Tag Archives: parenting

Not-So-Holy Family

Wikimedia Commons

In the Catholic tradition, today is the Solemnity of the Holy Family. This morning at Mass, the homily really struck me; the Spirit called me higher in my own life: fatherhood, marriage, my responsibility as the head of the family, and so on.

During the homily and after, not once did I try and justify myself. Normally I would only pick and choose what to apply to my own situation, in my mind knowing that my wife is a non-believer and that’s why my kids are not being raised in the Catholic faith.

On the contrary.

Amen, I was saying to myself, listening to the points that were being driven home by the priest. I’m gonna start getting my kids involved in my parish. I’m gonna live out my faith to the very best of my ability so my wife will see the Holy Spirit in me.

All these are good things, right?

Well, before I even walked through the door after getting home from Mass, my wife blurted, “You need to fix the refrigerator ASAP. It’s not cooling properly. Call your brother.”

I always go to my younger brother for any handyman-related problem. A firefighter/paramedic, he has that manly “gift” that somehow bypassed me.

Before I called him, I took a drink of bottled water from the fridge. It seemed cold enough. Then I opened the freezer and took out one of those plastic bricks that substitutes for ice in our cooler when we go on picnics. “It looks like it’s working.”

That set my wife off the deep end.

So there I was in a yelling match with her while the kids were in the very next room playing. You’re really putting today’s homily into practice, I kept thinking to myself.

Without playing the blame game, let’s just say that I could have prevented the huge argument.

A heart check from God? Probably. It really sucks, though. What sucks most is that I haven’t seemed to learn anything from our 12+ years together.

Like the rock band Extreme lamented in the 90s: “Am I ever gonna change?”

~t

 


How I Ruined My Family’s Sunday Afternoon

I couldn’t see a thing. All I knew was that the room was about 8′ x 5′ (2.4 m x 1.5 m). I sat there with my legs folded under me with my eyes closed. My mind wasn’t working; only the heaviness of guilt and regret was with me in the darkness. This was my punishment. I had it coming. How I wish I could take back everything I did. I didn’t want to leave this pitch-black cell, though.

After being frozen in place for what seemed like hours, I curled up on the floor, using an old musty cloth as a pillow. I didn’t want to stretch out; it would have been too much of a luxury, plus my feet would have been near the door. I never expected to drift off to sleep, but it had been an emotionally draining experience.

It all happened in a flash. One moment, I was checking my email on my phone, and the next minute, the fight broke out with no warning. They were going at it with everything they had. It’s a prison fight, I thought with horror. How could it be happening? What caused it? And right under my nose? How dare they!

After the bigger one got the smaller one down and began hammering his back with right-left combinations, I snapped.

It was one thing I lived in fear of, even as a dedicated, faithful Christian. The beast inside me reared its ugly head once again and took over. I got in each boy’s face and screamed at each one. “What are you doing?! You will not fight while I’m here! You,” I said, looking at my seven-year-old. “Don’t you realize that he is only five? Why were you beating on him like that? Huh?!”

“Scott, stop. You’re getting carried away.” Ayako, my wife, tried to calmly intervene.

“Don’t interrupt! I’m in the middle of disciplining them!”

“But, you’re yelling–”

“Didn’t you see it?! It was like a prison fight!” Now I was yelling at my wife.

I don’t remember what happened next. I was in such a crazy state of mind.

I used to punish myself by striking myself in the temple, cheek, and forehead. I was doing it again. Wasn’t all that crap behind me?

I had one of those profound moments during Mass earlier in the morning when my soul cried out to God. I was in up to my neck in a certain type of sin, and I couldn’t worship the Lord like I usually did.

That’s what sin does. It makes you think that once is enough. Instead, the cycle begins. Like a drug addict trying to go straight. One little snort or injection and everything will be okay. Just one fix.

But that’s not how sin works. The devil knows that one little slip and he’s got you. The feeding of the addiction happens all over again. The cycle is torture. Even St. Paul struggled with sin: Even though his mind said no, his flesh said yes. I always seem to forget about the rest of that verse.

His answer is to turn to Christ.

God told me in the middle of Mass that I kept falling because I was legalistically trying to avoid sin. What I didn’t realize was that I was using my own power. God reminded me that I must avoid sin out of love for Him and not because of myself.

When God speaks to me, I don’t mean that He speaks audibly inside my head like I’m a schitzo. It’s more of telepathy for lack of a better term. His Spirit connects with my spirit on a deep, primal level. I don’t even have to think of a reply; my soul responds automatically.

So there I was, my heart and soul transformed and touched by the hand of God. After Mass, as everyone cleared out, I knelt down in the pew and continued praising God and thanking him profusely for His gift of faith and forgiveness through Christ. Normally I get distracted and not pray after Mass, but I was deep in communion with the Holy Spirit yesterday, and nothing could divert my attention. How wonderful it was!

So how did I go from that mountain-top experience with God to being curled up in the fetal position in this dark, cramped room? It felt like my brain was swishing around in my skull; the dull pain was making me sick to my stomach. You deserve it, Scott. Serves you right for treating your two little buddies so horribly.

My oldest son is very sensitive and gets his feelings hurt easily. He is excelling in second-grade reading and math. I am so proud of him. My youngest son is in kindergarten, and all last week he and one other student had the privilege of sitting at a special table in his classroom reserved for exceptional students. The little rascal didn’t even tell my wife or me, but that’s how he is. Very humble.

The three of us love playing soccer in the backyard after dinner. Both boys are playing in a fall soccer league now, and my youngest is the star player on his team. He gets the majority of his team’s goals each game. My two little buddies are the pride and joy of my life.

Seeing them both break down into tears as I screamed at them hit me like a sack of bricks afterward. When my rage was in full force, though, I wanted them to cry; I wanted to see their remorse and for them to fully understand how fighting would not be allowed.

I try very hard to be the best father that I can be. I love my sons more than I love myself. If they’re still hungry when we eat at home or at a restaurant, I am quick to share my food or dessert with them. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have shared with my wife. My food was mine!

I sometimes get angry with my sons for little things. Yesterday morning we had a fun day at the park. My kids love riding their bikes through a nature trail, stopping periodically to explore a creek or a wooded area that looks interesting. Yesterday, I took the photo at the top of this post It was in a wide-open field at the park. As I was trying to figure which angle of the log to photograph, my oldest son sneaked up behind me and yelled boo. He was laughing, having fun because he scared Dada. I responded by yelling at him not to scare me like that. He went away dejected.

My right shoulder and back were killing me from spending so much time on the floor in the small, dark closet. I turned over, tossed away the old cloth that was my pillow and roughed it some more. The more I was uncomfortable and in pain, the more I could atone for my behavior. In shorts and a t-shirt, the floor was feeling cold, but I was determined to keep lying there; hopefully I would catch a cold and suffer for several more days.

God, I whispered, help me. Help me in this situation. I created such a mess. Then I thought about how every action of mine, either positive or negative, affects my whole family. Just like when I was young. My father’s mood affected all of us and ruined so many happy moments. It tore me apart to see myself acting like my father who I still cannot forgive for leaving me nothing but rancid memories of my childhood.

I drifted in and out of consciousness in the darkness. Brief dreams floated through my mind. Suddenly I heard a female voice. It was soft and gentle. Perhaps it was an angel.

Scott. Scott. SCOTT.

Huh? I mumbled. Was I dreaming?

Get up. The voice sounded authoritative now.

No. I want to stay here.

Get up! The angel was yelling now. Don’t make me angry!

I was awake now, but I didn’t move. Stop yelling first.

Your sons are waiting for you to read to them!

It wasn’t an angel after all. It was Ayako, my wife. She is a tough little thing, so I knew it would be in my best interest to get up and go into the living room.

Before opening my bedroom door, I collected myself and prayed. God, you gotta help me. I let out a deep breath and opened the door.

My boys were on the sofa with their little books, waiting for me to read to them. “Dada! Come sit with us!”

They had forgiven me and were actually happy to see me. We read several books together, and then we played their favorite card game, Uno. My wife even came in from the kitchen and joined us for two games.

Later, after dinner, my sons and I went out back as usual and played soccer. A little while later, my wife came out for the very first time, and we played an aggressive but fun two-on-two match.

God had worked another miracle. Everything was back to normal, but I was still depressed and suffering from guilt.

I’m sure my family won’t forget what happened yesterday afternoon, but it was evident that they had forgiven me.

I don’t expect them to forget, though. How I wish they would.

Someday when my sons think back to their childhood, I don’t want my screw-ups to outweigh the fun times that we had.

I am still burdened by extreme guilt right now as I finish typing this. I had to take two Xanax tablets a little while ago to relieve the pain and agony inside of me. The pills didn’t quite do the trick.

I want to lock myself in a room somewhere because I am agitated despite the 2 mg of Xanax. I can’t do that, though. All I can do is rely on God, but I’m having a hard time surrendering right now.

~t

(photo by Topaz)


Interrupted by Death

I barely heard the muffled sound of my cell phone in the pocket of my cargo shorts. With all the commotion of helping my son get his catcher’s equipment on and the chatter and cheers of the players, coaches, and parents, it took me a while to pick up on the constant ring tone.

If it goes to voice mail, you’ll know who it is, I thought grimly. The day was perfect for a t-ball game, but a dark cloud had finally moved in from the north, and it began to envelop my very soul and mind into its midst.

A type of cloud that I hadn’t experienced in about 15 years was back.

The cloud of death.

I then heard the triple beep of my phone as the caller finished leaving voice mail.

The night before, my sister notified me by text (how I miss personal phone calls) that our grandma was suffering kidney failure. Grandma, living with my mom, stepdad, and stepfather-in-law, alerted my mom that she was having trouble breathing and couldn’t move. After being transported to the hospital and evaluated, my grandma stayed overnight for more testing. My sister told me in her text that she would keep me posted if anything changed. A routine hospital run; no different than before.

My ignorant assumptions crumbled like a centuries-old letter.

I dialed my voice mail as my son took his position behind home plate. Leaving the chain-link fence next to the empty dugout, I quickly walked to the adjacent baseball diamond where, luckily, no game was being played. Putting my index finger into my left ear as I jammed the phone against the other, my sister’s voice came on: “Hi Scott. It’s me. Grandma’s not doing too well.” A long, horrific pause ensued, meaning only one thing: My sister, the one with a heart of stone, was actually choked up. I stood confused and helpless, trying to decipher her message.

I had to replay the voice mail to understand her through the sobs. “Her kidneys are failing, and there’s nothing they can do. The doctors are gonna give her a private room in another section of the hospital so she can go peacefully.” The last few lines after that were unintelligible.

Immediately dialing my sister’s number, I quickly wondered how my son was doing as catcher before remembering that it was t-ball and catchers didn’t do much. An instant later, my sister answered.

“So there’s really nothing that can be done?” I asked, walking toward the low right-field fence and looking at the trees in home-run territory. Birds sang in front of me, and parents cheered behind me.

“No. Grandma’s too old for dialysis and a kidney transplant. Dialysis would be three times a week for six hours each time. The doctor said she would live miserably. She could go on life support, but her and mom already signed a form refusing it.”

“I see…”

“Yeah,” my sister said, and then paused. “They’re saying she can only last several days without her pills or being hooked up to a machine.”

I knelt down and then plopped onto the tall grass with my back against the wooden fence. In front of me was part of a black, dried up seed pod. I stared at it during the rest of our conversation.

“Can family visit?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, “It’ll be a nice room. Really nice. It’s called South Care Hospice House. At least everyone can be with her and…” Another pause. “say goodbye.”

My sister lost control, and I felt a sucker punch in my gut. She managed to choke out the sentence about her being en route to the hospital.

It was my turn to cry. “Can you… tell her… bye… for me?”

“Yes.” Very short and clipped.

“Thanks.

“Sure. Bye, Scott.”

“Bye.”

I stood up and looked out into the distance beyond the fence. Orange and yellow trees stood tall under the blue, cloudless sky. “Grandpa, please appear to grandma in her room right before she goes so she won’t be scared.”

As an afterthought, I continued, “But ask God first if it’s okay for you to come down here.”

Another afterthought: “Oh, and, while you’re at it, can you arrange a last-minute flight for me?”

I knew grandpa would do it because, well, he was grandpa.

After a few minutes, I went back to the ball game just in time to help my son put on his batting helmet.

The dark cloud loosened its grip on me, but it remained nevertheless.

In Memory of

Grandma B

October 31, 1920 – October 10, 2011

The preceding was written two years ago after the death of my last surviving grandparent.

~t

(photo by Topaz)


Homosexuality and Bullying

Credit: Fotolia

I have taken part in several flash fiction challenges over the years. I love writing, and writing extremely short pieces of fiction really pushes me and helps me to develop more as a writer. Hopefully at some point I can make time to continue this guilty pleasure.

I had wanted to discuss two different issues on this blog at some point in time; however, after going through my old file of stories, I found something that should really be categorized as “flash flash fiction:” The challenge was to write a story in only 100 words. 100. That is probably as long as my “About Me” page on my blog. Ridiculously brief. And that’s why I took the challenge!

What’s interesting is that the 100-word flash fiction piece addresses both of the issues that I wanted to write about. Why not kill two birds with one stone? I originally wanted to discuss each topic in separate posts, but I will attempt to merge them here and try not to bore you with an outrageously long post.

Anyway, here is the flash fiction piece entitled “Bullies and the Bullied:”

We always made Todd close his eyes in the shower after gym class.  Once, during our barrage of insults, I threw his clothes in the trash barrel.

Todd spoke softly with a lisp and only hung out with girls.  As far as I knew, he never got beat up; no guy wanted to touch him.

After that school year, we never saw him again.

***

My son’s junior high photo smiles at me from the mantle. “Of course I still love and accept you, Michael,” I say to it, wiping my eyes.

When you get home from school, I’ll tell you that, buddy.

(I wonder how many of you counted those words…? I might have been off by a few.)

The inspiration for the second half of the “story” came from a conversation that I had with my wife shortly after our oldest son (now seven-years-old) was born. I have read about quite a few parents over the years who had to come to terms with the fact that their son or daughter was gay. When I lived in Japan, I had a Canadian friend who was disowned and told to “go to hell” by his parents after coming out to them.

Of course my wife and I didn’t have to think about our response at all; we would love and accept both sons because they mean more to us than life itself. I would never have the heart to cut off all contact with my two little buddies.

Now, that doesn’t mean we would support the lifestyle. I’m sure you noticed that this blog is written by a Catholic, and I accept and believe what the Catholic Church teaches on homosexuality. But nowhere does it say that anyone should be looked upon as sub-human.

I am really ashamed to admit that the first part of my story really happened. I was young and foolish. Too concerned with trying to fit in, I joined in on the taunting and verbal abuse of my fellow seventh-grader. How I wish I could go back and shake my younger self by the shoulders and scream, “Look at yourself! Think about what you’re doing to this poor kid!”

But I can’t go back. All I can do now is hope and pray that “Todd” is safe and not going through the harassment like he did every day after gym class so many years ago.

Maybe I joined the crowd because the focus of my peers was temporarily off of my awkward, uncoordinated self. Or maybe because I had to take my frustrations out on someone more vulnerable than I; anger and hurt from my father’s continued physical and verbal abuse during my entire childhood would build up from time to time.

There is never a legitimate reason to bully or hate someone. In fifth grade, our family moved to a new city, and that meant a brand new school for my sister and me. By that age, every kid in my new class already had their social groups fixed, and they made it clear that I wasn’t allowed in. Needless to say, I was bullied and even had mud thrown at me. It wasn’t until later in junior high that I finally made a few friends: other outcasts who knew that strength in numbers would be the only way to survive the dark, scary corridors of high school.

Going back to the topic of homosexuality, the Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a sin.  Rather, they teach that homosexual activity is a sin because it goes against the laws of God.

God gave each and every one of us dignity when He created us. As a result, every person on the planet deserves our love and respect.

~t


About Sex and Being Close to God (Not Necessarily in That Order)

life-is-good-BIG

Since I began receiving help from my doctor and therapists, things have been going better for me. What has really helped me, though, is my faith.  As they say, there are no atheists in foxholes.

Last weekend my family and I were on our way to the park to play 18 holes of disc golf (yep, even our two young children can hang with us for all 18 holes!). Out of the blue, my wife said that, if she could go back in time and do things differently, she would like to be a pediatrician. She is realizing that she loves being around children and helping them. Part of this is due to the fact that our youngest son will start kindergarten in the fall, and, for the first time, she will be home all alone during weekdays which is one reason she wants to start working outside the home.

My wife then asked me if there was anything that I wished I could do over. “Nope. Nothing. I’m happy with the way my life is.”

Huh?!  Did I really just say that?

My wife was just as shocked. “Really?” I expected her to say something smart like, “Well, I wish you could have chosen a better major in college so we’d have more money now,” or something to that effect.  Instead: “Wow. You’re lucky!”

Yes. I am lucky. For the first time in my life, I am totally happy in my relationship with God. I have made many sacrifices and have gone through many trials in order to be so close to Him. It was hard. Man, was it hard. But after all these years, I finally understand what St. Paul is saying: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Sure, it would be nice to have a job that paid a six-figure salary like so many of my friends who are my age or even younger. It would be great to be able to take my kids to the Harry Potter theme park in Florida even though they are totally thrilled just to watch the DVDs at home. It would be nice to pay my mother back for the thousands of dollars she spent on my hospital bills over the past 12 months.

But what I have now is peace and joy. Peace because I know God will continue to provide for us. Joy because I have never been happier doing God’s will. I gave up everything that was hindering me: extreme metal music, going out drinking every weekend, pornography, ogling every female I came into contact with, and so on.

Believe me, sin is fun (as if you didn’t know). But it leaves an emptiness inside after the high quickly wears off. But by giving up all that stuff to God, He is able to use me to my fullest potential, filling my whole heart and soul with His spirit. It is the most wonderful feeling.

Before, I would achieve various states of this, but it was always a self-fulfilling prophecy: I was afraid that my joy and trust in God would evaporate after a few days’ time, and, sure enough, it always did.

This wasn’t the first time that my wife had asked me about what I would do over in my life. We are both intelligent and earned degrees in fields that we loved back in the day. However, as people get older, they change. Sure, it would have been really cool to learn how to play drums when I was younger so that I could be an expert now. But those are just thoughts; not even bucket list items. As I mentioned in another post, I’m not really into bucket lists. I’m not sure why. I guess there is so much stuff that I’ve already done, and I am completely happy with my two little sons, even though our marriage has morphed into something that neither one of us expected. This was my wife’s decision, but after MUCH prayer and advice, I decided to offer it up to God, and now we are both okay (?) with it.

Credit: Fotolia

Anyway, I believe that in order for me to avoid mortal sin (contraception, coitus interruptus), and since my wife is a non-believer, a Josephite marriage (see above link) is actually a good idea for us. Would I recommend it to Catholic or non-Catholic couples? Absolutely not. There are so many factors involved; taking it on a case-by-case basis would be the best idea. Plus, talk to someone who is licensed.

Do I hope that we become intimate with each other again one day? Absolutely. But it’s not like I’m holding out or anything. I never thought it would be possible for me, but it really is not a problem. Now that is proof that there is a God; there would be no way that I could remain totally abstinent, being the gross sinner that I am.

So, teens and young single people: abstinence is indeed possible. If a married guy living in the same house as his wife can do it, then so can you!

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

~topaz

What are your thoughts on married couples who choose abstinence? Is it too strange? What if one party is not open to marriage counseling? Should a Josephite marriage be established to avoid divorce? Please let me know your thoughts. I’m just a blogger and could benefit from your feedback.


A Life Cut Way Too Short

I’m not into posting in an impromptu manner, but something has been weighing heavily on my heart today.  There is a lady whose blog I have recently discovered.  It is called My Bright Shining Star, and it is an outlet for her to deal with the trauma of losing her beautiful daughter, Kaitlyn, to suicide this past April.

As a lot of you can guess, this topic really hits home to me since I attempted suicide late last summer (the night of August 24 to be exact).  I cannot do this poor woman justice by describing her pain and torment and how she pours her heart and soul into her blog posts, so just go over there and read them for yourselves.

I know the blogger’s name, but since she doesn’t publicize it anywhere (that I saw) on her blog, I will just refer to her as Kaitlyn’s mother.

She is still Kaitlyn’s mother and always will be.

My wife spent one year in the U.S. as an exchange student in high school. She was placed with a very dear LDS (Mormon) family. They had six children, but two of them tragically died in a car accident years before my wife lived with the family. To this day, my wife’s host mother still includes all six children’s names in her Christmas cards that she sends out each year.

It melts my heart each year when I open the card and see all eight names at the bottom (including the parents). To my wife’s host mother, the two deceased children’s bodies are no longer here, but their spirits live on in the hearts of the surviving family members.

I’m not sure what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it, but my wife and I have a mutual understanding that we would have done the same exact thing had we been in her host parents’ situation.

I wrote a comment to Kaitlyn’s mother today and told her that her blog has impacted me in ways that she probably cannot imagine. After my attempt last summer, my wife, parents, and siblings told me over and over how they would have been affected and how it would have changed their lives forever. My mother even said that she wouldn’t have been able to celebrate Christmas quite the same for the rest of her life; she and I share that holiday as our favorite, and I would have unknowingly ruined it beyond repair.

My older cousin took his own life while I was living abroad, and I’ll never forget reading the email from my mother about the details. I began sobbing right there in the Internet Cafe as I read the news. My mother said that my cousin even took the time to put his two beloved dogs in their kennels before he shot himself.

My mother, from whom I get my emotional heart, said she would have given any amount of money to know what he was thinking as he led the dogs into the kennels and latched the doors for the last time. Those little trivial thoughts are like life support for a memory that has already evaporated.

Even though it has been over twelve years, little things like that pop into my mind from out of nowhere. One year for Christmas I bought my cousin a newly-released CD box set of The Doors, his all-time favorite band. He loved that gift so much. I still wonder what became of those CDs. Are they sitting in an attic covered by layers of dust? Did his ex-wife sell them at a garage sale? Or did my aunt and uncle leave them in his bedroom where he had last left them, like a lot of parents who seal off their deceased child’s bedroom to preserve their memory for as long as possible?

Anyway, if you’re reading this, Kaitlyn’s mother, please know that, although I cannot begin to comprehend your loss and the trauma that you’re experiencing, your writings have impacted me like nothing else ever has. I promised my family that I would not attempt suicide ever again, and you have helped me to cement that vow.

May you and your family be comforted and carried by the Lord and His angels until you are all reunited with your lovely daughter again.

~topaz