The Biggest Daddy-o Of Them All
[Big Mike Note: Here's another blast from the past. This post originally ran in my old blog, The Third City, some four years ago. Sure, I'm an atheist; but I'm not a fanatic about it. Enjoy.]
November 23rd, 2010
I was sitting in a church pew on a March Sunday in 1998.
Imagine: Me, writing that line.
But it’s true. It was a rough time for me, the late winter and spring of ’98. My marriage was finished. For the past 12 years I’d been dealing with panic disorder, agoraphobia, and two or three other coconut maladies. I’d reached the end of my rope. My twin hobbies of drinking and chasing women were proving to be slightly less than fulfilling. So, I figured I might try something crazy. Prayer.
As far back as age seven, when my second grade teacher, Sister Caelin, told us that we must love god, I’d been skeptical of this whole prayer and creator and piety business. First of all, I kept myself awake half the night for the next three months trying to figure out what the nun meant. How does one love god? I saw g. as some ancient, teed-off crank with a long white beard, a long white robe and sandals, sitting on a cloud-throne somewhere past Orion. I forced myself to imagine showering his cheek with kisses. I figured it was the least I could do, considering he’d snapped his fingers and created the Earth, Europe, the USA, rocks, dinosaurs, Adam & Eve, and the Cubs. I patterned my g.-loving after that which I bestowed upon my own Daddy-o, a similarly distant crank who sat in a recliner with his socks rolled up around his toes. “Kiss your father goodnight,” Ma would command me, so I approached him as if he were a hydrogen bomb that’d just happened to be left in the living room. I brushed my itty-bitty tender lips on his porcupine cheek. He would grunt. I understood that to be how a little kid loved an inscrutable, all-powerful figure. So, in my mind as I lay in bed each night, I’d drag my poor lips over g.’s scratchy beard, squeezing my eyes shut as if to demonstrate how serious I was about this loving god stuff, Sister Caelin’s specter floating overhead, watching me through slitted eyes to make certain not a single cell of my being wasn’t focused on love-love-love-loving the biggest Daddy-o of them all.
Finally, by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around, I said to myself, This is stupid. I have no idea how to love god. In fact, the day before the holiday I’d asked Sister Caelin point blank: “How do you love god?” She gave out one of those patented, mouth-open gasps that nuns loved to do when they were trying to convey to certain kids that they’re rotten and ought to burn in hell. And, I most assuredly, was rotten. She immediately turned her attention to the rest of the class and proclaimed that the love of god was a mystery and only a sinner would question how or why. There was no instruction booklet on how to do it, no secret formula, you just knew it when you were loving god. Great, I thought, you’re a big help.
Sister Caelin turned back to me and ordered me to go to the blackboard at the back of the class and write one hundred times, “I must love god” (with a capital G, of course.) That pretty much cracked it for me with god (little g.)
So for the next 35 or so years I thumbed my nose at the Big Daddy-o and all his fans down here on Earth. But, as I say, things had gotten awfully miserable for me for about a dozen years. I tried every remedy I could think of until in desperation I turned to the putative guy who one day sat there and said to himself, I’m bored; I think I’ll create a Universe.
If you’ve been reading these posts for the last couple of years you know my god-thing didn’t take. To tell the truth, I’m even more anti-Big Daddy-o than ever before. But I do have to concede I got one really fantastic gift from my foray into prayer. That brings us back to that March Sunday in 1998.
The priest was giving his sermon that morning. He seemed a likable guy. Didn’t rail against the filth in the world or tell us we were a bunch of jerks. This priest, whose name I’ve forgotten, was upbeat — not like a game show host but like the best high school teacher you ever had. And like that one-in-a-million teacher, he left me with something that has stayed with me the rest of my life so far. He said life is good and we were a well-fed, lucky congregation. The vast majority of us didn’t need to worry about the next meal or any predators or whether we were going to freeze that night. That left us only to do that which makes us human, our defining duties in life. “We’re here,” he said, “to love and to hope.”
The minute those words came out of his mouth, I thought, Motherfucker, I’m done. I gotta go. There was, I realized, nothing more that anybody could say or do for me in that place. The rest was all ritual and incense and harridan nuns and big, colorful extravaganzas.
We’re here to love and to hope. I’ve tried to live my life according to those seven words every day since.
I Tried It
I tell this story to illustrate that I’m not so cynical that I believe nobody can get anything of value from the Catholic Church. Even I, the world’s most irreligious human, became a better Homo Sapiens sapiens thanks to a moment spent in a church pew. Some people who read this blog are devoted Catholics. I don’t want to tell them I think their faith is bullshit. It’s getting them through this crazy, mixed-up life. And if they believe a guy threw out some lightning bolts and said Let there be a world with Kim Kardashian and Halliburton and Dancing with the Stars, I won’t quibble with them.