I grew up within a mixed marriage, Catholic Mom and a Dad who stood silently on the side, letting Mom call the shots about us kid’s spiritual upbringing. He put on his suit for Sunday mass only twice a year, Easter and Christmas. Other than those two days my father let my Mom go it alone.
Every Sunday, every Holy Day of Obligation, Mom loaded us into our station wagon, a proper brood of shining, bathed children, four boys with crew cuts and me, a blond angel in a dress with petticoats, socks with lace at the ankle, patent leather shoes (black) and a bad attitude. Church was boring and I hated it.
We all got started in our education at Catholic Schools and for this or that reason we changed to public schools someplace during elementary school, I suppose soon after Mom felt like we had the basics deep in our souls. It was an illusion though. Most of all with me. By eight I knew enough that I simply didn’t buy it. There was no epiphany for my falling out with god. Maybe part of it was watching my Dad standing with us uncomfortably and then sitting while we knelt at the correct places in the liturgy and seeing how glazed over he looked when reciting the Lord’s Prayer. If you listened close enough you could tell he wasn’t really praying. It was lip sync. My father lip synced the “Our Father”.
I had fights with my Mom about going to church. She knew I found it boring but she assumed my boredom equated with laziness. I asked her insightful questions about her devotion and she would not answer with anything more than,
“It is personal. You have to go.”
I argued with her until I graduated from high school and told her then I was done with church. My father’s face was masked with unhappiness over me making my Mom so unhappy. I agreed to go to mass with her when I was home and then promptly left to go out of state to college.
In Virginia, tucked away in my third floor dorm room, I found out Sundays were a wonderful day of the week. I quit hating the day and used it to my benefit- sleeping off keg parties, engaging in casual morning sex with a few boys who prompted exploration, reading books for my Monday morning English class, cramming for exams. I also used Sunday for soul searching and I created my own path through agnosticism figuring out for once and for all that religion is something manufactured by men to explain away fear and loneliness and a bunch of stuff that we humans simply don’t understand.
I came home from school during Christmas break and found out my father was taking classes to become a Catholic. I admit to feeling heartbroken. He had never talked to me of his feelings about religion. I asked when I was younger why I had to go to church and why he didn’t go and was told,
“It is personal. But when I married her, I promised your Mom you kids would go.”
I asked deeper questions too. He would not answer me. I suppose this was also a part of the marital promise.
At 18 (he was 49) I guess he felt like he could finally talk to me. I guess he felt like he owed me an explanation or maybe he felt exempt from any guilt about my lapsed status. He, afterall, had not done anything to keep me from my Mother’s faith. He told me, but in a wooden way,
“I want what she has.”
He was talking about my Mom and her unflinching belief in God and the comfort she recieved in life because of it. I guess he was suggesting that there was nothing else to do except believe. I always had the problem that I didn’t believe in the church and faking was a misery. I always assumed that my Dad felt the same way. Only, now he seemed to be buying into it. I felt like we needed to have a long talk, alone together.
Before that could happen I went back to school. My Mom called me the day my Dad was Baptized and took his first communion. She was over the moon. My Dad didn’t get on the phone. I supposed he couldn’t find a way to lip sync that he was a Catholic now.
Soon afterwards I came home for the summer. My Dad was away on a trip by the time I got there. A few days later his best friend called to tell us that he had been killed in an accident. All of my brothers came in from their far flung lives and we supported and watched over our devastated mother. She and my Dad had a strong and loving, long marriage. What was she going to do? How would she survive without my father by her side?
I realized it was her faith that was holding her together. Her priest was sure of it too and talked with me about how I didn’t really need to consider transferring closer to home to keep an eye on her. I did anyway. Somewhere in the months that followed she talked to me about her concern that my Dad didn’t get last rites. Her priest had assured her that my Dad was right with God, having been so recently Baptized. I reminded her that my Dad was a good person, a great Dad, an honest man with impeccable morality and suggested that these attributes must count for a lot. My Mom was so certain of the path her faith had mapped out she wasn’t sure if she should really believe what she knew in her heart, if she should really believe what her priest had told her especially since Church doctrine told her otherwise.
I run on a different sort of faith. It is a faith born of what makes sense. If there is a heaven, even if I don’t believe there is, then my father would be there. Of this I am sure.
The Church has its rules. The church has its sacraments. Without them, at death, you are at risk for damnation. My father so loved my mother he could not let her suffer the fear of his eternal damnation. I don’t know how he knew what was soon to come for him. Was it premonition or just the belief that husbands go before wives?
And so he lip synced.