Fathers Stay Put: Of Paternity, Stability, and Canon 522

Efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance.
 ~ Pope St. John Paul II

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A Father’s Day Christmas Appeal from a Dinosaur Dad

Randi Zuckerberg, Mark’s big sister, has tech street cred – and not just because of whom she happens to be related to. She put in her time at her brother’s firm, where she got Facebook Live up and running, but she has also gone on to accomplish lots of other stuff – like a tech blog, as well as a radio show, a book series, and a cyber-restaurant chain.

So it was with great pleasure when I read the closing line of Randi’s profile that appears in this weekend’s WSJ. “No invention, no technology, is ever 100% positive,” she said, “and that’s something no one could predict in the early days.”

Now, I’m not sure what she means by the early days – like, does she mean those poor primates at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey that start belting each other with bones? In Stanley Kubrick’s vision, they were nature’s earliest adopters, and they sure couldn’t predict anything about where their tech adaptations would take the world.

I’m going to assume that Randi was talking about the more recent tech boom – say, since the 1980s, with the cultural tsunami of personal computers and internet, and now mobile gadgetry beyond even Kubrick’s (and Arthur C. Clarke’s) wildest dreams.

Yet, I must demur. There must be scads of people who saw the handwriting on the wall back when IBM and Apple, Microsoft and Motorola were taking over the world. I’m no genius, and even I was able to predict the downside of that tsunami. It’s why I’ve never carried a cellphone, and I never will.

It’s become my calling card – at least among my former students. I’ve been teaching nursing for about 15 years now, which means that I frequently bump into graduates in hospitals and other healthcare facilities around town. It’s always gratifying to see them flourishing in their profession of caring, “RN” prominently displayed on their ID badges, and to know that I played a small role in shepherding them along the way.

After the usual exchange of pleasantries (their “Are you still teaching?” and my “What unit are you working on?”), they’ll sometimes reminisce about my professorial peculiarities. “Don’t judge me for my tan,” they might say, tongue in cheek – for they remember how I mercilessly hammered the foolhardy recklessness inherent in intentional tanning. “You know I will!” is my standard rejoinder.

Regardless of whatever other idiosyncrasies they might mention, the cellphone thing almost always comes up. “Still no cell?” they’ll ask.

“Nope – you know better than that!” is my comeback. “I’m holding out.”

Often, they’ll just grin and shake their heads in wonderment, but sometimes they’ll add a comment: “You’re probably better off.”

There’s no “probably” about it. I’m deliriously happy to be free of smartphone servitude, and, without judging anyone, I only wish that I could convince more folks to adopt a similar lifestyle – to shed their dependence on the constant tug of their bleeping, buzzing Beelzebubs; to jettison the distraction and dangers (behind the wheel); to discover the joy inherent in approaching cyber-connectivity as a convenience rather than a crutch. I get so worked up about it, I sometimes envision myself as a latter-day quasi-Luddite heir to Marx: “Apple and android vassals of the world, unite! All you have to lose are your chains!”

Yet, here I am, writing this screed on a computer, and I’ll be posting it online. “Hypocrite!” you cry. “Charlatan!” Well, maybe. I have email and blogs and a Google account. Send me a message on Facebook (during waking hours), and chances are I’ll be back in touch with you within hours, maybe even minutes. I share YouTube videos with my friends, look up stuff on my search bar instead of hunting it down in a physical book, and listen to my cheesy Pandora mix (basically George Winston + Gregorian chant) as I work.

So, what’s the difference?

The difference is that I’m not attached to all that at the hip – literally. There’s no question that I rely on computers and the internet to maneuver in the 21st century. They are incredibly powerful tools – amazing even. There’s no question that they’ve made life better on so many levels for so many people. Besides, there’s no going back – the world is wired. “Resistance is futile,” you might say, but I’m not resisting it.

What I am resisting are the genuflections inherent in carrying those powerful tools around with us at all times. Yes, I have an old flip phone in my glove compartment in case of emergencies, but I rarely take it out. What I’m stubbornly resisting is cellphone servitude and addiction. I’m resisting the disruption that those infernal devices bring to our relationships and social cohesion.

And, so, on this Father’s Day, I’m going to leverage my paternity and make an outlandish request to my kids: No cellphones for a day. Not just at dinner, not just in the movie theater, but everywhere and under all circumstance throughout an entire day – heck, I’ll even narrow that down to just sunup to sundown. Note that it’s a request, not a demand – a Father’s Day application of Paul’s plea to Philemon: “Although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper,” he scolded, “I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man” (Phlm 9).

What’s more, I’m not even making the request for today – I’m not naïve! They’ll need time to prepare for this radical gesture.

No, I’m thinking ahead to Christmas – a mere 6 months away. Here’s how I picture it: Cookies in the oven, lights and greens being strewn about here and there, and all the traditional trappings of the season slowly, ever so slowly, making their appearance. The 24/7 Christmas station is on and has been since before Thanksgiving – and nobody cares that Bing Crosby’s version of that Hawaiian carol is on heavy rotation. Rushing here and there for last-minute gifts; travels homeward and warm greetings at the door.

And, on the appointed day, there’ll be a basket at the door. Maybe a simple wicker basket with tissue paper and tinsel, and we’ll all plop our gizmos and gadgets into it. I’ll even get my TracFone out of the glove compartment to throw in for good measure. It’ll be a belated Father’s Day gift to me, but I’d like to think it’d be a gift to the whole family. Imagine the conversations. Imagine the games we’ll play, the stories we’ll swap, the undiluted communion we’ll share. Imagine the interior sighs of relief to be free from constant distraction and mental noise. Presence as family presents all around.

Doesn’t that sound great? I know many other families do this routinely, so I want to give it a shot. I’m guessing everybody will enjoy it as much as I will. Maybe they’ll even follow my lead and swap their cells in for TracFones!

We’ll see. I’ll let you know how that goes.
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An Extended Circle

“Remember when he got his acceptance letter?” my wife and I asked each other (more than once). “Remember when we dropped him off in the circle that first day?”

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Wes Anderson Goes to Confession

All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.
~ C.S. Lewis

Last week, Ben and I went to see Wes Anderson’s new film, Isle of Dogs. Later that night, I dipped into The Screwtape Letters, which I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time. The combination churned in my subconscious as I slept, and this is what I woke up with.

For the proper effect, imagine George Clooney voicing the part of Wes. For the priest, try Gene Hackman, or maybe James Caan.

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EXT. SMALL PARISH CHURCH – TWILIGHT

Establishing.

INT. NAVE – DIM LIGHT

Camera pans from back of church along side wall, with Stations of the Cross and a St. Joseph side altar, and lingers at traditional wooden confessional. A small green light shines above the confessional door. WES strides into view and pauses in front of the door before entering.

INT. CONFESSIONAL – ILLUMINATED GRILL

A shadow of a bowed head is visible on the grill. WES enters, closes confessional door, pauses, knees down. In the dim light from the grill, half of his profile is visible, eyes open and fixed. He waits.

PRIEST: Yes, my child?

WES: Bless me Father, for I have sinned. (Pause.)

PRIEST: Yes?

WES: That is, I think I sinned. I must’ve sinned. I do a lot of things throughout the day, every day, and I’m bound to make mistakes. It’s a consequence of doing anything at all, but it would be worse if I tried to do nothing. If I could do nothing. Which I can’t. (Pause.)

It’s hot in here.

PRIEST: It can get warm.

WES: I know a good HVAC guy. Do you need a good HVAC guy?

PRIEST: No. This isn’t the right venue for networking. This isn’t a family gathering or a cocktail party where you might put in a plug for your unemployed HVAC friend. This is a confessional. This is where you confess your sins. Do you have any sins?

WES: Yes.

PRIEST: What are they?

WES: They’re insignificant.

PRIEST: What are they?

WES: They are lapses that defy my intentions and better nature. They are petty insults to God and creation and all of humanity. They are toy trains going off the rails; they are flecks in a sock that create blisters; they are blatant and small.

PRIEST: That’s true. What are they?

WES: What’s the point? I’ll keep acting and making mistakes, I’ll keep going off the rails. There’s no recourse, is there? Is there hope?

PRIEST: There’s always hope.

WES: That’s what you have to say from your side of the grill, but from my side, I know better. We all know better. We all know that making mistakes is what makes us human. It’s what we all have in common. It’s the one undeniable, irrepressible fact that binds us all together. That and death. To aspire to something different is to invite alienation and isolation. (Pause.)

Do you sin?

PRIEST: Yes. I’m a Christian.

WES: You sin because you’re a Christian?

PRIEST: No. I’m a Christian because I sin. I’m a priest, not a saint.

WES: What’s a saint?

PRIEST: A saint is a sinner who’s arrived. Do you want to be a saint?

WES: Can I want to want to be a saint?

PRIEST: I don’t know. Can you?

FADE TO BLACK

(Roll credits)
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Bridgebuilding, Barriers, and Fatherhood: St. Bénézet as Patron for Dads

In the breaking of bridges is the end of the world.
~ G.K. Chesterton

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Keeping the Showman Great: Of P.T. Barnum, Vows, and Fatherhood

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The father-son paradigm is ageless….
This is truly the key for interpreting reality.
~ St. John Paul II

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A Ditch to Die In: Of Boniface, Battles, and Being Dad

An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that
follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty….
~ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

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Bl. Ralph Milner: Of Rash Vows, George Bailey, and Dad-Martyrdom

Courage costs braver men less!
~ Frank Sheed

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The Becket Moment: Father’s Day for Fathers to Be

The die is cast, Thomas.
~ King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) in Becket

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A JPW Wake-Up Call

Junior Parents Weekend is a time where each of our individual families can be merged with the greater Notre Dame family.
~ Tommy Yemc, JPW 2017 Chair

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