{ Confession, Grace and Fatherhood }

I love being a dad. It can be hard and frustrating at times. I will lose my temper or run out of patience. I can react without just cause handing out punishments that are maybe too harsh for the transgression committed. There are times when I don't give my children their chance to voice their case as I'm done with hearing anymore ... from anyone. In a nutshell, I sin.

I can offer excuse after excuse to justify my reactions...

"It's been a long day"
"I'm stressed about work"
"It's their fault. They just don't stop"
etc., etc...

And, sometimes these are true statements. But the real truth of the matter is sometimes it's simply me giving in to the struggle with my own weakness and giving myself permission to act as I probably shouldn't. I know this in my heart of hearts...if I allow myself the time to reflect on myself and my actions. That is hard. No one really likes to hold up the mirror to themselves to see their 'ugliness' but it is essential to continue to grow as a person. As a dad.

Aquinas tells us that grace perfects nature. This truth has become more clear every year. That this perfection of my nature is essential to not only my person as a child of God but also in the daily duties of my vocation as a father and a husband.

Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity.
— Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8, Response to Objection 2.

We are all called to holiness. This is easier said than done. Especially if you are the dad penning this post. I'll be the first to admit that it is easy to give myself a pass simply because I'm a dad. A dad with 6 kids. A dad with 6 kids who is not monetarily rich by any stretch of the imagination. Easy to give myself a pass because (fill in the blank).

The last few weeks have been a real period of introspection and, simply put, grace. A grace that has allowed me to see my own 'ugliness' and the grace to overcome some of it. 

One of the best analogies I've heard regarding sin and its effect on our soul is that our soul can be likened to a vessel and grace  likened to water. Now, sins effect on the soul is like a crack in the vessel. The larger the sin the larger the crack and as God tries to fill our soul with grace it it too damaged to hold that grace. In essence, the vessel has lost its ability to fulfill its nature. Confession returns the vessel to a state without cracks and therefore can be filled again.

Rembrandt_Prodigal son.jpg

One of my absolute favorite parables in the bible is 'The Prodigal Son'. It's a story that has always resonated with me since I was a young boy. Just last year Jenn and I attended a First Communion workshop with Dominic as part of his preparation. During one of the 'sharing' times I found myself recounting the story to him and not being able to hold back the tears as I got to the point where the father runs out to his son to embrace him and welcome him home. The father runs! 

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
— Luke 15:20

One other thing that is not plainly stated but can be inferred by the phrase 'at a distance'...the father was always looking for him. Hoping for his return. Always looking out onto the horizon waiting for the day that his son would return. And with the return comes the embrace. The acceptance back into the family. The kiss. A sign of the forgiveness and love poured out by the father. 

In my own life I've always been like the son. Though sorry for my transgressions, my entry into the confessional has been more formulaic than anything else. There's a ritual to the sacrament and it is easy for me to come up with a way of confessing my sin using a sentence structure that 'softens the blow'. It confesses the sin but allows me to save face - something that is basically the opposite of confession. It is valid - and even heartfelt - though almost medical in its style of reporting the sin. A reservedness. I will share that I typically choke up during the Act of Contrition so there is contrition but that is still after a guarded confession.

All that changed a couple of weeks ago during my last confession. Something in me was tired of giving in to the weakness of my will. I entered into confession with a sense of abandonment. I was sorry, as all other times before, but this time I longed for a Father more than just the forgiveness. I longed for the person and not for just what that person could do. I confessed like no other time before. There was no selection of just the right phrase or turn of words. It was just a son saying 'I'm sorry and I need - truly need - your grace and though I am not worthy I still long for that love and compassion...a father that will run out to greet his son back into his arms'. 

Every human being comes from the hand of God, and we all know something of God’s love for us. Whatever our religion, we know that if we really want to love, we must first learn to forgive before anything else.
— Mother Teresa

I have two younger sons who are quick tempered and will lash out either verbally or physically depending on the situation. This is something that is common among boys and I understand this. What I do not tolerate is when they lash out at their mother. They both know this. 

One night a week or so ago one of them had lost his temper and made the unfortunate decision to take it out on his mother. I was not home at the time and therefore was not there to reprimand him. When I came home I found him sitting in one of our chairs just looking sad. After saying goodnight to everyone who already were in bed and Jenn explaining to me what had happened I walked back out to him to reprimand him. 

As I walked towards him I could see in his eyes and in his face that he was remorseful. Truly sorry. In that moment I knew that he didn't need me to tell him what he did was wrong. He knew that. What he did need was forgiveness. I picked him up in my arms and sat down with him in my lap and just held him. Embraced him. Kissed him. As the tears ran down his cheek and I could feel the tension in his body melt away I whispered to him, "it's ok. I love you" and we just sat there. Together.

You see all these years my perspective has been that of the prodigal son but within that moment with my son I was given the grace to feel the mercy and love of the Father for his children and in that grace to be a better dad. Grace does perfect nature.

{Deus Caritas Est}

{ A Sign of the Years (mine) }

Never mind telling me all about distinguished company. Yeah well, sure it looks great on them. But that’s a few great men who made a difference in history
— David Wilcox 'Top of My Head'

The top of my head shines through my haircut
Even when I brush, shape and style
Top of my head smiles at the young man
Telling me I must have been alive awhile
The top of my head shows up in pictures
Don't it make me look so strange
I guess I only see my used-to-be
And everybody's seen me change

On the top of my head I got a suntan
My top's down for the sunny day
It's so strange to be a grown man
Wonder how I got that way
I can't believe all that time I wasted
Worried 'bout the hair I lack
Sometimes I catch myself lean in the mirror
Wonderin' if it's growing back

Never mind telling me all about distinguished company
Yeah well, well sure it looks great on them
But that's a few great men who made a difference in history
See it only looks right on a great man
With a lifetime of great things done
But time has got tight
It's gotten late, man
I'd like to think that I've just begun
But there's no sense riding in a big black stetson
It's nothing I can hide away
And they say every hair on the head is a counter
But so is every single day, anyway

On the top of my head...

- David Wilcox from the recording East Asheville Hardware

It's 'funny' how songs can mean different things to you at different points in your life.  When this came out 13 years ago I thought it pretty funny and I still do yet, now that the years have passed and I find myself coming up on 45 this summer, it has come to have an almost 'biting' and realistic tone. Never had I thought that it would happen but, yes, I am losing some serious hair on the 'Top of My Head'. 

Now, I will admit that there may be times, though rare on occasion, that I may have a slight issue with being 'wrong' or losing an argument  - maybe even a slight bit stubborn but I've never been accused of being vain.  I'm sure many have seen the 'Real Beauty Sketches' promo by Dove going around.  If they had brought me in to describe myself my description would have been basically 'fat hispanic dude' and then the one described by the other person would probably have brought about a sketch of Quasimodo and I would not have been surprised. So, it feels doubly odd that 1) I'm losing my hair and 2) that it really bothers me.  But, it really does.  

At this point I'm not sure what can be done or what I will do.  Baldness does not run in my family. It's the last thing I expected.  I was all ready for hypertension, vision loss (of which there has been some), high cholesterol, maybe some diabetes - basically all the classics.  But hair loss?  No. Total curve ball. So, there's an internal struggle that has become part of my daily morning ritual.  After showering and in the process of getting ready product goes into my hand and then into my hair.  As I start to brush - there it is - right along the part - staring right back at me - taunting me - SCALP! - just behind the few hairs desperately trying to cover it like an elephant trying to cover itself with a washcloth. Try as it might it just can't happen.

So , what are the options? I guess I could become a triathlete and shave my head like so many triathletes. But I hate running. Skinhead? Nah. My wife wouldn't like me getting a motorcycle and I really have no desire to tattoo anything on my neck. Plus, it probably wouldn't jive with my faith. Then there's going for a whole Kojak vibe but I'm probably too old to join the force and make detective.  Though I do have many episodes of Law & Order, Columbo, Psych, Castle, White Collar and SVU under my belt. Do you think one can test out based on hours of detective shows? No? Hmmm...I wonder. Well, If that's the case then it's probably too late to take up acting and start hanging out with Willis, Diesel, Stewart (Picard), Statham, Chiklis and Kingsley, huh?

Where does that leave me? To be frank (who I'm sure has hair), I'm not really sure. I guess for now I'll just take it as it comes (or goes would probably be the more appropriate term) and keep trying to be a better me...albeit with less on top of my head.

Oh, and if you'd like to hear the song just listen to it here.

{ something about being a Dad and having sons }

I'm not sure what it is but the last few times I've been out with my boys I've just been struck by how cool it is to get out of a truck and have your boys in tow as you walk into a place.  I mean, getting out of a truck and then having 5 sons follow you into a store has to kinda make you feel like a bada**.  You're there walking with your beat up shorts or jeans and all have your baseball caps on and people just move out of your way (not to mention that my oldest is almost a foot taller than me).

The funny thing is I don't get the same reactions as my wife does.  They see her with the boys and the first question is sometimes an incredulous "are they all yours?!?".  Now, the difference could be that she will usually have the 6 in tow (adding my beautiful daughter, Mary) or that they just assume I'm some baseball coach - but still...why the difference?  Is it really that if you're a dude with 5 boys in tow you are flexing some procreative prowress but if you're a woman you've been taken advantage of and are being suppressed by some overbearing ox at home?  I honestly don't know...it's a real question.

All that being said - I still felt like a bada** walking into the store with my boys.  More later....


{ Deus Caritas Est }