Just Because He Said So

When I was a kid, my parents were very strict. My father, in particular, was hard on me for things which seemed like no big deal. C’s were never acceptable in our house, and if we got B’s, they better have been high B’s. Essentially any grade under a 90 warranted punishment.  And it wasn’t that he yelled, necessarily – though there were plenty of times that he did yell – instead he’d shake his head with this overwhelming disappointment and tell me, “You can do better.”

He was the same way with chores. I remember him checking my work when I was young. I’d sweep the floor, and he’d come and walk on it in bare feet. It was a rare occasion that he smiled brightly and said “Good job!” More often he’d shake his head with that unbearably disappointed expression, hand me the broom and say, “Try again.”

And, unfortunately, he was always right. When he said, “Try again,” it was because I had flown through the chore without caring how it was done, leaving crumbs and bits of dirt all over. He was right about my grades, too. If I tried my hardest, I could do better. Anything less than a 90 means I was coasting.

Don’t even get me started on what would happen if I missed curfew, or what he did to be sure I was where I said I was. My father is like Dr. House – he can sniff out a lie, and then he can prove you are lying. The whole thing always left me feeling stupid & deceitful.

Once, in High School, I went with some friends to a party. We had the perfect alibi, we told all our parents we were going bowling. When I got home the next morning, my dad greeted me with a simple question. “How many lanes were there at the bowling alley?” I floundered. I’d never been bowling in my life. I had no idea how many lanes were usually in a bowling alley. I panicked. Lamely, I said, “Uh . . ten I think.”
“Wrong.” My dad said succinctly. “Try again.” He had called every bowling alley in town and asked how many lanes they had. Needless to say, after four or five dozen lies left me looking so stupid, I stopped trying to lie to him.

It was frustrating, and made me angry, and even hurt my feelings sometimes – but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that it was all because he loves me so much. Here my dad was faced with the enormous responsibility of preparing a small human being for life, and  he didn’t have very long to do it. So he was strict, he enforced boundaries and limits, and when I broke them he punished me. As an adult, now married and expecting a child of my own, I understand that what looked like arbitrary rules enforced just to make me miserable were actually carefully planned boundaries intended to shape me into a responsible, hard-working adult. What looked like anger and disappointment were, deep down, fear that he wouldn’t succeed as a parent. Fear that I’d be lost in the statistics of car accidents or binge drinking, and terror that I’d  that someday I’d move out of his house & not be able to pay the bills because I’d have no clue how to work hard.

Just so you don't get an idea that he's always an angry old man, here's Dad dancing at our wedding.

As my theoretical conjectures of, “when we have kids, I’ll . . .” become hard reality, Ogie & I look down the road just another 7 months, and I realize that I respect the hell out of my dad for his limits and boundaries. I know that I’ll do whatever I can to emulate him, because now that I’m standing on the other side, I know that what he did was always only for my good. He sought to protect me from myself, and to shape me into a responsible, capable adult.

In that, I know that my dad had his example in our Heavenly Father.

I can’t tell you how many times, as I sat in my high school religion classes, I looked at the Catholic Teachings against premarital sex, and artificial birth control, the rules about fasting, and assumed it was just an archaic patriarchal hierarchy enforcing arbitrary rules on its followers in order to exert control over them. What did it matter if I lived with somebody before we got married? Who did it affect if I used birth control? What difference did it make if I ate meat on a Friday in Lent?

Questioning those rules was the same as questioning my father – it gave me insight and understanding I wouldn’t have had if I had just blindly obeyed.

And the more I learned about sex & relationships, the more I realized that the teaching against premarital sex is to protect me. The more I learned – and continue to learn – about the complexities of my body, and the long-term effects (to say nothing of the ineffectiveness) of hormonal birth control, the more I see that the teaching against artificial birth control is rooted in deep respect for women.

Standing on the edge of parenthood, I see that the Church Teaching is so much more than just arbitrary rules put in place by a collection of celibate white men. It is a complex system of boundaries and limits meant to protect us from ourselves, and to shape us into saints. The God who created us, the God who died for us, the God who loves us beyond all imagining is in many ways must like my Dad. He wants to mold us into responsible, capable, compassionate human beings who serve and love each other above ourselves.  God wants the very best for us, He wants us to be immeasurably, unimaginably happy.

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