Last Saturday Ryan got to do some good old-fashioned Man Work for a change. Uncle Adam had a stand of douglas firs on the front of his property that he wanted to take down. He has done a lot of research and thinks that oaks will grow quite well in their spot, providing more shade, and, eventually, acorns for food for humans and animals, so he decided to take down that line of firs to mill them into lumber.
Adam wisely enlisted the aid of the Betts brothers who have taken down a good many trees in their time. Specifically, they are far more familiar than Ryan and Adam are with the tall, straight pines of the Pacific Northwest. Ryan and Adam have only ever taken down the short, squat, deciduous trees of the Northeast, and we quickly learned that there is a world of difference between taking down a 40 foot maple and taking down an 80 foot pine.
Dane and Brennan showed us how to cable the tree to guide its fall. Their expertise was invaluable and enabled us to fell and log all six trees in just a few hours without any injuries or property damage.
The big logs we laid to one side, Adam plans to mill them with an Alaskan saw mill he can borrow from an in-law.
The small logs will be cut, split and stacked for firewood at a later date, and the brush will either be mulched or burned for a bonfire this summer.
Meanwhile, all the womenfolk (except Kathleen and Margie, who couldn’t be there) made scrumptious lunch and kept an eye on the kiddos. The kiddos kept an eye on their dads.
According to Aunt Maryanne, it was just as noisy inside as outside, with all the kids tapping on the window and yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!” at the top of their lungs.
The next day, Sunday, Uncle Adam and Aunt Maryanne came over to our house to visit.
We had supper of lasagna and then the grownups played Settlers of Catan, while the kids watched Disney’s “Robin Hood!”
The rest of the week has been pretty much ordinary. Mommy and Daddy have both been super busy with school and work, with Mommy working all day and Daddy working from mid-morning until late into the night. Daddy’s time with the girls is at breakfast…
Ellie is a huge fan of toast and jelly.
While Mommy’s main time with them is from just before supper until bedtime.
But we still make time for silliness:
And try to enjoy our weekends as much as possible.
And that’s all for this week folks. Have a great weekend and God Bless!
Recently a trailer for the movie “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” came across my facebook feed. It was not a typical trailer. Typically a movie trailer shows clips from the movie with pulse-pounding soundtrack, and possibly a deep, gravelly, middle-aged male voice-over. This trailer had scenes from the movie, but it had explanatory subtitles explaining how the movie related to real-life drug wars. It explained that the movie demonstrated how cartels bring a complicated reality to south and central America, and that the violence that erupts between them is more like a guerrilla war, or even a conventional war, than it is like U.S. gang violence. When that violence spills over onto American spoil two of the movie’s characters (who I gather were adversaries in the first film) will join forces to “start a war.” My assumption is that they were trying to aggravate violence south of the border in hopes that it would either draw the violence away from U.S. soil, or provide a reason for U.S. forces to engage in the war outside the U.S.
I don’t have much taste for war movies, or even crime movies, anymore, so up until now the trailer was disquieting but not particularly memorable. But it was the last line that really got me thinking. The final scene of the trailer had the words, “Come experience the excitement in theaters.”
Seriously? That’s what this is about?
I mean, I knew that’s what this was about. It’s an action film, designed to be exciting and to convince people to spend money to experience that excitement, ultimately in order to make money for the directors, producers, actors, investors, etc. Money is the goal, sex and violence sell. Of course they want you to come and experience the excitement.
I just didn’t expect them to be so… bald about it. So obvious.
Essentially the movie makers are selling an experience of adrenaline. In that sense they are no different than the makers of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battleground, Halo, or any of a thousand combat related video games. They are trying to simulate the excitement of combat in a marketable package, i.e. a package that involves no risk of bodily injury or death, no heat, dust, sweat, boredom, no training, no discipline, no obedience, no separation from family…
see where I am going with this?
I will not deny that war is exciting. Having spent some time in war myself I acknowledge that some of the most exciting moments of my life have occurred in war, formed of the level of adrenaline, focus, clarity and just shear aliveness that, for most people not saints, only occurs when your life is in jeopardy. I will go further and say that a young man could do worse than make a career of pursuing that excitement. It is not excitement that I am against, it is cheap thrills.
Violence, like sex, excites because it is a matter of life and death. We were made for life and death, for real struggle, real investment, real risk and real growth. That is we were made to fight real bad guys to rescue real good guys (both physically and spiritually). We were also made to make real love that forms real relationships and real babies. There is a proper place for both sex and violence in art, namely to illustrate the truth of these realities and to inform our choices about them in the real world.
The problem with video games and action movies is not that they are realistic and exciting, but that they are not real. When you go to a movie theater to watch people get killed on the big screen you invest nothing of yourself. You feel the rush and rollercoaster, and you may even have a significant emotional event, but when that experience is over you have not changed. You are still the same person you were before the movie. You may have a new appreciation of some topical issue of the day, you may be emotionally moved, you may have had a spiritual epiphany, but unless that mental and emotional reaction is translated into decision, and from decision to action, and from action to habit, it has not changed you.
It is necessary to bear this in mind when watching war movies. If you want to experience the excitement of a firefight, or of fighting a fire, or of digging up IED’s, then pursue that. Join the military, or the police force, or the fire department. Suffer through basic training, put in thousands of hours at the gym, thousands of miles on your feet, thousands of rounds on the range. Obey the orders of those appointed over you, deny your own inclinations, place yourself at the service of your team. Learn to be faithful in little things. Make your bunk, sweep your floor, scrub the platoon’s toilets. Do maintenance on your vehicles and equipment, take pride in them. Endure the boredom of sitting in a firing position all night, or of driving down dusty roads 12 hours a day. Accept the banality of having to answer to idiots and power-trippers who are in charge of you only because they have been in a few months longer. Miss your chance for a “real” fight time and time again, and still keep showing up to work, putting in your time, taking pride in your performance. Volunteer for harder, more difficult assignments, accept greater responsibility.
Sooner or later you may get your chance to enjoy the adrenaline rush. Or maybe you won’t. But if you pay your dues for enough years you will gain something better. You will learn that excitement is not an end, but a byproduct. It is something that happens when you are engaged in meaningful work, because meaningful work in this world is always risky, but you will not pursue the excitement anymore, you will pursue the meaning.
This is something you will not get from action movies or video games. You can only get it from life.
Recently I have been reading and mulling over two excellent articles over at The Public Discourse. The first is a piece by Anthony Esolen.While I cannot agree with all of his thoughts (most notably his historical nostalgia and his one-sided view of the Middle Ages in some of his books) he is always an impressive scholar, an intriguing thinker, and an awe-inspiring writer. His article focuses on the inadequacy of the maternal approach alone to raising boys up to become men, maintaining that mothers cannot teach manhood, only men can do that. Part of the current crisis in our culture, he maintains, is a crisis of boys who are not growing into men because their fathers are not teaching them.
The second piece, linked in the first, is a piece by Glenn Stanton, whom I had not heard of before. It is even better than Esolen’s piece, focusing on the anthropological origins, or more precisely the ubiquity, of the understanding of the necessity of teaching manhood to the next generation. This is not simply because society cannot do without manhood (which may loosely be defined as “prosocial masculinity”) but because the alternative is either asocial maleness, or antisocial maleness.
Both pieces concur on two crucial points:
Manhood is a learned behavior that must be taught to boys by men. It is a social shaping of male drives into a form that is useful to society rather than a drain on society, or a threat to society, and as such is ultimately at the service of female aims and ends (i.e. ordered to the stability and security of family life and the wider social environment). Nevertheless, it cannot be taught by women. It can only be taught by men. This is because…
Manhood is also an identity that is conferred only by peers, i.e. by older men, or at least by other men. A boy will not accept a definition of manhood that does not carry with it the authority of a man that he respects.
It is the second point that I want to take a closer look at, and where I go beyond both Esolen and Stanton. Both posited that untrained maleness is profoundly asocial, and must be trained to be useful to society by other men, because a boy will only accept the lessons and the designation from another man. They did not get into the weeds about why a boy needs to hear this from a man.
I think the answer lies partially in an understanding of what teaching and learning manhood entails. At its core there is an element of competition. Competition is the heart and soul of the school of manhood. There are many explanations for this, ranging from the theological to the evolutionary, but the observed reality is that (most) boys will engage in competitive activity when left to themselves. This runs the gamut from cooperative competition (sports team vs. sports team) to competitive cooperation (competing for position within a team) to outright competition and warfare (bullying, gang violence, etc.). Regardless of the venue (farming, logging, fishing, hunting, sports, military, business, finance, politics) males will compete with each other. Healthy males will compete in healthy ways, while unhealthy males will compete in unhealthy ways. I define “healthy” competition as competition which leaves the team (family, company, platoon, etc.) stronger. That is, competition which is ordered to the strengthening of the individual members and the overall social body is what Michael Gurian calls, “Competitive nurturing.”
This calls for a re-evaluation of our original proposition, i.e. that untrained maleness is profoundly antisocial. I would argue that in the strict sense, that is not exactly true. Maleness is not oriented toward a stable, peaceful, family-oriented society ordered around the raising and protecting of children. In that sense (what we usually mean by “social”) it is antisocial. Nevertheless, maleness is social, in that it naturally tends towards the formation of what may be called the primordial male social model, the gang.
In reality, the true loner is a very rare bird. Most unattached males throughout human history tend to congregate in gangs, small groups of half a dozen to a few hundred, depending on circumstances. They establish hierarchies by competition or outright violence. They define themselves vis a vis outsiders, they adopt a gang culture which may be simple or elaborate. After that they operate toward the outside world, not as a conglomeration of male individuals, but as a unit, i.e. a gang.
It is here that trouble begins, because it is in aggregate that untrained maleness is most definitely antisocial. In fact, because of the “us vs. them” mentality, coupled with unattached male energy, the natural tendency of a gang, any gang, is towards protecting our own, and pillaging everyone else’s.All warfare, organized crime, genocide, social violence, and tyranny in human history have been perpetrated by gangs, or by gangs of gangs. Very, very little of it is done by women. Probably even less is done by lone males.
In pre-modern settings, the most stable male relationships are not male-female, but rather male-male. I believe (without having conducted an exhaustive study) that male-female friendship or comradeship were rather an exception than the rule in pre-modern society. Sexual relationships (for men) do not bring with them any intrinsic requirement for stability, fidelity or even longevity. We run into the fundamental biological sexual cross-purposes, namely that the woman is intrinsically invested in the act of procreation, while the male is not. What is to her a commitment of her entire life, and a risk of her entire life, is to him no more than a fleeting pleasure, over in moments and soon forgotten unless actively recalled.
I believe it is this fundamental biological fact that underlies the need of male-male relationship. In essence, evolution has engrained in men the default position that women come and women go, but the battle buddy, the blood brother, the comrade-in-arms, he stays forever.
This is frightening but important. The flip side to this is that there is one observable, hardwired social tendency in the unattached male, which is his need to achieve the respect of his peers, to be identified by them as “one of the gang.” The gang instinct is a real and powerful need in men, often understated, nearly always misunderstood. (For the record, this is not the only social tendency in men, it just happens to be one of the strongest, one of the most underrated by our society, and the one most relevant to this discussion).
That is why the teenage boy needs to know himself a man in the eyes of men for it to mean anything. It’s nice when a mother praises him, or a sister admires him, or a girlfriend flatters him, or a wife affirms him. It is nice, but not sufficient, because it does not come from a man, and does not come in a manly way.
Male approbation is always earned, never given. Another way of putting it is that I love you as I choose, but I respect you as you choose. It is usually based on four characteristics: courage, strength, technical know-how, and dependability. These are the virtues of struggle and combat, the virtues of a gang of men battling for their lives and their families against whatever odds, which is why they must be tested by competition with other men, or with some outside element (nature, wild animals, rock-climbing, etc.) under the judgment of other men for the verdict to be valid. When a woman admires a man’s courage, she might be making an informed decision, or an intuitive judgment, or she might just be being nice, or she might be flattering him for some ulterior motive. The one thing she is not doing is testing him against a worthy opponent because she is not a worthy opponent. She may be worthy, but she is not an opponent. Human males are almost universally hardwired to shun competition with women (violence against women is something else entirely).
These are the virtues that male brains are hardwired to admire, to look for in other men, and to demand of their peers. A healthy society of men will hold themselves accountable to these standards one way or another.
It is important to note that these are “amoral virtues” meaning they have no necessary connection to any higher moral code. They are as much the virtues required of a missionary or pioneer as they are the virtues required of a gestapo officer or cartel hitman.
To summarize, as this has been long and somewhat wandering:
Manhood is a learned behavior that must be grafted onto basic asocial maleness in order for society to survive and thrive.
Untrained maleness will spontaneously form into gangs because that is how males define themselves, vs. other men.
Manhood must be taught to boys by men because of the fundamental drive of men to define themselves vs. other men.
It is only by building masculinity onto this foundation, the gang instinct, that it will be brought into service of women, and thus the family, and then of society at large.
There is only one adventurer in the world, as can be seen very clearly in the modern world, the father of a family. Even the most desperate adventurers are nothing compared with him. Everything in the modern world, even and perhaps most of all contempt, is organized against that fool, that imprudent, daring fool – against the unruly, audacious man who is daring enough to have a wife and family. Everything is against him. Savagely organized against him. Everything turns and combines against him. Men, events, the events of society, the automatic play of economic laws. And, in short, everything else. Everything is against the father of a family, the pater familias; and consequently against the family. He alone is literally “engaged” in the world, in the age. He alone is an adventurer. The rest are at most engaged with their heads, which is nothing. He is engaged with all his limbs. The rest suffer for themselves. In the first degree. He alone suffers through others. — Charles Peguy, Clio 1.
I have spent a good portion of my life in the space between an ALICE pack and a pair of combat boots. I first put on a rucksack at the age of 17, at basic training, when we had to train up for a culminating event which consisted of rucking 12 miles in 3 hours with 35 pounds. I did not realize at the time just how integral a part of my life that piece of equipment would one day become.
I began to take it a bit more seriously when I started training up for Selection in 2003-2005 (completed but did not pass), then again training for Sapper School in 2006 (completed but did not pass), and then again when I got back from Afghanistan in 2008, training up for Selection again, (passed, September 2008). I spent the next two-years of my life in Fort Bragg, slowly and painfully crawling across the wilds of North Carolina with an unhealthy amount of weight on my back.
During that time I averaged between 20 and 30 miles per week on my feet, either rucking, running or both. I remember hearing other guys say, “I cannot wait until I graduate and go to a team, and then I don’t have to do this outdated, leftover Vietnam BS! I’m just going to lift and get freaking huge and never ruck again.” They were saying it, and I was thinking it. I just wanted to get to that place where I could concentrate on getting jacked and tan, without having to spend 5 to 8 hours under the ruck every week.
Then I got to First Special Forces Group and spent the next three years on a mountain team. If you think military mountaineering is about scaling sheer cliffs in shorts, climbing shoes and muscle shirts, think again. It is mostly about… you guessed it. Rucking.
That’s really what it is. It’s all about carrying heavy things some more, just in steeper and more dangerous terrain; and sometimes over snow.
What is strange is that over time I have come full circle. I started out a starry-eyed young dreamer longing for fortune and glory and excited about doing real Army things! Rucking was fun because I saw myself sneaking into enemy held territory to wreak havoc on bad guys and rescue good guys. Then it became a chore that I had to do, but I didn’t mind because I was good at it. Then it morphed into a demon. At Selection they talk about the “fear monkey” which is an unfocused sense of panic that jumps on your back and sinks its dirty fingernails into your flesh. If you let it, it will sink its teeth in your neck. We also refer to the rucksack as “the tick” because it settles onto you and sucks the life out of you. It gets to be so painful and miserable that just the sight of the tick brings on the fear monkey. You literally panic at the sight of the rucksack.
That is when men either quit, or don’t. And that makes all the difference. If you don’t quit you will find yourself swallowing the fear and at the bottom of the cup you will find enjoyment. It’s the same thing with rock climbing (I am afraid of heights). I don’t think I have ever been on a rock face without promising myself that if I only get off this one alive, I will never climb again. It works every time. And I came to enjoy climbing.
You have to push through the fear to find the joy.
I was talking with a younger guy a while ago, a younger guy who is kind of drifting right now, contemplating his options without acting on any of them. I recommended he start rucking.
Right now my brother Adam and I are engaged in a men’s group doing a program called “Exodus 90.” I brought up the what-if, “What if we lived in a society where every boy had to pass selection as a teenager before he was allowed to hold a job or date a girl.” I may write a novel about that someday, if I get the time.
In Special Forces training the rucksack is a tool. It’s purpose is to force each man to that choice: quit or don’t quit. They don’t particularly care whether any individual quits or not. They are in the business of weeding people out who can’t hack it, and selecting people who can. They use the rucksack, partly because it’s tradition, partly because it is a highly useful skill in combat, but also partly because it is not sexy. If they used weightlifting, or crossfit, or something like that, there would be the unfortunate sexy component. You could look in the mirror in the middle of the suck and think, “Dang, I look good!” But they want a challenge that isn’t fun, isn’t interesting, doesn’t look sexy, and you just have to dig deep and do it anyway. If you can’t do something when no one is looking, and when it isn’t sexy, then they don’t want you. The rucksack will weed you out.
In this sense I use the ruck differently than they did at Selection.
I call the ruck “The Man Maker.” I truly believe that for boys having a hard time transitioning to manhood, the ruck is as good a way as any to learn what you need to learn. Its purpose is not to weed out those who can’t hack it, but to teach those who don’t know they can hack it that indeed they can. And to teach those who think they can that in fact they still have a lot to learn. I encourage rucking as a vehicle for bringing people to that place where they either have to quit or keep going, and then teach them that they can keep going.
Of course some will learn, and some will not.
And of course, the rucksack is not the only man maker out there. A herd of cows, a plot of ground, medical school, a fishing boat, a coal mine, a deployment, the seminary, a small business, a farm, a marriage, children; all of these can bring a boy to that same choice. In other words, life will make a man out of you if you accept its challenge.
That is how God designed it. That is the purpose of this world, to bring you to the moment of choice, which is alive and throbbing underneath every moment of our lives. The rucksack is a model for this, and video games are its antithesis.
Just be aware. Rucking will make a man (or a woman) out of you. But it will not make you a Saint.
Ian has been working hard to dig out the dirt around the house and prop it up on cribbing, preparatory to building a foundation and basement.
Unfortunately, while we were visiting, more storms and rain came through. On Friday our friends, the Daly’s had a tornado come right across the road from their house. It took part of the roof off of the neighbor’s barn next door.
And deposited it in the woods next to their lawn.
And it ripped half of the top of one of their old maple trees off and dropped it partly on the lawn and partly in the road.
That’s kind of the crazy thing about the area my family still lives in. It is not a prosperous area. They pay roughly six times what we pay in property taxes. All but three of the smaller dairy farms that used to be the beating heart of the region’s economy have been forced out of business since we were kids. The three that remain are struggling to make ends meet. The only farming left in the area that breaks even are the factory farms. Most of the industry has left the region. Pohl’s feedway is shut down. The local racetrack is within a few dollars of closing its doors. The only industry left is the milk-processing plant and it employs fewer people and moves less milk than it did before.
Milk prices are low and unstable, land taxes are high. Ian is out of the dairy business after the barn fire a few years ago. Now he is working full time for the town to make a salary and insurance benefits, working another full time on the farm trying to build it up into a beef operation and sell some hay on the side. He is literally working to keep a roof over his family’s heads (or more accurately, a floor under their feet).
In this kind of economy, money takes a bit of a backseat as the medium of exchange. It ends up being replaced by a barter system, which is built on a foundation of relationships. These relationships are based on reputation for dependability and competence. They take time and effort to build, and they are always mutual. Ian has spent the last ten years or so putting down roots in the area, talking and working with other farmers and workers in the area. He borrows tools and equipment worth more money than he could come up with in a decade. He can do this because he has a well-earned reputation for dependability and competence. People in the area know his reputation and they know him. They know he will use their equipment well and return it in good condition.
Well, this storm is an example of the reasons why Ian has that reputation. When the Daly’s called, he grabbed a chainsaw, and he and I hopped in the truck and were over in less than 10 minutes. He had the branch chunked and dragged off the road in a few minutes, and then we swung by the farm of the owners of the barn, to see if they were doing okay. They weren’t home so we headed back to the farm and back to work.
But it wasn’t over yet.
The next day I was making pizza at Grandma’s house and I found I had forgotten to bring the pizza pans. I ran back to the farm to get them, and it was raining cats and dogs and had been most of the day. There were three spots where water was flowing across our road, something none of us had ever seen in all the years we have been living at the house. When I got to the house I heard Ian’s voice down in the basement and when I went down the stairs I saw this:When Ian dug the basement he laid a 4-inch tile to drain it. The tile was still running. It was not plugged, it was pouring out a full 4-inch stream down the side hill, but water was running into the basement faster than the tile could handle it. The water was running down the road in a river from the field, pouring over the driveway into the basement. At the time I took this picture, the water was less than three inches from the electric motor at the bottom of the furnace, and from the concrete floor that the two freezers were sitting on. In a few inches the water was going to short out the furnace motor, and fry the freezers and ruin a few hundred pounds of meat. He had already thrown a sump pump into the water but it had risen too fast and shorted it out. He was thinking about going to work to borrow one of the town’s pumps, but the water was rising too quickly and it would have been over the furnace motor by then.
I looked at the stream coming in from the road and said, “And there’s no where you can divert it to.”
Ian thought for a second and then said, “No, but I know what I can do.” He sprinted for the backhoe parked in the corner and drove to the river of water rushing into the basement. There was a large pile of clay piled up next to the driveway that had been dug out from the basement. Ian started scooping up bucket loads of clay and throwing them down in a dike over the river.He was working quickly. From the time we were down in the basement, only five minutes had passed.
He dropped a dike right across the stream and the water going into the basement shrank to nothing. Now the water was diverted to the lawn and running down the side of the road.
And what do you know? It worked.
The water had come up and actually brushed the bottom of the furnace and crept over the edge of the concrete pad that the freezers sat on, but had stopped half an inch shy of the motor, and then had begun to recede. In another five minutes it had dropped the three inches you can see on the lowest level of cribbing above.
We got more rain a few hours later and the water began to creep around the upper end of the dike. Ian had to move the tractor and round bailer and extend the dike further up the driveway, but the danger was passed.
The next day (Sunday) Ian was up with the sun and had done a walk around the farm before I was even out of bed. He was inspecting the fences for flood damage because the last thing he needed on top of everything else was for thirty beef cattle and a couple of horses to be running loose all over the neighborhood. Only a few of the fences were down, just the ones that crossed the creek, so after Mass all the menfolk were out in the creek cleaning up.
It was fun. I haven’t worked like that in a long, long time. Too much sitting around in the classroom, book work, gym work. There is something about doing real work with your hands that just brings out the manliness in you.
That’s how Ian and Melissa keep making ends meet no matter how tight it gets. When you don’t have cash your real wealth is in relationships. Around our area a man’s word is still his currency, and his ability to take care of his house and family depends largely upon his ability to maintain strong relationships with his neighbors. Those relationships are based upon his history of being dependable, trustworthy and competent. He owes all of them something, and they all owe him something to a point that is beyond simple mathematical monetary value, and in the realm of real interdependence.
I have the mixed blessing of living and working in a world where cash is the currency. This simplifies things, but it also tends to distract from the real values of community, neighborhood and good old-fashioned manliness. That’s why it is good to go back once in a while and remember where I came from.
The most balanced and intellectually stimulating collection of thoughts on the topic of feminism in the Church I have ever read. The women who penned these essays provide deep insights and cogent explanations of the issues surrounding the place of women in the Church and of the Church in the world. Some points that were especially thought provoking to me:
– The concept of integral complementarity, contrasted with fractional complementarity. Fractional complementarity is the notion that men and women are made for each other, and that each is half of a whole that is the image and likeness of God (1/2 + 1/2 = 1). The implication of this is that each is only half of their true potential without the other. Integral complementarity is the idea that both men and women are true and complete images of God, and that when they come together the result is greater than the sum of both alone (1 + 1 = 3).
– The “richer Theology of Woman” presupposes and necessitates a “Theology of Man.”
– The inequality between the genders in society has its basis in the biological fact of inherent sexual asymmetry. That is, women are more intimately and deeply implicated in the process of procreation. This is the vulnerability that the second wave feminists fought against (i.e. with contraception and abortion) rather than the masculine abuse of that vulnerability targeted by the early feminists.
– The presence of any particular woman in any particular avocation should not have to be a conflict with her deeper and more critical vocation to her husband and children. Indeed, the great failure of feminism today is that it has not lived up to the hope that it would bring about a greater empathy, personalism and other orientedness (in a word, a level of feminization) to the world of business. Rather, the effect of drawing women out of the home and into business has largely been the greater and almost pathological masculinization of the home. Women have not made business more caring. Business has made women less caring.
– The Catholic Church has not, by and large, led the charge in making its workplaces more friendly to working mothers. (The authors did not speculate on why this is the case, but having seen something of the inner working of parish finances in our area, I suspect in most cases parishes and dioceses are hampered by a lack of funds, and that the responsibility for that lack can be traced directly to the lack of generosity of the lay people in the pew every Sunday).
I do not necessarily agree unqualifiedly with all of the authors’ ideas, but they were all thought provoking and have broadened my understanding of the debates surrounding the place of women in the Church and in the World.
One of Evie’s favorite movies is Disney’s “Cinderella.” (The classic animated film, that is, not the live action remake. Ryan and Kathleen like the remake, but it doesn’t have enough singing or dancing in it for Evie.)
She likes all the music in the movie. She sings, “Sing Sweet Agaga (nightingale)” in the bathtub, scrubbing the floor of the tub with her washcloth. She sings, “A Dream is a Wish” in the mornings (complete with clock bell noises).
But her favorite song from the movie, the one she sings most often, is “So This is Love.” She sings it over and over, “So this a-yuv, hmm hmm hmm hmm,” as she dances around the living room or the kitchen. It is one of the go to songs when she wants to be sung to sleep, and it seems to live constantly in the back of our brains waiting to pop up at odd moments.
One such moment was a few weeks ago when Evie was sick. She had already thrown up once in the evening, and I had given her a bath, (Kathleen was on night shift), put all the dirty clothes in the laundry, changed her into clean clothes, gotten some blueberries into her tummy, rocked her almost all the way to sleep and very gently put her into bed. Immediately she rolled over and threw up on the pillows, the sheets, her clean jammies, everything. It was only my cat-like reflexes that saved Snuggle Blankie (you don’t want Snuggle Blankie to need a bath right before bed time. When I picked her up she continued to vomit on me.
Two thoughts popped into my head. The first was, “I guess I am going to be cleaning vomit out of my chest hair tonight.”
The other was, “So this a-yuv, hmm hmm hmm hmm, so this a-yuv.”
Tonight she was in a specially rambunctious mood as Kathleen and I conducted phase 1 of bedtime operations. She was talking and singing all through goodnight prayers. When I picked her up to put her in her crib she said, “Sing this a-yuv!” So we sang it, and Evie wiggled around showing not the slightest sign of sleepiness. She said goodnight readily enough, but 5 minutes later was standing up in her crib and crying for Mama.
And that is where Kathleen is now, rocking Evie to sleep some more.
But you have to admit, in the context that song is fitting enough. In fact, I would say it is even more fittingly applied to a vomiting and/or sleep-averse toddler than to Cinderella and her Prince. Especially the line that says, “So this is what makes life divine.”
And again, “…and now I know / The key to what Heaven is like.”
I suppose it is a bit shocking to think that in some way Heaven is like being drenched in purple toddler puke, but if we are to believe that Heaven consists in participating in the inner life of the Trinity, and that this life is an eternal outpouring of self-gift, then I am forced to conclude that Heaven does in fact bear some resemblance to vomit-covered chest hair.
In fact, I suspect that is one of the reasons why God sends us children, and why masculinity and femininity are most often completed and perfected in fatherhood and motherhood. Quite simply, children cramp our style. They draw out of us actions which we would before have considered distasteful, menial, impossible or monotonous. Now it’s just part of the daily routine. Children cause us to endure cheerfully and as a matter of course what we once thought of as heroic suffering. We cease to think of it as heroic. Often we cease to think of it even as suffering. It’s just part of the job, and when all is said and done we did no more than was required of us. God be thanked if we managed somehow to avoid doing very much less than was required of us. Being a parent virtually forces us to realize that we truly are unprofitable servants.
Children are dreadfully inconvenient, but we don’t notice that very much. We are too busy thinking of ways to teach them or love them, smooth out the path or strengthen them to walk it. The inconvenience is part of the advantage of having them. They do not care one bit about our comfort or convenience, our sanity or peace of mind. They are not supposed to. They are offered to us because they unerringly and unrelentingly hit us right where we are weakest and most vulnerable…
I believe he’s staring…
that he dares to stare at my nose, that Ruffian!
(He raises his sword.)
What do you say? It’s useless?…I know, ah yes!
But one cannot fight hoping only for success!
No! No: it’s still more sweet if it’s all in vain!
– Who are all you, there! – Thousands, you claim?
Ah, I know you all, you old enemies of mine!
(He strikes in air with his sword.)
There! There! Ha! And Compromise!
Prejudice, Cowardice! …
That I make a treaty?
Never, never! – Ah! Are you there, Stupidity?
– I know that you’ll lay me low in the end
No matter! I fight on! I fight! I fight again!
(He makes passes in the air, and stops, breathless.)
Yes you take all from me: the laurel and the rose!
Take them! Despite you there’s something though
I keep, that tonight, as I go to meet my Deity,
will brush the blue threshold beneath my feet,
something I bear, in spite of you all, that’s
free of hurt, or stain,
(He springs forward, his sword raised; and that’s… (The sword falls from his hand; he staggers, and falls back into the arms of Le Bret and Ragueneau.)
ROXANE (bending and kissing his forehead):
CYRANO (opening his eyes, recognizing her, and smiling as he speaks: the actor must try to convey the multiple meanings of the word panache, a feather, the plume in his hat, display, swagger, attack, or just spirit.):
I have a saying that I use frequently: “You can’t let the commies win.” I say it when deciding whether to work out today, or when deciding whether to read a book vs. surf facebook. I say it when someone asks me why I am working out while I am sick, or until I want to puke.
The answer is, “Because you can’t let the commies win.” This:
“Ah, I know you all, you old enemies of mine!
Deceit! There! There! Ha! And Compromise!
Prejudice, Cowardice! … That I make a treaty?
Never, never! – Ah! Are you there, Stupidity?
– I know that you’ll lay me low in the end
No matter! I fight on! I fight! I fight again!”
Jack was left sitting in his chair, staring at the principle’s desk, trying not to make eye contact. So that was her dad? No wonder she went berserk. Shit! That’s a dude who means business!
Mr. Merckle, sat in silence for about thirty seconds. Then he looked up at Jack. “Go back out in the office and wait for your parent to get here. Ms. Hagg has your suspension letter.”
Ashley and her dad were still out there. Dan was talking with Ms. Hagg, who was smiling at him like a middle-aged fan girl. “Yeah, I think I probably did enjoy that a little too much, but you know, it’s just wrong, and something needs to be done. I’m not sure what, but Sharon and I are going to think about it.”
Ashley noticed Jack and looked away from him. Whatever, bitch. It was just a joke. Just wait until I see Deek again, Jack thought. I’m going to… But he knew he was going to do nothing. He was going to play it off as no big deal and go right back to being Deek’s minion just like he always did.
Dan turned and saw him. Oh shit! Jack slouched into his chair and whipped out his phone.
“Ashley, here are the keys, I’m parked out by Evergreen Street. I’ll be along in a minute.”
“Okay, dad. I’ve got to grab my stuff from my locker.”
Dan walked over and sat down in a chair one seat over from Jack.
When he didn’t say anything, Jack glanced up at him. He was just sitting there, scratching his five-o-clock shadow, staring at him with a musing expression.
“Look,” Jack said, “If you’re going to give me the speech about ‘stay away from my daughter or else,’ save it. I swear I’m not interested in her at all. It was just a stupid joke.”
“Oh I know,” Dan said. “I know it was a joke, and I believe that it wasn’t your idea.”
“My buddy dared me. He wouldn’t let up until I did it.”
“Sounds like a great friend,” Dan said with unconcealed irony.
Screw you, man, Jack thought. What do you know about high school? Back when you went it was a one-roomed schoolhouse probably.
“So are you tired of it?” Dan asked.
“Tired of what?”
“Being a punk.”
Jack stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. “I’m not a punk.” Why was this guy even talking to him?
“Well, I don’t know what else to call you. I don’t think you’re a bad kid, and I sure as hell know you’re not a good man, because a good man knows when to tell his ‘friend’ to go to hell. A good man doesn’t grope teenage girls. You’re not bad, you’re just a punk. I know. I was a punk when I was your age.”
“Gah!” Jack rolled his eyes. “What do you want from me? I’m just a kid! I won’t do it again, okay, can you just leave me alone?”
“Oh believe me, I know you won’t do it again. Everyone in this school knows that you have wandering hands, and you got beat by a girl.”
“She didn’t beat me,” Jack yelled. He stood up and punched the wall. Dan’s expression did not even flicker. “She got lucky, she surprised me, and I don’t hit girls.”
“I know that. Dude, I know she wouldn’t beat you in a fair fight, and she knows it too. She fought like I taught her to, just hard enough and long enough to get away without getting decisively engaged. She did the right thing. You could too, you know.”
Dan stood up. Up close and personal Jack saw that he was not quite as tall as he looked from a distance, he just stood like he towered over everyone, so people thought he did.
“I want to give you this,” Dan handed him a business card. On one side was the name, “Five Senseis’ Shotokan Karate” and an address. On the other side was a picture of a fist covered by an open hand and the words, “Admit one for Budo 101.”
“What is it?”
“It’s an invitation.”
“To your karate school?”
“Well it technically isn’t my dojo. My friend Tanner Sensei owns it, I just help teach some evenings and weekends.”
“So you want me to learn karate?”
“No, this is a special class. Budo 101 is a special six-month program that I developed with Tanner Sensei, for teenage guys such as yourself. It is invitation only, or judge’s order.”
“We have an arrangement with the county courthouse. It is an option for first time juvenile offenders who are given probation.”
“Do I look like a fucking juvie?” he threw the card on the ground.
Dan very mildly crouched down, without taking his eyes off of Jack, and picked it up. “No, you’re not a juvie. And I want to keep it that way. Only about half of our students are juvies, the rest are referred by school counselors, parents, pastors, that sort of thing. I think you would benefit by it, so I am inviting you, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” He handed the card back.
Jack thought about not taking it, but something about the older man’s straightforward demeanor made him stretch out his hand. Dan was not yelling at him or cussing him out. He didn’t even seem mad anymore. Jack looked the card over again. “How much does it cost?”
“No, seriously. I am a dentist and my wife is a child psychologist. We don’t need the money. But free does not mean that it is cheap. It is invitation only, but it takes a serious commitment. You show up six nights a week for six months. If you miss a night you apologize to the entire class and make it up on Saturday. If you miss two, you are done.”
Jack scoffed. “And if I come? You’ll teach me, what? How to fight?”
“Among other things, yes. You will learn how to treat people with respect, for starters, how to be somewhere on time, and in the right uniform. How to let a boss know if something comes up and you can’t make it. You will push yourself mentally and physically. If you make it to the end you will learn how to relate to women in a way that is based on real life and not on porn videos. You’ll learn how to pick friends, how to stand up to your friends, and yes, a basic level of how to defend yourself or others against physical attack.”
Dan smiled and shook his head. “If you make it all the way through, you get a green belt in Shotokan karate and are eligible to join the intermediate class if you want, but there is no obligation. Some stay, and some kids who get through Budo 101 are glad to be done with us.”
“So green belt is…”
“It usually takes students a year and a half to two years as a white belt to earn their green belt, but that’s because most only come once or twice a week.”
Jack was silent. This was crazy. This guy had just called him a sexual predator and now he was offering to teach him freakin’ karate. “What’s in it for you.”
Dan shrugged. “Well, I’d tell you not a damn thing, but you wouldn’t believe me. Think it over. When you get tired of being pushed around by your ‘friends’ and taking it out on teenage girls who have been trained not to stand up for themselves, give us a call or drop by. The class is continuous, so you can start at any time.”
He offered his hand, slender but veined and muscular.
Jack didn’t take it.
“Well, you have a nice day, then,” Dan said. He walked out of the office.
Jack sat down and put the card in his pocket.
He looked at the clock, which barely read 3:30 P.M.
I hate my life, he thought.
“Chivalry is only a word for that general spirit or state of mind which inspires a man to heroic and generous actions and keeps him conversant with all that is pure and beautiful in the intellectual worlds.
— Kenelm Henry Digby, “Maxims of Christian Chivalry”