Through a Father's Eyes

My youngest sister graduated from college last weekend.  She's really an amazing person.  She has a job doing international development work, with a focus on Africa.  She is incredibly smart and passionate, and is a dynamic and self-assured person.  She's really special.  I'm very proud of her.

This weekend saw a new hashtag campaign, #yesallwomen.  I missed the beginning of this movement, but I gather it was prompted by the shooting in Santa Barbara, California on Saturday.  Apparently, the shooter left a manifesto that blamed his deeds on the fact that women have rejected him, and the loathsome and brain-dead Men's Right's Advocate (MRA) community took to Twitter to blame women generally for this shooting.  #yesallwomen was a series of stories from women about the kinds of experiences that women deal with on a daily basis from men.  The thread running through many of these stories is men who believe that women have a one-way obligation to them, simply because they are men and women are women.  I was shocked by many of the stories, but that was kind of the point--otherwise well-meaning men don't understand or recognize what it means to be a woman.

Both my sister's graduation and the hashtag campaign have made me think about raising children, especially daughters.  I am currently single, and I have no children.  Still, I want (and hope) to have kids someday.  I always have.  Maybe it is because I grew up around little kids as the oldest of a family of six.  Maybe it is because the thought of never having children was a big reason that I realized I couldn't do the celibacy required of being a Catholic priest.  For whatever reason, I've always known I wanted to have kids.

I worry more about being the father of a daughter.  With a son, I can always fall back my own experience of being a boy, imperfect and singular as that experience may be.  With a daughter, I don’t have that to fall back on, and I have to be more intentional about what I communicate to her.  I want to make sure I am communicating and fostering and environment that will help her to become a strong woman, in the mold of my sisters.  I don't completely know what those things are.

One thing, for me, is certain, though.  I want my daughter to understand and believe that there is nothing in the world that she can’t do, and that she is as unique and important as any man.  To do that, I want her to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that her father views her as equal to a man in every possible respect.  There will be other people, men and women, out there in the wider world that will not see her as equal to a man, and that can be dealt with in due course.  But if she doesn't believe deep down that the primary adult man in her early years—me—views her as equal, then all the talk in the world is not going to make any difference.  So, as I see it, my job as a father of a girl or girls is to purge everything from my life that would communicate, intentionally or unintentionally, that I do not really believe that she is an equal to the boys.

And it is here that I have come to realize that I have a problem.  Because there is something in my life right now that does communicate the message that this hypothetical daughter is not equal in dignity and importance to men.

My faith.

Catholicism does not allow women to become deacons, priests, and bishops.  Which means that Catholicism does not allow women to serve the Church in its most critical way.  As a result of the ban, women may not lead parishes (or dioceses, or the Church as a whole), preach on Sundays, celebrate the Eucharist, or baptize or marry people.  The day to day running of the Church is limited, by rule, only to men.  There is not a glass ceiling for women in the Catholic Church.  There is an iron ceiling.

Oh sure, I know all of the objections.  I've talked about some of them before.  “The Catholic Church believes they are ‘not authorized’ to ordain women.  That doesn't mean that it views women as inferior.”  There are theological and Scriptural arguments for and against this position.  But I don't really care about the nuances.  How will this sound to an eight-year old?  “No sweet heart, you’re not inferior—you’re just ontologically incapable of standing in the place of Jesus and serving God in the most direct way.  Because you are a girl.”  Children have a strong capacity for detecting bullshit, and I doubt that my daughter will lack that trait.  Nope, I suspect my daughter will come to the obvious conclusion—“the faith that my father chooses to practice believes that I am not worthy to lead God’s people because I am a woman.  Which means, by extension, my father believes I am not worthy to stand before God.”

Or, suppose I tell her “don’t worry, honey, I don’t actually believe what the Church teaches about women.”  That might be worse, because it means one of two things.  One, it means that I recognize that the teaching is unjust, but I don’t care enough about it—and about her—to actually do anything about it.  In other words, she’s on her own to fight for her own rights and place in the world, and her father doesn't have her back.  I’ll support her, but only so long as it doesn't cost me anything or make me uncomfortable.

[Edit: I mentioned this to a good friend of mine this weekend, and she brought up another point I hadn't thought of along those lines.  When it comes to gender questions, especially in the church, women's voices are often dismissed and explained away as self-interest, or "angry feminism," or whatever.  It shouldn't be this way, but the voice of a man carries weight that the voice of a woman would not.  Thus, not only would I not be protecting my daughter's back, I would be taking away of voice that could do much good.]

Or second, she will conclude that this whole religion thing is a joke, and that her father is just playing along for the sake of playing along.  I don’t want that.  I want to put my children in a place where they can find all the beauty and joy and peace that I have found in Christianity and in Jesus.  I don’t want to put obstacles in the way of that.  I want to be able to say, without reservations “this is what I believe, and I hope you will find in this what I have found.”  How do I do that when I am forced to admit that a big part of it--a big part that will affect her directly--is just wrong?

This last issue may be the biggest problem, because it’s not just women’s ordination.  I am not going to teach my daughters that her primary role in life is to be a mother (as great as that is) in the way that the Theology of the Body disciples would have them believe.  I am not going to tell my daughters that they can’t take control of their fertility with birth control.  Basically, I will be forced to tell my daughters “Catholicism is great and wonderful and special and you should totally take it seriously. . . . except for everything that has to do with your gender—that’s all crap.”  How credible a message is that?

All of this leads to a single, scary (for me at least) conclusion.  I don’t think I can raise my children in the Catholic faith.  Not as long as women’s ordination remains “off the table.”  I don’t believe that I am willing to educate my children in the notion that a woman cannot serve God as an ordained minister of the Gospel because God views women as being unworthy of such a role, no matter how it is presented or justified.  I don’t believe I am willing to take the chance that my daughter or daughters will think that I endorse that view of the world by sitting in the pews every Sunday and choosing to instruct them in that faith.  I don’t think I am willing to communicate that their dignity and self-worth is not important enough to me to force a change.  I don’t think I can do it.

As I said earlier, I don’t have children, so this issue is not immediately before me.  But, God willing, eventually it will be.  Maybe things will change with Catholicism between then and now and moot this issue.  But, I doubt it.  So many folks, not the least of them clergy, have planted their flag in the ground of an all-male priesthood.  Sooner rather than later, I will have to pick between a church and a daughter.

There is only one correct choice.


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