Tag Archives: parents

Excommunication, Family-Style

“Listen to Daddy, Hana,” Maya says to her 1.5-year old baby sister.  “Or he’ll close the door.”

Close the door.  That sounds like a non-sequitur.  In our family, it signals the worst form of punishment: separation from mommy or daddy.  And it’s reserved for when our children throw a tantrum, stubbornly refuse to obey, or are being violent.  When Maya warned her sister, it is because she herself has a lot of experience with it.

I guess it’s a form of timeout, but I think it’s more than that.  I think it’s a taste of excommunication.  It’s a taste of Hell.  I mean, what’s worse than spending an eternity without God, the source of all that’s good?  What is excommunication, but separation from the family (i.e. Mother Church, Heavenly Father, our brothers & sisters in the parish, our Ideal Older Brother Christ)?  So, when I put Maya in her room and close the door, she is experiencing excommunication, family-style.

And, boy… does she feel it!

Maya would scream and scream and scream.  Then she would scream even louder.  So loud, that I wonder if our neighbors think there’s a massacre going on in our house.  When I open the door and tell her to calm down, she would shout with her mouth closed but still be jumping up and down.  She still would not obey; so, I would close the door.  New heights of screaming.  Maya would work herself up into a sweat.  It is, I’m sure, a horrible experience for her.  This is not any sort of timeout I’ve ever heard of.

After four of five times of opening and closing the door, Maya would repent.  She would say “I’m sorry” and acknowledge the lesson I’m trying to teach her.  Throughout this whole time I never have to raise my voice.  I calmly but firmly request what she needs to do in order to repent, and repeatedly close the door until she chooses to repent.  When she does repent, I would hug her and kiss her, which is what I wanted to do anyway.  But, discipline is the path to health and happiness.  So, the punishment — the family excommunication — was necessary.

Family excommunication would not work if Maya did not love being around me.  If she hated me, or merely had no desire to be around me, separation from her father would be a relief.  But, I deliberately die to my own selfishness so that I can be Maya’s source of joy, laughter, fun, giggles, silliness, and imagination.  I die to my self so that I can be her ultimate playfellow.  This is the source of power in “closing the door.”  Maya doesn’t want to lose this source of love.

Ecclesial excommunication works the same way.  If I don’t love Christ and His Church, then being separated from the Family of God would be a relief.

As my daughters grow in maturity within our domestic church, my hope is to draw their awareness to the true source of all their happiness, all their blessings.  Their father is so awesome not because he’s naturally so.  He’s naturally a sinner — a selfish, prideful, lustful, gluttonous man.  But by the grace of Our Good Lord, their daddy is awesome.  My hope is to draw their awareness to their talents, their beauty, their intellect as being gifts of God.  They didn’t have to be this way.  They didn’t have to be born into this family.  But they are incredible creatures, born into this wonderful family.  And they can thank no one but God.

I want to conclude, oddly enough, with a reflection on the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament.  The Book of Numbers is one of the five Books of Moses (called the Pentateuch) that is the basis for all of Judaism.  It is the story of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, in the desert land of Sinai, between Egypt and the promised land.  And it is painful to read — not because it’s boring — but because God literally kills tens of thousands of his own Chosen People.  Catholic teaching says that one person is of infinite value.  If that’s true, then why did God open up the ground and swallowed up men, women, children and babies (Num 16:26-32)?

That was the question I had during my lectio divina prayer on this chapter in Numbers.  Today, I thanked God for the consolation of an answer.  My thoughts ran together, but let me try to put them into logical order:

  • Bodily death loses its sting (1 Cor 15:55) with the hope of the Resurrection.
  • Christ descended into Hell for three days (Apostles’ Creed).  He preached the Gospel to the souls imprisoned there and freed the just who had gone before him (CCC 632-634).
  • A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8)
  • The innocent family members who died in the history recounted in Numbers 16 would have been freed by Christ when he descended into Hell.  In the timeframe of God, it would have been just ten minutes.
  • When I punish Maya with family excommunication (a.k.a. “closing the door”), it takes about ten minutes or so.
  • Just as I am a loving father and want my child to reconcile with me, so did God want to reconcile with His Chosen People who died in Numbers 16.  His 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to me, just like my 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to Maya.

Praise God, for He is the source of all wisdom, goodness and love.

Obeying Out of Love or Fear?

obedience-out-of-love-or-fear-parenting
Obeying out of love or fear?

My eldest daughter, Maya, is the guinea pig for our different parenting styles.  Our bedtime routine for her is a good example of that difference.  I would classify my wife’s style as “obedience out of fear.”  I generously call mine “obedience out of love;” whether it’s truly love or just plain spoiling the child is something my wife contends.

For many months, I’ve been responsible for putting Maya to bed.  The routine after dinner is simple: take a bath, drink 8-oz of milk, read 2 to 3 books, brush teeth, read 2 to 3 more books, pray and then get tucked-in by 8:30pm or so.  Maya also has two 8-oz bottles of water on her nightstand that she would ask me to refill before she even finishes with one of them.

Obedience Out of Fear or Love?

Not surprisingly, Maya needs to potty three to five times before finally falling to sleep.  This means she’s not sleeping until 9:30 or 10pm on some nights.  Often, around 2am or 4am, she would wet her pull-up diapers completely, cry, and ask me to change her into a new one.

I do all of this without complaining.  I admit it’s a bit inconvenient for me.  Occasionally I put my foot down (i.e. refusing to tuck her in three times in one night), but I usually do everything she asks because it’s our idiosyncratic bedtime routine.  I know that this behavior will eventually pass and all of it would make a great story when she’s older.  Also, quite simply, love means self-sacrifice — giving up my preferences for the benefit of another.

When I went on a week-long business trip several weeks ago, my wife had to put Maya to sleep.  She was surprised by how spoiled Maya was.  Since she also had to take care of Hana, our youngest, at the same time, my wife changed the routine to accommodate the extra burden.  No water refills.  Change your own pull-up diaper.  Go potty only once or twice.  And, no tucking in.  Maya, of course, threw a tantrum, and my wife would threaten to close her bedroom door completely — an act that Maya sees as heavy punishment.

Coming home, my wife still wanted to put Maya to sleep because she had to “re-train” her.  So, every night was a scream-fest with Maya and mommy.  While I agreed with my wife that we should ween Maya off from her peculiar bedtime requests, I disagreed with her use of tactics that we usually employed only as a last resort.  I also threaten to close her bedroom door for time-out, but only for major infractions (i.e. repeated rudeness, throwing a hysterical tantrum, etc.)  Most of all, I disagree with my wife’s tone when reprimanding Maya.

Don’t get me wrong, my wife is a sweet woman.  So, even her deeply disapproving reprimands are like lovely feminine frowns.  She’s exhausted and needs to tap me in, like a wrestler in a tag-team match.  Yet my wife insists on staying in the ring.  Her willpower to resist Maya’s demands only gets stronger the louder our daughter screams.  I love my wife for devising punishments Maya fears that doesn’t involve spanking.  They’re effective and I use them, too.  But, a parent’s threats to induce fear will need to get more severe as the child grows older.  Sure, right now, Maya fears time-out with her door closed.  She’s only two, now.  What happens when she’s nine?  Or fourteen-years old?  We need to use the heavy punishments sparingly.

I take a different approach, normally.  I want Maya to love me so much that it is my absence that she fears.  She usually complies with what I want her to do if I threaten to walk away.  My nuclear option is mommy, as in, “Okay, mommy will [feed you/give you a bath/brush your teeth, etc.]”  Yes, I realize it’s unfair to leverage my own wife this way.  It’s ironic, though: throughout history mothers would threaten their children with “Wait until your father gets home.”  Maya would probably shout, “Yay!”

When my wife and I are calmly talking about our different parenting styles, I point out how her “obedience out of fear” is like how the Church gets people to behave and my “obedience out of love” is like how our Heavenly Father gets us to behave.  This is the Father that Jesus reveals, of course.  The God in the Old Testament is pretty scary at times.  It’s from the Father that Jesus reveals that  I take my parenting cues.  I don’t spoil my children; I am merciful as Our Heavenly Father is merciful.  Doing God’s will out of fear leads to resentment, like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  In my spiritual life, I seek to love God so much that I want to do His will as a loving response.  So, my Father is to me, I am to my children.

I observe that this “obedience out of love” is incredibly inconvenient for me.  I need more patience compared to the fear method.  Sometimes it doesn’t work and Maya still disobeys.  This is no different than God’s experience.  Torture and death on the Cross is pretty inconvenient.  We still disobey quite often despite God’s infinite love for us.

I’ve come to conclude that both obedience out of fear and out of love have a place in parenting, just like we need the Church’s doctrine and God’s mercy in our spiritual life.  My wife may be harsh at times, but just like how the Church’s moral prescriptions may be harsh, they’re good for us.  She may be too strict, but they will always find mercy from me.  The Church’s doctrine may be too strict, but God’s mercy is greater.  Our children’s first experience of God will be through us.  Mommy’s discipline and Daddy’s forgiveness will build their character.  The Church’s discipline and God’s mercy will build their spirit.

Notes to “From Wild Man to Wise Man” (Chapters 1 to 9)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the writing style and narrative choices Richard Rohr makes in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” can easily cause us to miss the main message of his book.  I hope to draw out the main points in this summary for the first nine chapters:

“From Wild Man to Wise Man,” by Richard Rohr
  1. Just as both man and woman are images of God, the human spiritual journey can be described as both male and female.  In general, women are more in touch with their spiritual side, a spirituality that can be described as “feminine.”  Men, in general, have not developed a “male” spirituality that would help them on their unique journey.
  2. Part of the reason why men have not developed their own spirituality is because we live in a broken world.  In general, this broken world is an addictive system created by men, initially, to keep men in worldly power.  However, as power democratized, the very measures of success that keep men prisoners of the system are also keeping “successful” women and minorities prisoners.
  3. A unique quality of male spirituality is initiation: “Male initiation always has to do with hardness, limit situations, difficulty, struggle and usually a respectful confrontation with the non-rational, the unconscious or, if you will, the wild.  It prepares the young man to deal with life in other ways than logic, managing, controlling and problem solving.  Frankly, it prepares him for the confrontation with the Spirit.”  This has a biblical tie to Gen 32:24-26 where Jacob wrestles with the Angel and gets a wounded hip.
  4. The male spiritual journey “feels too much like dying in its early stages, and most people are not well trained in dying.  Initiation is always training in dying.”  In the male spiritual journey, the young man goes from simple to complex consciousness and then through a door to enlightenment.  “That door is usually some form of suffering — physical, relational, emotional, intellectual, structural…  Initiation always taught the young men to die before he died, and then he would begin to live.”  Once there, enlightenment deceptively appears a lot like simple consciousness.  “If you have once faced the great death, the second death can do you no harm.” — Saint Francis of Assisi
  5. A man typically needs an elder man who can lead him through his journey.  The male initiator “was never your biological father because that relationship was both too complex and had to be maintained as nurturing.”  John the Baptist, for example, was the initiator for Christ’s public ministry.  Saint Paul is a good example of how to be a master teacher, male initiator.  He shows young men how to face the great death.  We need more elder men to help initiate young men through their spiritual journey.

What If My Children were Gay?

An old friend found my reflection about gay marriage and Satan ridiculous and challenged me to consider what I would do if I found out my children were gay.  My eldest daughter is now two years old and the other is just four months.  I have about six years or so before their sexual awareness.  So, I have time.

Nevertheless, it’s a very good question to explore, now.

Same-sex attraction is as natural as concupiscence.  It doesn’t make them bad people just as my tendency towards sexual immorality doesn’t make me a bad person.  We’re just broken in different ways.  What will bother me the most is the vitriol thrown at homosexuals by self-righteous people.

Moral Insiders Treating Others Without Dignity

Moral insiders often do not treat homosexuals with human dignity; I’d be even more sensitive to that if my girls were gay.  I think it is an injustice, the way we moral insiders treat moral outsiders.  I’ve been reflecting on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  As the elder brothers, we should be going out to find our wayward younger brothers who are squandering our Father’s inheritance.  We should not be brooding in our Father’s house, objecting to His mercy.

My girls, if they are imperfect, need to be confident of my love for them – just as I am confident of Our Heavenly Father’s love for me, as imperfect as I am.  They need to understand the true meaning of free will, and the reality of God’s prodigal mercy.  Our goal in life is to become the best-version-of-ourselves.  If my girls discover that they are gay, then my job as their father is to help them become the best version of themselves, despite the heaviness of that Cross.  I am to be like Simon of Cyrene and help them carry their burden, not like the Pharisees who are ready to cast the first stone.

Maya drinks a bottle of milk and then a bottle of water or two before bed.  So, she needs to go to the bathroom three to five times before falling asleep.  My wife finds going potty that many times is excessive and that Maya is merely trying to avoid sleep.  When Maya sneaks out of her room and finds mommy, she cries while being told “it’s the last time.”  When she finds daddy, she gives a sheepish grin, takes his hand and skips to the bathroom.

Maya learns discipline from mommy, forgiveness from daddy (what Anne Marie terms “spoiling.”)  In matters of the Spirit, our Mother Church teaches me what is right and wrong, and our Heavenly Father teaches me about His abundant mercy.  Our home is our daughters’ first experience of the Trinity; if they cannot be accepted in our family for being gay, then we would have failed as parents to live out the Gospel message of love.

My love as a parent, though, doesn’t give me the right to define what is moral.  If my daughters choose to live a sinful life, then I will continue to love and bless them as God even now continues to love and bless me in my broken, sinful state.  How is their father any better as a Christian, any less of a sinner?  How is their sexual sin any worse than mine?  The sun will continue to shine on them as it does on me.

If they insist on gay marriage and children from that marriage, I will tell them that this is not what God wants.  There will be consequences, but I will be there for them.   I will continue to love, pray, fast and sacrifice myself for their sake.  I will care for their spouse, when she is sick.  I will babysit and cook for them so that they can have a break.  I will love them and the new community they’ll bring into my life, even though they are living a life of sin because God loves me even though I myself live a life of sin.  How can I do any less than my own Father?  Christ surrounded himself with moral outcasts and gave them hope.  Perhaps I am called to do the same with the help of my daughters?

Being a Christ-like example of love and mercy may not be enough to inspire my children to a life of conversion.  They may harden their hearts against any religious message because it contradicts the life they’ve chosen.  If that’s the case, then I will offer up my own life in exchange for their immortal souls.  There will be consequences to their actions, but I will pay those consequences myself if, in the end, they do not repent.  For God so loved the world that He gave up His only son for the expiation of their sins.  For I so love my daughters, I will give up my life for them.  What will my Passion be?  That’s for God to decide.  In the meantime, fatherhood is a training ground for that ultimate sacrifice.

So, to answer my friend’s challenge, while I cannot change God’s definition of marriage, I am willing to pay the price for His forgiveness of their sins.

Forgetting Sex is Sacred

It’s easy for me to forget that sex is sacred.  Twenty-first century U.S. society has redefined sex: at best, it’s the culmination of a unrequited romantic courtship; at worst, it’s a commodity to be traded, a tool for violence.  The messages that surround me is that sex is a normal biological process, a form of recreation, and a right to happiness that needs to be protected/defended.  I rarely hear that sex is sacred.

I forget that sex is sacred, but I’m reminded of this truth today through the birth of my second daughter.  God, thank you.  You blessed me with an awareness that I pray I can articulate here in this journal entry.

[instagram url=http://instagram.com/p/SrZP2bTCfo/ width=400]

I love my wife.  She is a saint and she is helping me become one.  In marriage, I learned that self-giving is the inner life of the Trinity.  The self-giving needed to make a marriage work is a mystery to outsiders.  The self-giving in our marriage creates a loving bubble, protecting us from the world.  This loving bubble is a living cell within the Body of Christ.

Similar to the 40 days of Advent leading to Easter, my wife and I prepared for 40 weeks for the birth of our new child.  My wife and I were joined together as “one flesh” through marriage.  Our self-giving to each other is united and led by the love God has for each of us as individuals.  It is because God is forgiving, self-sacrificing and generous to me that I am forgiving, self-sacrificing and generous to my wife.  Our love for each other (wife, husband, God) form a triune body for the Holy Spirit.  The invisible reality of our love is made visible with the birth of another immortal soul: Hana Therese.

The invisible reality of the love between Christ and His Bride (the Church), is made visible through new Baptisms, Confirmations and First Communions.  As Hana takes to her mother’s breast for milk, so I take to the Church’s altar for the Eucharist.  As Maya (Hana’s older sister) has grown these past two years in a loving household, so has my soul grown within the loving household of God’s Church these past three years.

Sex is sacred because “it is the only door by which God himself regularly enters our world to do the miraculous deed he alone can do: creating new images of himself.  Sex images God because it makes new images of God.”

Families are the basic building blocks of Christ’s body, not the individual.  I cannot create immortal souls on my own.  My wife and I cannot create immortal souls together.  Only with God.

If I push you out of the bedroom, God, it’s because I’ve fallen victim to the world’s redefinition of sex as something profane, something vulgar… something I should be ashamed to let you see. Help me accept the presence of the Holy Spirit during sex because the act is sacred. We are creating immortal souls with you.

To Be or Not to Be Our Parents

A young Ned seen with his beatnik parents
A young Ned seen with his beatnik parents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We grow up to be like our parents. Is that true? Could be. The better question is, “Do I want to grow up to be like my parents?” I am as unsure of my answer for that question as I was for the first one.

I have always maintained that the whole of myself is the best of both worlds that my parents each represent. My father, for instance, is forward thinking and very intelligent. When he sits quietly looking out at the lawn or at the fish tank, I know he’s thinking about the future. I know because once I asked.

“Nothing is wrong, Dad?” I asked in Cantonese. He was staring at the fish tank for such a long time, not reading his newspaper as usual.
“No. I am just thinking about the family’s house.” He was always worried about how the mortgage was to be paid. The family depended so much on him, the money that he worked so hard to bring home.

Being a child, when he told me of his troubles, I knew not what to do. There was not much I could do but be a good boy — and I don’t think I succeeded at that very well, either. Well, I am more eager to be a good son now if I was not much of one back then. More importantly, the point I was trying to make is that I am also very forward-thinking. And, being a good son is a goal in which its value would not have been realized if I did not have my dad’s critical self-reflection.

My dad has a coherent code of ethics because of that self-reflection. He doesn’t adhere to the rituals of the family’s religion, Mahayana Buddhism. No words actually declare this, but his behavior and facial expressions clearly say it’s a “crock of shit.” About the rituals of any religion, I have also come to the same conclusion: they are perfunctory. I think I inherited the same cynicism towards religion that my father has. Yet, even without the fallible guidance of a priest, monk or rabbi, I have developed a code of ethics of my own that I live by.

My mother has a high interpersonal intelligence. She is honest and does not put on any air of superiority (probably because she hasn’t the riches to justify it, hehe…). She is sincere. That sincerity in her actions with other people make trusting her a very comfortable thing to do. This sincerity, I think, I inherited from her.

My mom is also empathetic. She is no Gandhi or Mother Theresa, but she feels for other people’s suffering as (what I have come to learn) good people should. Without this influence from my mother, I don’t think I can cry at sad movies or care about the many disenfranchised people in this world.

Mother-Teresa-collage

So, there are many good characteristics of my parents that I like in me. Yet, I fear I might have inherited some bad traits, too. Don’t we all?

My anger, for instance, is very explosive. My dad’s anger, likewise, is very explosive. Neither one of us is physically violent. My father has never hit my mom, and I am vehemently against domestic violence. Yet, our loud, deep voices become very threatening when we shout. The tension in and the extreme contrast from our general jovial faces both have a very imposing effect to the receiver in a conflict. I never liked my dad when he was mad. He was scary. Similarly, the few people who have seen me angry have commented on its intensity.

My mom is very emotional. When she gets stressed out, she cries. When I get stressed out, I cry. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but crying isn’t very manly, either.

There is a point that I am trying to make, but the night is getting late and I want to go to bed. I suppose I conclude that I like how both my parents are, but I am concerned about certain traits such as my dad’s anger and his stonewalling when he argues with my mom. I want neither to be unconstructive with my anger nor stonewall my significant other when in conflict. Is recognizing the tendency enough to keep it in check? Perhaps. Wanting to be a good husband, I certainly hope so. Divorces will get pretty expensive in the years to come.