Reflections on the death of my father

 

My father almost never went to mass when I was growing up. My mother took us children to our suburban parish’s 4pm Saturday anticipated mass. My father stayed home and took a nap. When we got home, us kids woke him. Mom baked a pizza, for Saturday was pizza night.

I recall us attending mass on Sundays on a few rare occasions, perhaps Palm Sunday. As an aside, I always felt revulsion at the folk singer guitar-and-tambourine group camped out on the right side of the altar at those Sunday masses. Saturday masses and the Wednesday school masses always had organist accompaniment. It was Mass.  But I digress. On Sundays, my mother did the weekly household laundry and ironing. It was anything but a day of rest for her.

Several times, I tried to ask my father why he didn’t go to mass, but he wouldn’t respond. As in, he literally would say nothing. There was stony silence. After a few tries, one got the message that you aren’t to ask that question. Accept that you will not know, just as you will not know how old your father is until your 5th grade religion class family tree assignment requires him to reveal his birth year. (Years later, you learn your father lied by several years to make himself seem younger. But I digress.) My father’s now dead and buried and I don’t know why he wouldn’t go to mass with us. I’m not ready to ask my mother. Part of me is afraid to find out some horrible truth, like he was an atheist or something.

Around age 25, I learned that my paternal grandfather had been Protestant. At that age, I was Catholic in name only, having stopped going to mass after leaving home for college, and fully immersed in the gay lifestyle. Nevertheless, I felt shock and shame that I wasn’t “pure” Catholic. My grandparents had a mixed marriage, it turned out, permitted by my Catholic grandmother’s family on the condition that any children would be raised Catholic.

All of my father’s schooling was Catholic: the Chicago neighborhood parish grade school, an all-boys Catholic high school staffed solely by priests, and a Catholic university. By the time my siblings and I were in Catholic grade school, all the teachers in our suburban parish school were laity. My father enjoyed telling us stories about the school sisters of his youth, and their strict discipline; How they’d rap you on the knuckles with a ruler, or make you stand in the corner, drag you by the ear, or otherwise ensure order though corporeal punishment, and how lucky us children were that our father didn’t whip our asses with a belt like grandpa had done to father. There was pass before school every day, in Latin, with the priest facing the altar. Strict parish boundaries meant my father had to walk a half-mile to his parish school, instead of going to the parish a block from his house. Later as a teenager, he took a bus or walked to a mile to high school.

After college, my father was drafted into the army, and then spent years focused on himself and building a career. He lived with his parents. Eventually, one of my father’s coworkers dragged my father to a Catholic singles dance where he met my mother.

My father openly told us children that he’d wanted a simple wedding ceremony at a courthouse in downtown Chicago. Instead, his Polish fiancé’s family engineered a big wedding, at a prestigious church, officiated by a prestigious cleric. Home movies shows my mother and father both kneeling at a prie dieu and receiving the Eucharist on the tongue at their wedding.

Children came. All were baptized Catholic and once again, home movies show my father attended. He went to our First Reconciliations, our First Communions, our Confirmation, and the rare “high holiday” Sunday mass. He always remained seated at Communion time.

When the nest was empty, and retirement from work accomplished, my mother became a Church Lady. She went to the Church Lady meetings, baked brownies for bake sales, and volunteered for parish garage sales, etc. It was then that my father resumes weekly mass attendance. I get the feeling it was more out of respect to my mother and avoiding her any further embarrassment for having a non-believing husband than any personal conversion.

Once, my mother told me my father went to confession at their parish because there was a visiting priest; Dad wouldn’t have to confess to the pastor who’d see him every week. So my father was a man of some pride. Again, until age 10 my father refused to tell us children how old he was! When I was 16 I found out (only by accident) how old he really was. Mother later told me that father didn’t want us to think of him as an “old man,” so he kept his age secret. I always thought that silly. Shouldn’t he expect us to love and respect him no matter how old he was?

I’m the last person in the family who saw Dad alive. As he lay sedated, wheezing, and dying two weeks ago Saturday, I stayed with him for a while after the rest of the family went home for the night. Kneeling down next to his bed, holding his hand, I asked him to accept Jesus, to forgive anyone he held a grudge against, and I implored Jesus to visit me with any suffering that would merit my father entrance into Purgatory at the least, if not Heaven.

The next morning, I woke up at 6:45am and lay in bed for a long time. After 20 minutes, mother phoned to say Dad passed away at 6:45.  I went to confession before Mass that morning and prayed for him throughout the Mass, offering the consecration of our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity to God for mercy on the soul of my father.

Visitation and funeral

The visitation and funeral were several days later. A wise cousin counseled me that, “There are two times when a woman gets whatever she wants: The day she marries her husband, and the day she buries her husband.” I deferred to Mom on a lot of the wake and funeral arrangements and offered my input when asked. That meant “No” to the ugly 1970s holy card design she eyed, and instead selecting a traditional, overtly Catholic holy card design. It also meant requesting Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon) and warning a sibling who’d asked to deliver a eulogy, “Do not canonize Dad.” I would not have made some (perhaps any) of the music selections Mother chose for the mass. I would have preferred not having to enter the sanctuary and read the Second Reading, but one has to choose their battles. On the whole, it was as solemn, reverent, and dignified as a suburban Novus Ordo funeral mass could be. (There were no Sanctus bells run at the consecration – that was jarring.) My family is not one for exuberant displays of emotion. Only a niece cried openly.

All dads go to Heaven?

I have it on the assurance of many well-wishers, one deacon, two priests, and a religious sister that my father is in Heaven. I lost count of how many well-wishers at the wake pledged to us that, “He’s in a better place.” I absent-mindedly replied to one lady, “We hope so…” Mother pursed her lips, flashed her familiar “Polish Mother look of disapproval,” and gently shoved me in the elbow. Oops.

As an aside, a thoughtful even brilliant relative brought in sandwich trays and cookies from Costco to the funeral home during the wake. The funeral home had a kitchen and lounge. When a family has to stand vigil with their dead for six or more hours, receiving a constant stream of visitors, the stomach does growl and leaving the premises to dine-out isn’t a practical option. Do consider this courtesy the next time a loved one must wake their dead! I’m grateful for the Church Ladies who literally dragged my mother by the arm to “go eat something.”

Near the end of the wake, a deacon from the parish led us all in prayer. He told us father’s in Heaven, in a better place. “But we need to pray for him.” At the funeral mass, the parish priest also canonized my father in the homily. A week later I attended a mass offered for my father and the priest and a religious sister again canonized him.

Our family has a younger relative who’s an open, obvious lesbian. My mother granted her request to serve as a pallbearer. The woman, whose hair is closely cropped, wore a man’s shirt and tie.

As I have no wife, I accompanied my mother in all the processions. She declined a graveside interment, to my disappointment, so we concluded the funeral at the cemetery chapel. Having kept a stiff upper lip since shedding tears Sunday morning, I nearly broke down as the bugler played taps after the American flag was removed and folded from my father’s casket. At the luncheon that followed, someone remarked on how “sonorous” I sounded delivering the Reading at Mass.

Postscript

I was dismayed but not surprised that at no point during the wake or funeral did anyone mention Purgatory or Hell. I wonder if I’m the only person who’s truly prayed for mercy on my father’s soul, either before or after his passing. The wake should be about praying for the deceased. The funeral mass should be about offering sacrifice for the soul of the deceased. Neither are about canonizing them, or solely for the consolation of the family. Wasn’t it Our Lady of Fatima who said so many souls fall into Hell because they have no one to pray for them? I trust that the Lord heard my pleas, but as of yet, suffering has not visited me. Perhaps it may be many years, perhaps even requiring the sacrifice of my own life. So be it.

Every morning in the two weeks since my father died, I’ve lied in bed saying a rosary for him after I awaken.  In those two weeks of daily rosaries, I’ve experienced no serious temptation to impurity, my primary vice.

As the Church Militant, pray for the souls of your dead family and friends. Pray for the souls of the priests who baptized and ministered to you throughout your life. Pray for the poor souls in purgatory, the Church Suffering, for those souls forgotten, for those sisters, brothers, monks, priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes who have no one praying for them. Pray for those elderly Catholic men and women lingering in Purgatory, having been denied Catholic funerals by their apostate descendants. Pray to the souls in Heaven, the Church Triumphant, to intercede for you in your pursuit of holiness and obedience to the Gospels.

Lord, have mercy on the soul of my father. Daddy, if you’re in Heaven, pray for me.

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My first time

I lost my virginity at age 19 with a stranger I met on the Internet.

He drove 45 minutes from another town to pick me up. I was in summer school at college. We spent two days at his place. His roommate, a girl, was away for the weekend. He drove me back to campus. He was about five years older than me. Looking back, I’m lucky he wasn’t unstable or dangerous.

He was patient with me. I was nervous and had never really even kissed a girl. He wanted to go “all the way” but I wasn’t comfortable with sticking my you-know-what in his you-know-where. Actually it was about three years before I did that… but I digress. There was nothing romantic about it, but he was “nice” if not emotionally distant.

As I wrote in a previous post, the Internet plays an integral role in the explosion of homosexual and other sexual deviances washing over our culture. Before online chat rooms, smartphone apps and craigslist existed, guys met other guys at shady bookstores, or gay bars, or bathhouses, or public restrooms, etc.

In the two years that followed, I had a handful of additional Internet hookups. I told myself I was bisexual, holding onto the hope that I’d find a girl, date, get married, have kids, and all the rest. I did have a friend in college who was “out.” My friends accepted him. But for me, coming out was unthinkable.

Who knows how different my life would be had I been born 20, 30, 40 years earlier. There wouldn’t have been an Internet to introduce me to other guys, or gay pornographic photos. The prevailing cultural forces would’ve pushed me towards dating and marriage. Who knows how different my life would be had I had a different childhood, more supportive and nurturing parents, a stronger male role model than my father, and so on.

Yet one can’t go through life lamenting all the “woulda / shoulda / coulda’s.” As a confessor once told me, I have a cross to bear, as did our Lord. It will never leave me. In this case, it’s not about the journey, it’s about the destination. (Heaven.)

How the Internet facilitated my homosexuality & later return 2 the Faith

Decades from now, when historians look back on the 21st century’s sudden, tragic, but temporary infestation of homosexuality, they will have to credit the Internet as one of the causes.

Twenty years ago, as a freshman in college, a friend introduced me to IRC, or Internet Relay Chat. IRC is an international system of chatrooms. Back then IRC (and most of the Internet) was populated by universities and their students. Keep in mind this was a text-based Internet, before the popularity of NCSA Mosaic and other browsers that turned the World Wide Web into a graphical “Internet.”

Over time, IRC became a drug and an escape for me. Alienated from the world I was in, IRC allowed me to pretend to be someone else, talk to people who didn’t judge me by my gangly looks, and to explore the forbidden.

IRC and the Internet were my gateway drug into the homosexual lifestyle. Usenet (bulletin boards or forums) offered free access to homosexual pornographic photos. What’s more, IRC and the Internet helped me and countless others struggling with same sex attraction realize that we were not alone. Maybe I wasn’t normal, but I wasn’t alone in my struggles.

Eventually, I would have my first homosexual experience with a guy I met on IRC. Eventually, I would go to my first “gay bar” with a guy I met on IRC. Eventually, I would have brief, random, risky sexual “hookups” with dozens, possibly hundreds of men I met on various online chat and “hookup” web sites. Eventually, I would consider it normal —because the homosexual lifestyle if not the culture itself now— to routinely view hard core pornography and commit sins of the flesh.

So it has been for perhaps millions of other homosexuals over the past 20 years. The Internet’s allowed them to turn on the closet light and see they’re not the only ones inside, and made them feel more comfortable about coming out.

That development, that creation of an online network of homosexuals and catering to our filthy desires, helped many men and women “come out” to friends, family, coworkers, etc. More people can say they know someone who’s “gay” and “they’re normal just like me.” Ellen Degeneres coming out as a lesbian on her 1997 television show was a watershed moment. NBC broadcast a show, “Will & Grace” with a openly gay characters. The granddaddy of reality TV, CBS’ “Survivor,” starred a homosexual who won the inaugural season. And so on, and so on, and so on. So by the time that the Massachusetts Supreme Court raped the definition of marriage in 2004 to include men and women with same sex attraction disorders, a lot of the culture had been acclimated to “the gays.” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and the metrosexual look were in.

. . .

In 2005, Blessed Pope John Paul II died. He was the only pope I’d ever known (I was three when he was elected so I have no memory of Popes Paul VI or John Paul I). I’d never lived through a papal conclave before and was drawn to news coverage (online, of course; who buys newspapers or watches TV?), especially after Benedict XVI was elected.

I wanted to learn more about who he was. The media delighted in speculating how he got elected. Many reporters cited his homily during the Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff, as an inspiration for his fellow cardinals that he was the man they were looking for.

I read the homily and still have a printout of it. He said,

We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

That reference to “a dictatorship of relativism” intrigued me.

The election of Pope Benedict XVI and later, his moth proprio Summorum Pontificum, were turning points in my reversion to the faith. Slowly but surely, the Holy Spirit, surely the prayers of my grandmother, perhaps the intervention of Our Lady, and some spectacular resources on the Internet (which I really should summarize in a future post), I inched my way back to Holy Mother Church.

I was suicidal by my third month of college.

I was suicidal by my third month of college.

It wasn’t because I struggled with same sex attraction. It wasn’t because of loneliness or homesickness. It was because I had turned on myself.

Growing up, my family constantly reminded what an embarrassment I was, how I couldn’t do anything right, how I’d never get a job in the real world, how I was destined to end up homeless living at O’Hare Airport, and how unwanted I was.

Homo’s say, “a mother always knows” when her son is gay, even from an early age. Perhaps that was the case with me, perhaps my parents knew early on. As a kid, I was always the last boy picked for the team in sports. I threw like a girl. I was afraid of the ball. I couldn’t run fast enough. I couldn’t do a pull up. I didn’t like sports. I wanted to be a home decorator. Growing up in the home environment I did, my social skills were, um, “lacking.” As a teen, I was ugly and scarred by acne. No girl looked twice at me. I didn’t have a single friend in high school. I was self-enclosed and sealed-off.

“I don’t make mistakes” my father once told a teenage me. “No, I take that back,” he continued, looking me straight in the eye. “I made you.”

Yet another time, driving me to (Catholic) high school, my father matter-of-factly told me that “the only solution to your problems is suicide.” More than once, my mother told me that she wished I had never been born, and that she wanted to strangle me.

After 17 years of being told I was worthless, useless, and unwanted, I believed it. As a college freshman, on my own for the first time, without my parents around to reinforce those messages every day, I started to fill the vacuum myself. “They’re right, you’ll never been anything, nobody wants you, just end it.” (No, I didn’t hear voices.) I thought about killing myself. Never quite to the point of “how.” But I entertained the topic of “what if…” and was surely a candidate for anti-depressants.

While I had no friends in high school, I did make some friends in college. I had my first “boy crush” on a guy I became good friends with. (This was back when I was conscious I was attracted to guys but had every intention of finding a nice girl, getting married and having kids as was expected of me.) This friend was also Catholic. We’d go to the local Newman Center on campus. He joined its Knights of Columbus. We both went on a Newman Center-sponsored retreat one weekend.

But during second semester, I witnessed him spiral into drugs: Pot, LSD, who knows what else. He wasn’t going to class and was hanging out with stoners. Everybody saw the dramatic change and knew where he was headed. He wasn’t the same guy I befriended months earlier. I attempted to confront him directly, but, addicts deny, deny, deny. I’d give him the silent treatment and ignore him, hoping he’d realize that he was going to lose friendships. Didn’t make a difference. Whoever his demons were, they were winning. I couldn’t stop him; he had to make that choice himself.

That realization was a turning point for me. I couldn’t stop my friend, I couldn’t save him, and hey, that applies to me too. No one can save me, fix me, but myself. Maybe I couldn’t change the circumstances of the previous 18 years, but I had a say in the next 18, and beyond. Over time, I stopped beating myself up psychologically and stepped back from the abyss I’d been inching towards.

Even in my darkest days, however, I always held onto a sense of hope. Even when nobody else believed in me, I did still believe in myself and found the strength to soldier through. How much of that was the Holy Spirit, or my guardian angel, or a dear grandmother offering up prayers for me, I do not know.

It would take me another 18 years to forgive my parents, and almost as long to come back to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

-=-

With this post, I resume blogging. Back in November, I told myself “the next post has to be autobiographical, and it has to cover college.” It took me two months to come up with this, but only about an hour to write (and rewrite, and rewrite) it.

I was an atheist in high school

I was an atheist in high school.

Well, the first year or two.

What pushed me away from the One, True Faith? I’d chalk it up to home, culture and a friend.

I can remember being little and my mother teaching me how to say the Sign of the Cross. But she never took us kids to Mass until I hit first grade. She didn’t like boisterous kids in church, and in her mind, she wasn’t going to be part of the problem by bringing hers’.

We went to the anticipated Sunday mass on Saturday afternoons. I eventually became an altar boy. Sunday wasn’t the Lord’s Day. Sunday was laundry day for mom.

My father did not go to church with us. He stayed home and took a nap. He grew up Catholic and attended Catholic schools all the way through college. But apparently he fell away at some point in adulthood. I do not know why my father wouldn’t go to Mass with us. We’d try to ask, but wouldn’t get a response. After a while you realize it’s just “one of those things” that you don’t ask about. It just “is” and you accept it.

He goes now. My mom’s a certified Church Lady at her parish (regrettably, a “Eucharistic Minister”) so I think she shamed him into going. “How is it going to look if I’m going and my husband isn’t?”

But my family wasn’t overtly Catholic. My mother never talked about the faith, or tried to catechize us. I’ve never seen her pray the rosary. She never took us early for confession. Maybe they presumed school was handling that for us ( It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s and started to come back to the faith that I realized –and it pains me to admit this– that Easter is a bigger holiday / holy day than Christmas.

Traddy sidebar: The priest in our parish built a new church when I was in second grade. It embraced the “Spirit of Vatican II” with a semi-circular layout, and a Masonic-style “priest throne” at the center of the back wall with the tabernacle to his right and a shelf with Pope John Paul II to his left. Our pastor said the Eucharistic Prayers in Latin. That was “normal” to me. He also had a small crucifix facing him on the altar. But there was no crucifix on the main “back wall.” Instead, they had a bare wood cross above PJP2 and took the corpus from the old church’s crucifix and attached it directly to the brick wall over the tabernacle. So Jesus appeared floating or nailed to the wall, depending on your perspective. They always had organ music during school masses and Saturday masses. The few times we attended Sunday mass, such as for Palm Sunday, they had a guitar group. That always struck me as inappropriate. I took communion on the tongue, never the hand.

The Faith was not weaved into our home life or family life.

I also came of age during the 80s, the Gordon Gecko Wall Street age where “to get rich is glorious” and everything in the culture reinforced materialism and satisfying yourself. Reaganomics. BMWs. Not fertile ground for a young Catholic boy to grow into a young Catholic man.

Lastly, Woodstock. I entered high school in 1989. It was the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Love and tie-dye t-shirts made an alarming resurgence. A grade school friend got sucked into the nostalgia and by way of the Beatles, discovered Hinduism. He left the Church. I soon followed, determined to piece together my own religion, borrowing from Buddhism and other faiths. It was taking Cafeteria Catholicism to a new level. I also developed an addiction to checking my horoscope in the morning newspaper before school.

It would be an understatement to say my parents were not pleased. I was forced to continue attending Saturday mass. I was asked, “Why should you get Christmas presents if you don’t believe in God?” My mother required the family to “say the blessing” before dinner. But nobody sat me down and talked to me, tried to reason things out and pull me back into the fold. In the back of my mind, I told myself I would eventually circle back to the Catholic Church.

Within about two years, I did. What brought me back? The Catholic high school I detested. It was a cold, oppressive environment. I’m not making this up: My high school had no windows and the classrooms had no clocks. A cousin got suspended for dress code violations. But the religion classes were pretty solid. My freshman year, we were shown videos, GRAPHIC videos, of abortions. In my junior and senior years, we had a very orthodox teacher who was a grandfather but tried hard to engage us. It was the first time I heard that being Catholic was counter-cultural.

In my head and my heart, I was Catholic. In practice? We’ll explore that in a future post.

I realized I wasn’t straight in high school. In religion class.

I first became conscious of my same-sex attraction at age 16, sitting in high school religion class.

“The gays” weren’t on most people’s radars back then. They were people you snickered about, made AIDS jokes about. But our fervent and orthodox religion teacher took note of groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation and shared articles about them from Time and Newsweek. This was around 1992, when the “politically incorrect” movement was gaining momentum and “family values” were a presidential campaign issue. Looking back, he was a good teacher. Not one of those “Church of Nice” types. Most of us rolled our eyes at his “out there” spiels but he got his message across. Even if we rejected it.

Anyways. I don’t remember what exactly he said that particular day. But it triggered a spark of recognition / slap in the face that I was not straight. Like, BAM! “Dude, that’s you he’s talking about!” You, who fantasizes about the guys on the football team. You, who stare at the shirtless muscular guy in the Bowflex infomercials. You, who have no attraction to girls, or sports. You, who wanted to be an interior decorator when you were 10.

I never experienced despair or asked “why me?” Maybe that’s because I’d always been the dork, the nerd, the kid who threw like a girl, the kid who got bullied and teased and called names. I was used to being different. So I kept my dirty little secret to myself for the next two years. Never went to prom, or on a date.

I wanted to be normal. I wanted to find a girl, get married, buy a house, and have kids. I kept that hope alive for several years.

(To be continued)