A Deadly Sin

My friend, Ellen, has told me a lot about her father. They seem to have a unique relationship in that she often says, “My Dad is my Mom and my Mom is my Dad.” By that she means that the “traditional” parenting roles are somewhat reversed in her family. Growing up, her father was a minister and she and her two sisters got moved around the country and the developing world spreading the word of the Lord and building schools, etc. Throughout this experience, Ellen’s Dad taught her things like restaurant silverware etiquette and how to dress like a lady. Maybe during that time, her mom taught her how to check for level and use a power drill, I’m not really sure.

Ellen lives really near me and we spend a lot of time together. We try to have coffee at least one morning each week and I know I can always rely on her in cases of urgent need…like when I need an extra pair of hands to move a couch. She’s a little crazy in the most fun way possible and as a bonus, my husband really likes her husband so our relationship is really ideal. The truth is I’m nuts about her and our relationship is something I treasure.

Because Ellen’s parents live only about an hour away, she gets to see them regularly as well. Her mom spends every Friday afternoon at Ellen’s house and she and her Dad have lunch weekly. During her time with her Dad, they seem to cover every topic imaginable, which doesn’t seem all that unusual except that her Dad’s advice seems to cover aspects of her life that some people (including apparently, Ellen) consider to be generally more maternal. Ellen’s Dad’s parenting prowess extends beyond the “usual Dad areas” of how to fix your broken ice maker and how far off center a given outfit falls on the sluttiness continuum. They certainly cover these areas but Ellen’s Dad also buys Ellen clothes and shares Vitamix smoothie recipes.

In the year or so that I’ve had the pleasure of living in close proximity to Ellen, the subject of her Dad has come into conversation a lot. Ellen loves her parents so much…its vividly clear. What’s unique to me is the individual personalities of her relationships with each of her parents. For most adults I know, on the occasions when they see their (still-married) parents, they see them together. In my experience, it’s generally a fleeting and uncommon occurrence to hang out with your Mom or your Dad without the other present…and certainly not on the regular.

I was raised Catholic. In some ways, I too was a minister’s daughter. When I was in junior high school, my Father submitted an application to become a Deacon. The “Deaconate” is an intensive theology program for couples. Both of my parents attended the program for four years. Admission into the program included essays and interviews, for my parents and even a few memorable interviews of me, my brother and my sister. I was pretty young but it was still clear to me at that time that our family had a lot of dirty laundry that the Catholic Church probably would not want to hear about. Frankly, what family doesn’t?

In the end, my parent’s deep Catholic faith and dedication to the Church got them (him) accepted into the program. You see, while the program prepares couples for the Deaconate, only the man actually gets ordained as a minister of the Church at the end.

My parents’ relationship was the strongest of any couple I knew growing up. Our family’s deep Catholic traditions were a matter of daily ritual. When we went out of town for the weekend, my Dad’s first order of business was finding us a Catholic church so we could go to mass on Sunday morning.

I was raised by 2 Catholic parents, but it hadn’t started out that way. My Dad was raised without much religion.  If you delved, you would find a Southern Baptist leaning but that wasn’t a religion that really spoke to my Dad. In fact, no religion did for a long time…until he was stationed in Japan from 1972-1976 (during which time, he was an aviator in the US Navy). Long story short, about a year before I was born (in Japan), my Father was baptized Catholic, ours became a “Catholic” family and I was born as my parent’s “Catholic baby.”

The Deaconate program severely strained my parent’s marriage. My mother had spent her twenties raising small children instead of going to college.  She spent her thirties raising us while getting first her AA degree in nursing, followed by her BS in Nursing. She also built a nursing career starting as a Nurse’s Aid and later becoming an Oncology specialist before leaving the nursing floor for management, where she eventually retired as Director of Nurses. I’m not sure she ever would have described herself as a feminist but she’s certainly always believed she’s capable of whatever a man could do. She also resented anyone suggesting otherwise.

Suffice to say, I was not raised by slouches.

My Father completed the Deaconate program and got to be a Deacon for a little over 2 years.

My mother, who had been raised as an extremely devout Catholic including a Catholic school education, felt betrayed by the Church. She could not understand why her faith and her Catholicism had to undergo so much scrutiny in order for her husband to move into the Church’s higher echelon. After four years of study, in my Mom’s words, “he became a Deacon and I got nothing.” The sexism was so strong that it was almost more than her faith could manage. She felt bitter toward the Church – a bitterness that couldn’t help but flow toward my Father as he silently participated in the Church’s sexist doctrine. Being a “Deacon’s wife” didn’t hold that much prestige for my mom.

If today was March 8, 1319, I’d be guilty of the sixth deadly sin, envy. I was suppose realistically I still am, but fortunately in 2014, it’s not such a big deal anymore. According to Wikipedia, the difference between envy and jealousy and the bit which makes envy a deadly sin is, “the envious also desire the entity and covet it.” I am deeply envious of Ellen’s relationship with her Dad. I would give my right hand for my Dad to critique one of my outfits, to argue with him about abortion or to hear his views on gay marriage. My father died in a car wreck almost 20 years ago.

I haven’t met Ellen’s Dad. Even after all you’ve read here, when I meet my friend’s fathers, it isn’t weird. I no longer find myself criticizing how much my friends take their Dads for granted as I once did. Today, I just enjoy getting closer to my friends by knowing their families. But somewhere not so deep inside, I guess I am coveting their dad relationships. I just sometimes watch in awe. I’ve stopped leaving the room during father-daughter wedding dances but it still hurts.

This piece would not be complete if I didn’t mention how grateful I am for the enviable relationship I have with my Mom. She is an inspiration in every way. Her incredible strength, ambition and talent have set an example of femininity, ambition and self-respect that I strive for. My Mom raised 3 children mostly on her own as my Dad’s military career took him far away most of the time. Once he left the military, his career of traveling continued and she managed straight A’s in nursing school, while still raising 3 children mostly alone. She nailed every special skill and got every promotion out there until she nearly ran the place.

Now, in retirement, she’s so busy traveling with her husband, caring for her aging friends and babysitting her grandchildren that she sometimes doesn’t even have enough time to run…of course, she’s training for her first half marathon – at 67 years young.

Maybe that’s the problem with looking at the world in terms of deadly sins…it means you miss the bigger picture. In my case, I envy my friend’s relationship with her Dad. I don’t envy what she has with her Mom, though, which is equally strong and influential to her life. My relationship with my Mom is so full of mutual respect, intimacy and affection that my friend’s maternal relationships don’t even register.

It’s Lent now. If my Dad was still around, he’d probably be enlightening me with a deeper meaning to the season than I can understand. It all seems so hypocritical…party like an animal on Tuesday so you can give up your vices on Wednesday. I’m sure my Dad would explain it in a way that would not only make sense, but also make me want to participate. Instead, I just miss him and struggle with the void of being fatherless.

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