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Monday, September 11, 2006

Gentle Men

I learned something about Rich on Sunday that I had not noticed on my own. He has undertaken the spiritual and physical discipline of fasting before the Eucharist. Not the Vatican II easy definition of fasting and only an hour, either, he does not eat between Saturday night and Holy Eucharist which takes place at our church at roughly 11:30 a.m./12:00 p.m. Evidently, he has been practicing this discipline for about six months without my discovering it. In a great show of my own self centeredness, my first thought was to wonder if he judged me for not observing it. My second thought was to justify my non-observance, by reminding myself that I had been pregnant, or nursing a child during this whole time. My third thought was to try to find a way to observe it as well, so I could match him, without him knowing that that was my motivation (he always tries to make sure I eat in the morning).

The reality is that his observance has nothing to do with me. I was disappointed in myself, when I was finished thinking about how this should affect me, that I hadn't noticed in six months that there had been a change in his behavior. Now, Sunday mornings are busy in our home, we have five children (four on the outside when this started) and trying to get everyone up, showered, dressed appropriately, fed, teeth brushed, our offering for the coffee hour taken with us, the diaper bag reloaded, and everyone to the car and on the road without forgetting three things takes up a lot of my attention. He is not a man to hang a banner up announcing his spiritual disciplines, but I know him, and we talk about these things, and I should pay more attention to him than I did in this.

After I got over myself, I was again thankful that he is a great example to me, and to our children, on the practice of piety. We practice fasting and abstinence in our home and we talk about their significance, and we pray together and on our own, we ask for the prayers of our children and pray over them, we read scripture, study the lives of the saints and doctors and fathers of the church, and we grow. There is still room for private observances that come out of personal spiritual growth. I am pleased that I have a husband whose growth is a model to me, as well as our children.

He is teaching the boys how to be men, and Amira what to look for in a man. There is much talk about men getting in touch with their feminine side, or raising boys more like we raise girls. I think this is garbage. A nurturing man is not more feminine, and I find that those self aware, sensitive types of men tend to only be in touch with their own feelings. A boy learns to be gentle and nurturing from his father and from his mother and from his siblings, but he learns how to be a gentle man from his father.

This is a photo of one of our priest's sons holding Jerome.

Spencer has taken to Jerome quite a bit (which makes up for Jordan, his older brother, not forgiving us for not naming him Jordan). He is gentle and nurturing, he is the first to ask to hold him and is as caring as any mother, as the phrase goes. However, he learned this from his father. He is as gentle as any father would be. He is fortunate to have grown up in a large family, he is one of six, and has had the training, through this, to become sensitive and to love children. Where else will our young men learn this, but in the family? They won't learn it on a football field, or a classroom, or, heaven help us, all those feminist sensitivity training sessions, where they are taught that men are violent and women are gentle and that they should behave more like women.

One day he and his brothers will make excellent fathers, because they have learned how to love like a man does, including not entertaining naughty behavior (one of our favorite examples of this was when Amira got in trouble for disobeying us, and she started to cry. One of Spencer's younger sisters tried to comfort her, not knowing why Amira was crying, and Spencer told her not to comfort her, she was being naughty.) Yet, if any child is hurt or sad, these boys are the first to come to their aid and comfort. When the little children want to play, these boys are the first to organize a game. When a small child is being noisy in church, one of the older boys will come to claim him, shush him, and hold him, so the parents can participate in church, and the new person will distract the child from misbehavior. It is not only this family, though, Rich and I have been so impressed with the young men of our church, how much they love children, understand discipline and are openly soft and gentle, without any shame. They have learned from their fathers, their brothers, the other men in our church, but above all, from our Lord, that to be a man is to love and nurture children, to put one's wife and family first, to feel deeply and stand in strength.

Now, though, we have so many homes with no father (I grew up in one), so many children don't see up close how a man lives. We have tiny families, where children never learn what it is to look after their siblings, so that sometimes the first baby they hold is their own, and live in communities where there aren't other families to be involved with daily and make up for the small family at home. I am deeply grateful for our bustling, busy family, for our church family, and for the strong men, whose only feminine side is their wives.


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