, as far as I could tell.

***

Here's the dynamic of more than one family out there.

The teen daughter is highly sensitive and capable, but is given absolutely no discipline whatsoever.  The father withdraws from the family - either by means of over-work or simple abandonment - and the mother does her best to pick up the pieces, all by herself and without his help.  The daughter is depressed and miserable.  She cuts herself, does drugs, drifts away.  Dad does everything but that daily demanding up and down thing called being a father to this girl.  He works later every night, goes on more business trips, makes more money to pay for his daughter's numerous therapists and even more numerous "meds".  But he doesn't come home, and when he is home, he's not really there, if you know what I mean.

When it's a son that's been psychologically abandoned by his father, the dynamic is different.  But either way this scenario plays itself out all over the place.  Drive down a suburban street - even a very affluent suburban street (especially a very affluent suburban street) - and count the houses.  Divide by two or three and you'll be pretty close to estimating the number of households (I hesitate to call them families) who live like this - or worse.

Child abuse is a horrible thing.  Child neglect is a form of abuse.

***

I know a young woman whose father left the family when she was under the age of five.  She's smart enough to know it's not her fault that Daddy left her and her mother, but she lives her entire life as if it is indeed her fault.  She obsessively compensates for this "core shame", she targets older married men for seduction, she's always seeking a male figure who's just out of reach and inaccessible, and if he becomes accessible in any way, she dumps him and runs.  She flirts with bisexuality and Lesbianism.   She becomes hungry for power and success in a man's world.  She occasionally uses drugs and binge drinks.

Meanwhile, Daddy lives alone and has a secret perversion that only the family knows about.  He spends his time getting his kicks as far away from his wife and children as he possibly can.  He's "found himself".  He's privately pleased with his perversion.  He's happy.

***

We were friends with a Catholic family who lived near us.  The father was transferred to a city over 400 miles away.  The mother refused to move with him, claiming that she didn't want to take her children out of the parish school.  It was supposed to be a temporary situation, until he found a job back home, or until he talked her in to moving the family to be with him.

That was 12 years ago.

The mother and father still live in separate cities.  He comes home every other weekend to see his family, and vacations with them one week every summer and at Christmas.  He's been doing that since 2002.

His son was four when the father left home and the mother stayed in St. Louis with the kids.  The son is now 16.  He's a young man who has spent almost his entire childhood without a father.

Mom and Dad are married.  The mother is active at the Church - almost too active, over-volunteering.  Everyone in the parish knows about the situation and knows that - by their own choice - this couple is living a kind of de facto divorce.  This has been public knowledge for more than a decade.

The pastor of the parish has never, to my knowledge, confronted either the father (who's never there), or the mother (who is always there) about this - or even counseled them, for that matter.  She calls her pastor Father, as we Catholics tend to call our priests.  Like her biological father, who is too timid to be emphatic with this woman about the damage she is doing and has done to her family, her spiritual father simply ignores the situation and drops the ball.  Doesn't want to offend her, or assumes it's not his business, I suppose.

***

There is one aspect of the Catholic Church in the modern world that is the constant that runs through arguments about the liturgy, politics, evangelization and so forth.  Left or right can agree on one thing.

What is undeniably true in our Church today is that the bishops have abdicated their authority.

The Apostles have left the building.

The only thing they're supposed to do is witness for Christ - which means teach, admonish, encourage, and present us all mature in Christ (Col. 1:28).  But it is the one thing most of them never even seem to try to do.  As a rule, they manage (or mis-manage) their dioceses physically and financially, but they never manage them spiritually.

***

So what do we have in the world around us?  From the ghetto - where fathers are deliberately and conspicuously absent, to the suburbs, where fathers are sometimes physically absent and where father-ing is often absent, to the Church where bishops and their priests likewise are found to neglect being the "Fathers" we term them to be - we have a society where at a very deep level we are beginning to wonder, "Who's your daddy"?