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It starts with Mom & Dad

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August 1, 2012

By Steve Trosley

Dad could be rough around the edges, but he wanted his sons polished.

We had most of what we needed and the grocery envelope could occasionally empty before payday, but he still found a way to take the family out to dinner every other month.


We always went to Pete Casselli’s Moonlight Inn, a 1950s-style supper club. The ties may have been clip on, but Joe and Josephine’s three boys each had one. Dressed in coat and tie, right after 11:15 Mass, in broad daylight we would head to the Moonlight.


There might be a little jostling for the privilege of holding Mom’s chair, but no one sat down until she was seated. No one started eating until everyone at the table was served.


We put our napkin on our lap, talked quietly so as not to disturb others and used our Emily Post manners (Mom was a big fan of Emily Post). If Mom had to use the powder room during the meal, we all stopped eating or talking and stood up — more jostling for the privilege of holding her chair — and didn’t sit down again until she was on her way. The process reversed when she returned.


It was a great point of pride if someone complimented our parents on our behavior. I remember those dinners as great events. At the time, it never occurred to me I was being trained.


Dad explained to me — the oldest — that he and Mom wanted us to be prepared for an adult life where we were comfortable with being on our best behavior. They also told us to respect the “family name.” The latter was a very big deal. The worst thing we could do would be to tarnish the family name.


My wife, Linda, and I enjoy dining at restaurants. However, we see few families whose youngsters behave in public like Joe and Josephine’s three boys. If a child decides dinner is time to run through the restaurant disturbing other patrons, no one cares. The behavior we see at Mass, however, is far more troubling. Even teenagers seem oblivious to the great presence before them at Mass.


No one’s child is perfect and ours gave us some traumatic moments, but there seems to be an education gap for parents today. My parents seemed to understand that teaching us to behave in a restaurant predisposed us to behave in church or almost anyplace else we went. Grandparents, uncles and aunts reinforced the program, often with the reminder that how we behaved reflected on the family reputation.


Too many young people at the eucharistic dinner table seem to think iPhone manners are good enough for their time in Jesus’ presence. Unlike youngsters of the past, they don’t police themselves either.


Even older children in my elementary school took it upon themselves to advise and correct us when our behavior wasn’t up to snuff. I remember an older boy lecturing me and another server-boy after a school Mass. We had gotten the giggles. “Remember, that’s God you’re serving up there,” he said.


This should be a lesson for Catholics as well. The Mass, the eucharistic celebration, not only commemorates the Lord’s Last Supper. He joins us at the table. Why don’t we treat Him with respect? Perhaps if we treated everyone we encounter with respect and consideration, it would transfer to our church etiquette.


Our Catholic family has a name to protect as well. If you don’t think our non-Catholic neighbors don’t watch how we behave, I’d like to sell you the Brent Spence Bridge.
Each member of our human family has a way to go to reach perfection. But a little training goes a long way and it starts with Mom and Dad.


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Steve Trosley is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Telegraph. [email protected]

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