Although it has been over twenty years, I still easily remember a particular exchange with a student. She was in grade 12, and as often happens for homeroom teachers I had developed a deep sense of professional and personal concern for her well-being, even beyond the classroom. It was obvious that day she was upset so I asked if she wanted to talk. During the conversation she shared about relationship difficulties with her boyfriend. And in the course of that sharing it was clear to me that she was being taken advantage of. I expressed this to her and she agreed. When I asked the next logical question, why not break up with him, she gave me a reply that has stayed with me: “That’s what guys are like.”
She had come to expect that romantic relationships necessarily involved being used, in exchange for at least some feeling of being wanted. To give up with this guy and not wanting to be alone, she would just have to go through finding someone else, who would treat her the same. Her family life had not prepared her to expect better.
In the years since, having my own daughters, I am certain that conversation influenced the intentionality I try to bring to being a father. Subsequent personal and professional interactions have only reinforced the message. There is no need to share here lurid stories of what too many adolescent girls think is required of them, even absent from an actual committed relationship. And there is no need to demonize boys whose hormones and cultural messages have informed them of what to expect. What is needed are committed and loving parents, especially fathers, who can reinforce the message of inherent personal dignity and the profound beauty of shared marital sexuality. This is a tough campaign when young people are offered quick, though shallow, pleasure in place of disciplined, though joyful, anticipation of real unitive love. It has been said that one task of fatherhood is to assist daughters in finding their Prince Charming, without having to kiss a bunch of frogs.
It seems to me that the project becomes even more difficult when parents who themselves didn’t quite hit the mark feel hypocritical in wanting their children to do what they didn’t. But don’t we always want better for our sons and daughters? Don’t we always hope their happiness and success will be even greater than our own? And don’t we believe they are really worth it?
There are few real sacrifices expected of people today, except perhaps in attaining goals we have set for our own fulfillment. We are out of practice in giving of ourselves to others. We can feel resentful when someone else’s wants or needs intrude on our leisure. Yet the love of parents for their children can give us the energy to move beyond self. And it means so much. A mother of my acquaintance tells of finally having agreed to interrupt her day and play the single game of cards her son kept requesting. When his dad later asked how his day had gone, he related an experience of time with Mom that had taken up hours. Even years later it was still his memory that she had set aside so much just to be with him.
Time is a precious resource, and authentic relationships require it. And relationships, especially in families and with parents, are the strongest protection we can offer in the messy goodness of human life. The liturgical year reminds us that we live within time, but we are not alone in history. As we look forward to celebrating Christ's resurrection in Easter, we can be strengthened to live family life in God’s good grace (cf. Ephesians 3:15).
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers