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Carrying The Weight Of The World

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By DONALD DeMARCO

I have given several presentations over the years to all-male audiences on the topic of fatherhood. There are few topics that are more important in a time when fatherhood is either neglected, misunderstood, or disparaged.
Sociologist David Blankenhorn has thoroughly researched the matter in his book, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem. The fact that 40 percent of America’s children do not live with their biological fathers, he concludes, is the leading cause of crime, adolescent pregnancy, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence against women.
Fatherhood is essential for teaching children discipline and preparing them for taking a responsible position in the world. Yet, it does not receive the attention and respect it deserves. As a consequence, both marriage and society suffer in many different ways.
In one of my presentations, I spoke to an audience of slightly more than 200 men. I did not doubt that their primary motivation for attending my lecture was the desire to improve themselves. A mother knows she is a mother by virtue of giving birth. A man identifies himself as a father because he trusts his wife. Therefore, the father has a less existential relationship with his children. But this factor is needed so that he has the freedom to guide his children to their proper place outside of the home. Motherhood is imminent; fatherhood is transcendent. What I most vividly recall from this particular presentation of mine is not anything I said, but what a member of my audience had to say to me during the break.
I could see, as he approached me, the deep lines of sorrow that were imprinted in his face. He seemed to be carrying a weight that was far too much for any one person to bear. He wanted to talk. “Give sorrow words,” wrote Shakespeare, “the grief that cannot speak whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break” (Macbeth). If this poor man’s heart was not broken, it had certainly been fractured.
Perhaps my own words disposed him to confide in me. I was eager to share his burden. He confessed that both of his daughters had had abortions. How quickly we come to the limits of our wisdom. What could I say to him? Yet, he was counting on me. He was suffering a triple anguish. He had lost two grandchildren, thereby losing his full status as a grandfather. Would Christmas ever be the same? Would family reunions be forever marred? Whatever love he would have had for his children’s children would never be expressed.
Both his daughters, born to a father who values life, chose not to perform the caring acts that brought them into existence. They were not honoring the Golden Rule. Thus, he became spiritually alienated from two of his own progeny. Finally, he was suffering from self-recrimination. “Was I a bad father?” he asked.
This is too much suffering for one man to endure by himself. If he seemed to be carrying the weight of the world, he should understand how the world played a large role in his daughters’ decisions. He alone is not accountable for his daughters’ choices. At the same time, he remains their father and even a prayerful grandfather to his deceased grandchildren. He still has an important role to play as a father.
Christ foresaw all the sins of the world in His “Agony in the Garden.” During His agony as he prayed, “His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). Catholic tradition holds that Jesus’ sweating of blood was literal and not figurative. When we unite our suffering with that of Christ, we experience both meaning and at least some measure of relief. We live, as it has often been said, in a “valley of tears.” Christ understands and shares our suffering. We cannot bear the weight of the world all by ourselves.
Little is written about a grandfather’s right to oversee the right to life of his grandchildren, to whose welfare he is often asked to contribute. “Choice” is not the private privilege of the pregnant woman. It reverberates and causes unknown suffering for an untold number of unknown people. What can one say to a man whose grandchildren were executed by his and his wife’s own flesh and blood? Compassion, in this instance is easy. But compassion without hope is precisely the rationalization that leads to abortion. To compassion we need to add not only hope, but forgiveness, renewed friendship, and prayer.
Across the portal to the entrance of Hell, Dante wrote, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Hell is a place without hope. If, in life, we are without hope, we are already in Hell. My friend needed to be released from the Hell of his suffering. I hope that what I said to him was of some help. In talking to him, it was clear to me that he was not destitute of hope. He mentioned that one of his daughters has become, since her abortion, more appreciative of life. This is the hard way of learning things, but it is far better than despair.
I returned to the podium after the break and looked out at my audience with a new sympathy. What kind of problems are some of these men going through that will forever remain unknown to me? Will my words be of any help to them? Writing is a second chance of saying what one perhaps wanted to say in the moment. Sometimes the moment is all the opportunity we have. We pray that God will prepare us to say the right thing at the right time.

  • + + (Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus St. Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College. He is a regular columnist for St. Austin Review and is the author of 39 books. His latest book, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, is posted on amazon.com.)
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