Editor’s Note: Pope Francis’ declarations recall Dad’s rules
My father’s mother, my grandmother, died when he was only two years old.
He never forgot the sense of loss and the pain of growing up without a mother. And he was determined his sons would not forget either.
Reading some of Pope Francis’ recent homilies on marriage and relationships brought Dad to mind. He was not a polished, college-educated man. He could throw a football and a knuckle ball with amazing ease, but the second person pronoun was pronounced “youse.” Nonetheless, he dropped pearls of wisdom on his three sons with amazing frequency.
Mark Twain put it all in context for me: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Now that I’m in my sixties, his wisdom rivals that of Solomon.
He demanded courtesy and he commanded it in his home. When we finished a meal, we had to ask our mother if we could be excused before we left the table. We opened doors for our elders – and our equals. We were taught the little ditty:
“There are two little magic words that can open any door with ease; one little word is thanks and the other little word is please.”
Every morning, before he diluted the army-strong coffee Mom brought to the table for breakfast, he thanked her for it. On Sunday, he held the car door for her before we left for Mass. Sometimes this backfired: The race to help Mom be seated at Sunday dinner at Castelli’s Moonlight Inn or Cafazza’s Restaurant often resulted in a scuffle between brothers that required fatherly intervention.
In addition to life, three squares and a roof over our heads, we were told we had been given an untarnished family name. We owed courtesy and respect in return for that name. Courtesy and respect was expected. It was our responsibility to the family.
He not only taught us with his words, few though they were, he lived that way to the best of his ability. He was polite to my mother and her family, something that was not always easy as they were a demanding tribe. When I told him I wanted to get married, he told me that my intended “honored” me by accepting – and “don’t ever forget that.”
His views on marriage were practical: “Don’t believe that stuff about it being 50/50. Sometimes you have to give 110 percent and some times she does. Sometimes both of youse come up short. Get over it and move on.”
He also told us that people in healthy relationships did not “keep books,“ something considered fundamental in our community of immigrant families. People kept track of christening and wedding gifts, arguments and slights, casseroles (ingredients, size of serving and how delivered,) brought to homes when there was a death, and so on.
Dad’s advice was simple. You keep score at the ballgame so that you know who won and who lost. You get grades in school to measure your progress. However, in relationships, especially in marriage, keeping score only feeds resentment and dissatisfaction. It was to be avoided at all times, even if your partner did not agree.
When Pope Francis talks about the importance of love and respect in a marriage, I hear my father’s voice. We should take note of such things because that is how it should work – parents reinforcing the teachings of the church and assuring that those teachings, as Christ said, fall on fertile ground.
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This Editor’s Note by Steve Trosley originally appeared in the June 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph