A Pain of a Father

Thirty-eight years ago, I was 19 years old and very much in love. I said to Julie, my wife; “Marry me, and I will give you everything I have, I will give you children, I will build you a beautiful home, and I will give you a new car to drive. My credentials for saying this was: I have a dream and you are in it.” And of course she said “yes”.

It's very difficult to compress 38 years, but when I reflect upon those years, I can see that there are 3 phases in my married life. The first phase was the first 14 years. During those years, we had five children and experienced years of struggle, of hard work, of finishing my studies, of having good times with little children, of being in an economy that was moving forward. At the end of those fourteen years, I had built a beautiful home, I had a new car, and we had a bright future. With regards to our faith, our eldest daughter taught catechism, our two sons were altar boys, and I thought we were made.

Then we entered the second phase, the phase of attack and trial. The first attack was financial. The economy was so buoyant it overheated. Government increased interest rates to slow the economy down and I found myself with the same debt but with massively increased repayments. I had to work harder and longer just to earn extra money. I began to feel tired. And then the attacks really started to come. My eldest daughter left school, and said she was not going to mass again. I was the most surprised person in the world to hear this. The next year my son graduated from high school and said; “I'm not going to mass either!”

My daughter went off to a teaching hospital to study nursing. She hadn't been there four months when she told me she was pregnant and living in with a totally undesirable man. Our life was crumbling at our feet! Then my son, the high school graduate, decided that he was going to stop work and live on social security payments. To my horror, I found out that he had been smoking marijuana! I couldn't believe it. He spent the last 3 years at a Jesuit high school! I had mortgages and debts to pay but I knew my family was more important, so we made a stand and said; “This is going to stop”.

So I got more involved with my family, and my next son got involved in a religious group and I thought; “Praise the lord, there is an end to this!” However, at age 22, he said “I'm not going to mass either”. That made three out of three. And still it did not end there. A couple of years later, my next daughter also abandoned the church when she left school.

I thought it was not too late to make a stand with our fifth child, a daughter. So we decided to get heavily involved in the parish. Our daughter played net ball which fit perfectly in the parish activities because it had a very strong netball team. The parish team coach was a lovely man, or so we thought, and we were thrilled when he took Rebecca under his wing and got her into the state team. But suddenly, she didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore! We couldn't understand it. The reason she did not want anything to do with the parish was because this coach, this man whom we trusted, molested her for three years! We brought the police in but because there was no actual rape, the police would not press charges!

The church offered to counsel her but she was further scandalized by the offer because that man was, and still is, a very active member of that parish. She too left the church. Julie and I could not begin to understand where we went wrong. The pain was indescribable.

We then entered the third phase, and I would call this phase, the “Phase of Renewal”. About seven years ago we went on a marriage enrichment retreat. When we write our biography, we will write that these 48 hours were the most important period of our lives. During this weekend, Julie and I decided that we were in a spiritual battle and that we had lost the first round! But that weekend too, we made a stand that we were going to reclaim our family for Christ. My own personal decision after this weekend was that I was going to romance my wife of 31 years.

We decided to call upon the graces of our sacrament and to start enjoying life again. I made a commitment to her that I would take her to dinner once a week for all of the thousands of meals she had prepared for my , children and myself. We made a decision that we would start discussing our problems and we started finding answers. We made a decision that we would love our children no matter what. We made a decision that we would have family night in our house every week and that Julie would prepare the best meal in town and that we would discuss something of value around the table. We made a decision that we would befriend the friends of our children and that we would have a wide , range of friendships. We made a decision that we would underpin all these with prayer and we became daily communicants.

Things started happening. The most unbelievable thing happened - our children came back! We started a business and we made a commitment that we would encourage our children to start their own businesses. We encouraged our children to share their talents with each other and slowly things have turned around. But still I ask: Why suffer the pain we had to? Why didn't we recognize the signals that were there?

I don't know what the next fourteen years is going to bring but all I know is if the current trend prevails, then the Lord's promises will be fulfilled. This passage is from Baruch and although the Lord promised this to Jerusalem, it applies just as aptly to Julie and me: “Turn your eyes to the east and see the joy that is coming to you from God. Look! The children you watched go away are on their way home, reassembled from the east and the west. They're on their way home at the holy one's command rejoicing in God's glory. Take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of God's glory forevermore. Wrap the cloth of God's saving justice around you; put on the diamond of the eternal one's glory on your head.”

We cling to God's promise. We know that as long as we remain faithful to Him, our efforts , are going to yield fruit in abundance. By John McMahon

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