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[UPDATED] Sorry, Hallmark; Men are forgetting to be Fathers!

“Men have forgotten God!”  Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously thundered this verdict in a 1983 speech after his exile from Soviet Russia.

He was speaking of both Western and Communist civilizations, and he clearly referred to “men” in the generic sense of all humanity, of both (or, as we might say today, all) genders.  It is hard to argue against his conclusion.

But today, on the eve of what the Hallmark Corporation has dubbed “Fathers’ Day”, another aspect of our amnesia is also evident.  Men have forgotten to be Fathers!  Our civilizational collapse is a clear result of both these plagues of memory loss.  (Of course, the two are pretty obviously linked.  One might identify the first forgetting as the ultimate cause, and the second forgetting as the proximate cause. Or vice versa.)

An overly-sweeping generalization, you say? Yes, of course it is. But it is a widespread and growing phenomenon. The statistics are hardly debatable, or even debated.  More than a quarter of the 121 million men in the United States (that is, over 30 million men) are biological fathers of at least one child under the age of 18.  Of those children, 17 million live in fatherless homes. The reasons are many: divorce, abandonment, incarceration, etc. But except for the death or overseas service of a father, they shed no credit on the modern father.

Children from fatherless homes account for:

Suicide: 63 percent of youth suicides

Runaways: 90 percent of all homeless and runaway youths

Behavioral Disorders: 85 percent of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders

High School Dropouts: 71 percent of all high school dropouts

Juvenile Detention Rates: 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions

Substance Abuse: 75 percent of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers

Aggression: 75 percent of rapists motivated by displaced anger

And now SCHOOL SHOOTINGS:  82% are boys from fatherless homes!

(These statistics even understate the damage, as some so-called “stepfathers” all too often turn abusive against “their children”.)

As I wrote a while back in “Suffer the Little Children”, “the importance of this issue cannot be exaggerated. The social pathologies that plague western society today may be traced to many causes (“we have forgotten God”), but one of the most obvious is the weakening of families.  Poverty in America is largely traceable to single-parent households, as violent crime is largely traceable to boys raised in fatherless households.

Too many men have forgotten everything about fatherhood. They have forgotten the “how” of it (except the biological inception part at the beginning). And the “why” of it is a blank, unasked and unanswered.  The presumption is that it is an unwanted side effect, an accidental result to be avoided or evaded at all costs. 

The “how”, after the first fun part, is the support of the mother as she nurtures the child they have created together.  After the birth, fatherhood means the building of the family to support both the mother and child as the child grows into adulthood.  It means being a role model of love and strength and maturity and responsibility.  It is a heavy thing, but men are built to carry heavy things.

As I said above, this is a sweeping generalization. There are many, probably most, fathers who are good supportive parents doing the best they can to raise and protect their children in this increasingly child-unfriendly environment. But the “other” fathers are helping to create and exacerbate the problems that are imperiling us all.

On the other hand, maybe I am worrying too much about this. We have now officially decided that women can be fathers at least as well as men can.  (Indeed, women can do anything as well as men except, apparently, most athletic events and sports.)  Men are increasingly regarded as superfluous. And they know it.

Ray Davies of the (aptly named ?) Kinks predicted this way back in 1970:

Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, 

It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world…”  [except for Lola, of course.]

What can we do about it?

1. Raise our children to understand the nobility and importance of being a good father.  Show him how it is done.  (Show our grandchildren too.)

2. Pray for a rebirth of appreciation of fatherhood in our society.  (If you are Catholic, direct a prayer to St. Joseph, the patron and model of fatherhood.)

3. And celebrate your own father every day. Pray for him, whether he is living, dead, or unknown.

Meet the Great Anthony Esolen

I’m back from a long posting delay. I apologize, but I have excuses (who doesn’t). I have been busy with the Cornerstone Catholic Scripture Study program, among other things. (If your church does not have it or another Bible study group for adults, it should. Cornerstone is one of many.)

And it’s the holiday season, and what not. End of excuses.

But I have been reading some other excellent online magazine essays by great writers, which I strongly recommend to you, dear reader.

Anthony Esolen may be the greatest writer in Christendom today. He publishes in many places, including the monthly Magnificat daily missal, as well as Crisis online and monthly on The Catholic Thing. Also from time to time on The Imaginative Conservative and First Things and who knows where else. OK, here’s who knows: while writing this I just discovered a website called Muck Rack (?), which has a profile and list of his published articles here. Some are unavailable without a subscription, but many or most are not. (The ones I have linked above are all free.)

His latest Crisis piece is entitled “Answering Anti-Christians”, and we should each memorize it (or carry a copy around in our wallets).

If you already read Esolen and any or all of these magazines and are reading my poor blog, I am overwhelmed with humility for even mentioning this. But if Esolen and any of these free sites are new to you, fix some coffee and start reading. Then let me know what you think, at “post a comment” below.

Check Out “Squirrely”

I see my good friend Mr. Moleman has posted a link to my Reminiscence about Mr. B (see below).

In appreciation of his kind gesture, I would suggest you take a look at his post “Squirrely”, a short story about the radical politics of the squirrels around us. You will enjoy it.

WILLIS A. BOUGHTON – A Reminiscence

In my misspent youth I was helped along by a remarkable man.  In the 1960’s, he was a youth group counselor for the MYF (Methodist Youth Group) at St. Andrews, a neighborhood church in a working class area of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Willis A. Boughton was born in 1885, so when I met him he was already in his 70’s; quite a contrast from the millennial hipsters so common in today’s church youth ministries (see babylonbee.com for more info on the type.)

FAITH, HOPE, LOVE, a Tangled Thread (Recently Updated)

St. Paul famously articulated the theological virtues: “Now abideth these three; Faith, Hope and Love.”

While he went on to crown one of them above the others (1 Corinthians 13:13, “the greatest of these is love”), he otherwise left this trinity of virtues unclarified. How are they related? Is there a connection between them?  Aren’t faith and hope the same thing, kind of? Did he separate them just to have three things in the list?

Elsewhere we read that “faith is the substance of things hoped for”, which certainly suggests a strong linkage between those two. The continuation of that passage (in Hebrews 11:1), “and the proof of things unseen”, fits our modern definition of faith more closely. But the link between faith and hope seems to want further consideration.

More modern translations suggest somewhat different meanings. The NAB calls faith “the realization of what is hoped for”. The NIV has “faith is being sure of what we hope for”.  The Jerusalem Bible reaches further, with “only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for”.  The Greek text uses the word “hypostasis” which elsewhere is usually translated as “substance,” so I stick with the RSV or KJV.

Faith, then, is the underlying reality of our hopes. But I am still confused about this “F-H-L” trinity.

Continue reading

Shape-Notes and Psalms

Have you heard of Shape Note Hymn Singing? I hadn’t until recently.

It is a traditional form of protestant hymn-singing, experiencing a small resurgence in parts of the country. Variously called “Fasola”, or “Sacred Harp”, it is beautiful, striking, sometimes boisterous and even raucous, and weirdly haunting. If you are not familiar with it, check out this clip. Going Home Mountain Shape Note singing – YouTube

The style (and many of the hymns) arose out of poor, rural, musically illiterate Appalachian communities, and are joyous celebrations of release from hard lives. They often follow the line of what were once called Negro spirituals (and are now properly African-American spirituals). Compare “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home” or “Deep river, my home is over Jordan”, with “I’m glad that I am born to die, from grief and woe my soul shall fly, and I don’t care to stay here long!”  They all speak from hard lives of misery, poverty and oppression, and they look forward to rest and relief in heaven.  Even putting aside the extremity of suffering that slavery added to poverty, the common themes are striking.  Life is hard but heaven is near; and so we turn to God.

Efficacy of Prayer?

I am fully convinced of the necessity of prayer (after all, everyone prays), and of the benefit I receive from praying. My prayers change me, internally, in my soul.  St. Thomas Aquinas calls it spiritual refreshment of the mind, and I can truly feel it.

But does it do anything else?  Does it actually benefit or help those I pray for?  If so, why?

Note: I do not ask how; if God wants to grant my prayers, it is certainly within His power.

But why?  Do I have some special “pull” with God?  If I ask Him to heal my sick brother*, will He do it because I asked?  Why not heal all who are sick?  Does He then withhold healing from those who have no brother to pray for them? That doesn’t sound like Him.

Continue reading

Retirement And Its Uses

What is Retirement?  In one sense, it is a wholly negative term, defined by what it is not.  As darkness is the absence of light, retirement is the absence of work (at least paid work).  A void in time, created for both positive and negative reasons.  The upside is that retirement, if properly prepared for, allows one to live without earning a paycheck.  Savings, Social Security, and pensions can combine to make paid work unnecessary. The negative is that the aging process can reduce or destroy the worker’s ability to continue working.

So retirement is the non-existence of the need to work for pay.   Some continue working in “retirement”, or past the “usual retirement age” defined by Social Security eligibility, for various reasons: poverty (lack of savings), avarice (desire to accumulate wealth beyond need), or because they enjoy their work, or boredom (“what else would I do all day?”).

The “what-else-would-I do-all-day?” folks make an interesting point.  What do retirees do with their time?

They seem busy, but if you ask them what they are busy doing, you get confused answers; they’re not sure why they are so busy, they just are. (Spare me your senility jokes.)

(An enterprising sociology professor should get a big government/NGO grant to study this. An army of clipboard-armed grad students following old people around all day, noting their every move, would certainly liven things up in Phoenix or Broward County.)

All joking aside, the use of time is an issue for everyone; but circumstances push it to the forefront for retirees.

Some clever person has observed that “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”  Coronavirus lockdowns have made this an everyday problem for many.

Time is a difficult thing to wrap one’s hands around.  In old age we have lots of time on our hands but very little time left on earth.  How does one deal with that?  We are told that time is relative, and anyone who has watched the last two minutes of an NFL or NBA game knows that to be true.

Some treat retirement as an extended vacation.  Others maximize social activities or hobbies.  The new-old (younger and healthier) retirees can turn it into a re-lived or re-imagined high school. Their idols are restored classic cars from the 50’s and 60’s.  Retirement communities like The Villages in central Florida cater to all these themes.

So retirement can be like an extended vacation, an endless life of socializing after golf, or an eternal summer before their senior year. (Or a post high-school “gap year” of travel.)

Is there another way of looking at it?

Jewish theologian Abraham J. Heschel touched on an aspect of all this in his essay “The Sabbath: Holiness In Time”.  He posits a contrast between time and space.

“Judaism is a religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time.

Every one of us occupies a portion of space…Yet no one possesses time.  We share time, we own space.

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time… We suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look in its face… ”

For Heschel, the Sabbath is the focal point of the Jewish sense of holiness in time.  And while retirement is generally defined in negative terms (non-work), the Sabbath reverses this.

“The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath.  It is not an interlude, but the climax of living.  Three acts of God denoted the Seventh Day: He rested, He blessed, and He hallowed the Seventh Day (Genesis 2:2-3).”

(This may appear similar to the conception of our modern week-end.  As an old song* had it, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” But that image of the weekend is closer to the high school model than to the Sabbath. Still…)

If the workweek is for the Sabbath, could that mean that the working life is for the retirement?

Prior to the last century, and even now outside the prosperous industrial world, it was and is certainly not the case.  Retirement, if it happened at all, occurred when the worker was no longer of any use in gainful employment, becoming an economic burden on his family (at best).

But here and now, retirement has expanded (even exploded) as a highly desirable, wealthy, and sustainable demographic.  Social Security in all developed countries provides an income floor.  Savings (often tax-sheltered) and private pensions add to the comfort level. The elderly are now, on average, among the most prosperous sectors of our society (there is, of course, a cohort of the elderly poor: but they do not predominate).  One has only to visit retirement communities in Florida, Arizona, or anywhere else warm, to see this.  Golf cart-accessible “villages”, boomer classic car gatherings (high school redux!), and second homes (for those who find Arizona too hot or Florida too muggy in summer) abound.

What’s wrong with that, one may ask? Nothing; but it is not the Sabbath.  It is not holy.

(Of course, modern retirement often resembles the customary modern secular sabbath, devoted to socializing and spectator sports.)

But can retirement be a time for awareness of and participation in the holiness of time?  If not “instead”, then at least “in addition”?  What would that look like?

Daily mass?  Morning and evening prayer?  Time with family?  Volunteering at the hospital, school, or food bank, to help those in need?

In fact, this describes the regular life of many good Catholics, even during their working years.  How much more so could retirement be?

Holiness in time: maybe  it isn’t just for Sundays anymore.

____________________

*1981 song by Canadian band Loverboy, containing the following:

Everybody’s working for the weekend

Everybody wants a little romance

Everybody’s goin’ off the deep end

Everybody needs a second chance,

The album was titled “Get Lucky”.

Moleman on…

My friend Mister Moleman just posted a new mini-essay, and it is worth a look.

Titled “Civilizations Can Die, Too“.  It is about…I can hardly say what.

Hope is the Hardest

I often think (and write) about Hope.  “The Little Girl Hope” was inspired by a French poet and a little neighbor of mine. “Hope Without Faith” was an early attempt to figure it out.

St. Paul recognized its place as one of the three theological virtues: “So Faith, Hope, and Love abide, these three.”  He then clarified that “the greatest of these is Love.

This is from the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, his justly famous ode to love.  “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love…”  You know the rest.

He is of course correct.  Faith that does not result in love is nothing, because an unloving faith is a false faith.  Faith is what produces love, and love is faith in action.  Faith is input, love is output.  Hope works the same way.  Hope is another output of faith.

The greatest of these is love.” But the hardest of these is hope. For me, anyway, these days.

Of course, there is no hope without faith. That is why we so eagerly grab for easy false faiths.  But hope built on false faiths is false hope. Continue reading