4/29/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carl S. ~
It was Sigmund Freud who ﬁrst proposed that we as children get our idea of "God" through experiences with our fathers. In Freud's day this might have applied. My father's father, as my mother said, was a stern head of family who ruled with an iron hand, beating his children with a cat-o-nine-tails, a description of which alone frightened me. If my dad got his idea of God from his father, we couldn’t know, since he never discussed religion with us. (I suspect churches believe Freud about his interpretation. They encourage fathers to be considerate, strong, and loving to their children. So that the children grow up with the same father image of their god?) Did our experiences with dad create our image of "God?"
Our father was a practical man. I'd extend this practicality to his Catholicism. He did the novenas, rosary recitations, church attendance, etc., covering all the salvation bases. (I sincerely wonder if he confessed anything to the priest of any consequence, for he didn't seem to feel regret for his actions towards us. But then, God never apologizes either.)
Our father made a good living as an engineering draftsman and very inventive problem solver. But he was most comfortable among men and his co-workers, not his own family. Among us, he remained mostly silent, going about doing what pleased him. He had public and private lives, with the problem of not being able to understand why he did not receive the adulation at home which he enjoyed at work. I think now that he needed to be needed, and if you came to him needing him, he was gratefully there for you. Otherwise, he was just there, available, period. Unlike "God," who was never there for me.
When I was eight years old, I remember my kid brother and I, after going to bed, laughing at our jokes. Dad came to the door and told us to be quiet and go to sleep. He would leave, and we'd start up again. Dad would stand on the stairs, out of sight, and listen. Then, he'd return and beat us with his belt, with all his might, for as long as he could. He was only 5' 3", but thin and strong. Did we (since my much older siblings must have experienced the same treatment) conclude that God also stood waiting for us to disobey, ready to punish us? I can't make that connection.
Dad could be unpredictable. He would sit watching TV, not saying a word, and get stinking drunk. Sometimes he'd just go to bed, but at other times, he would go off on tirades about what aggravated him, exploding from pent-up feelings. These could refer to work, money expenditures, the ingratitude of his wife or children, etc. This could go on for hours; trying to reason with him was frustrating and futile. But I never heard him say anything disrespectful or uncaring to my mother or family members. He usually complained about injustices. Things got to the point to where mom would leave the house and go out for a walk until he went to bed. Always, without fail, he'd get up in the morning and go to work, and nothing was said about the previous night. He was always a good provider. Is God as unpredictable, exploding without warning, and yet a good provider? Not to me. I took "God" for granted, much as I took my dad for granted.
The night before my mother's funeral, I told Ray about what she last said about being with dad. Ray was furious, calling me a liar, telling me that this couldn't happen because, "He's in Hell."To understand my dad, you cannot omit a factor our family knew only too well: his relationship with his oldest son, Ray. The most violent arguments took place between them when they were drunk. Outside of those times, they could soberly talk, casually and civilly. Ray held on to actual and perceived grievances towards dad, forever. He never forgave him. It was Ray who told him, "You're not my father. My father’s in heaven." Obviously Ray's interpretation of "God" as father was much different from how he saw his actual father.
My mother died in 1985. The year before, my kids and I attended a family get-together to celebrate her birthday. Since she was going back to Arizona afterwards, I took advantage of some time alone with her to reveal the reason why I had given her and dad both confusion and disappointment with me when I was eight years old. I was then delinquent from school, broke property, and stealing money from her purse. The reason, unknown to them, was that I had been the victim of a pedophile. She said she understood. I asked her if she thought Ray was homosexual. She'd known that for decades. And then, she said that she wouldn’t be back, was tired of living, and wanted to be "with my husband" in heaven.
The night before my mother's funeral, I told Ray about what she last said about being with dad. Ray was furious, calling me a liar, telling me that this couldn't happen because, "He's in Hell."
So, here's a man who spent his formative years dominated by an immigrant staunch German Catholic father who believed in not sparing the rod, but beat his children, and as a child was bullied by a school system that also punished children as policy. This was his inherited tradition. He also was a punisher, up to the time we moved into the country, when I was nine years old. He took the large old farm house and completely electriﬁed it, alone. There in the country, he quit the abuse and matured as an especially caring dad. There, he blossomed in planting and growing vegetables, and in the vineyard, while distributing acres of the harvests to relatives, friends, and of course, family. He never depended on God to give him anything. He earned it all.
When I was 29 yrs. old, he and I met up in Los Angeles one afternoon. We went to Busch Gardens, where we sampled all the beers at all the pavilions and watched the bird acts amongst the blossoming fauna. We were pretty mellow by the time we parted. There were no accusations, no apologies, no regrets or explanations for our conﬂicts in the past. He had an appreciation of me in my new role as a father, and I got to see him as the sensible and affable man his friends and co-workers knew. Did I see God differently? I never did see God... No, I saw Ben differently.
The last time I spoke with my dad was on a Father’s Day, l980. He was living in Arizona with mom and Ray, and I was in Ohio with my own family, with no money to travel. My father, ill with aplastic anemia, said that "Ray is pushing me around, and I have bruises on my body." I told him to call the police. (As it turned out, he did. I know because Ray told me about it years later.)
So that's my father. From him, I inherited his anger about injustice, his ﬁnding of solutions and optimism no matter what happens, his insatiable curiosity and enthusiasm about scientiﬁc discoveries, his respect for women and ﬁdelity to his wife. Was he "perfect as God is perfect?" No, he was ﬂawed, and flexible like "God" ought to be, and isn't. My father would never make a hell where he would abandon his children to never see them again. Would that my father were a god. My father puts God to shame.