“It’s a tough issue, because while I think many of us feel like we can make decisions for ourselves, suddenly we’re making decisions for someone else who might want or need more than what we do.
I’m not making much sense . . .”
Au contraire, mon frère, le père, you are making perfect sense. As I’ve mentioned previously, Dad was a Christian Scientist whose behavior with his kids might have seemed a bit hypocritical from the outside. Although I never spoke directly with him about this, I believe that his rushing us to the clinic at the slightest provocation probably stemmed from a belief that until we were old enough to have faith, that he was responsible for protecting us from the damage that might result from illness or injury.
He always made it clear–to me, anyway, but perhaps this is just another benefit of being the last child–that I didn’t have to go to Sunday School if I didn’t want to. Of course, as a young boy, I couldn’t imagine not doing what Dad did, especially something that he held so close to his heart. It was only as I got older, and the idea of getting out of bed, much less out of the house and over to church, by 10:30 seemed an inhumane way of treating myself on a weekend, that I stopped going. Some son, huh? “Hey, look Dad. I know that you love me and that you love church and that you’d love for me to go with you, seeing as how it’s one time during the week when we can spend time together, but see, I’m really tired. I’ll try to wake up before you get back, OK?” Turns out that he was right to take me to the doctor all those times that I cut myself to the bone, since my faith was not as deep as my need to get a little more sleep on a Sunday.
And he was also right not to force me to Sunday School or church against my will. I think that his refusal to do so came, in part, from an understanding on his part that his faith, Christian Science was, as he put it, “out in left field.” Dad would have been delighted if I, or any of us kids, became members of the faith that he and his mother had both followed. But he knew that asking us to do so was asking a lot because it was always going to be different from other faiths. I also think that Dad was smart enough to know that nobody could be forced into faith–that true faith requires true belief, not coerced behavior. It also requires a certain presence of mind–hence rushing younger kids to the clinic, because we were too young to have the mental capacity for faith. And Dad was secure enough in his own faith that he didn’t find it necessary to bring his children into it to confirm his own belief. Beyond that, I’d like to believe that along with his lifelong faith in the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, he had a faith in his kids, a faith that we would become good people even if we didn’t attend his church–or any church for that matter.
As I said, however, Dad and I never got the chance to discuss this directly, so I’m having to put this together from a distance–triangulate his probable positions on most of this from quite a distance. But while I could be wrong about the fine points, I know that Dad was strong enough and smart enough to never force us into faith, even as he was leading us down the delicate path of love, beauty, and laughter to success.
As Dad was leading, it was the small things that mattered the most to me; it was more important to me when I was a boy that Dad apologized after yelling at me than that he went to church every Sunday. Dad’s priority was doing small, simple things well; this was as characteristic of him as his left-handedness, to the point that a coworker sent him the poem “Success,” with this note:
“Seems that Mr. Emerson may well have written this just for you.”
Actually, it’s most likely that Emerson didn’t pen those lines, but her sentiment rings true. I hope that as I’m “making decisions for someone else who might want or need more than what we do,” I can be as successful at the small things as Dad was.
Next up: So, if I flunked out of Sunday School, why do I still believe in God?