Transmitting the Faith

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I have a confession to make: I am a man. Not only that, I am a white man. In the southern United States. Which means I’m part of a very privileged group. As such I’m probably the absolute last person that should say a single word about the brouhaha over Ms. Phyllis‘ words in Memphis earlier this month. I promised myself I wouldn’t do this. I said to myself, “Self, you don’t have a vagina, so you really don’t have any frame of reference for the discussion.” I promised myself I that I would keep my mouth shut. That I was not going to offer my thoughts on the matter because I have none. None…at…all. But, here we are. I’ve spent the last two weeks figuring out how do this without seeming like an ass. And I may have found a way: I can talk about the way the faith was transmitted to me.

When Phyllis spoke about the pill and how it’s short-circuited the transmission of faith in the home, I didn’t hear a specific condemnation of women but a statement of fact. Not saying it didn’t happen, just saying I didn’t hear it. There are two possible reasons for that. One is that I have just the slightest touch of ADD and, after 6 hours on those hard ass pews under the deluge of information she was throwing at us, my attention span was significantly reduced and it’s barely possible that my mind wandered a bit. The second is that, as stated earlier, I am a man and I come at this from a different angle with different baggage (and if you think we don’t all bring some baggage to this, you’re delusional). The thing is, her characterization didn’t match my upbringing.

I grew up just south of Greensboro, North Carolina in the 60’s and 70’s (yes, I am that old). You couldn’t call my home life the “Leave it to Beaver” ideal, though. Sure, Daddy worked and Mama stayed home, but I do not ever remember my mother doing housework in a dress, heels and pearls. In the summer, she wore shorts and a top and about the only thing her shoes (when she wore them) had in common with heels was that they were on her feet. In the winter, it was mostly jeans, tops and tennis shoes. She had more dirt under her fingernails than most farmers from working in the garden and was stronger than some men I’ve known. I’d say my home life was more “Leave it to Bubba” than Beaver. My maternal grandparents lived just a couple of miles away from us and I spent a lot of time there, most of it with my grandfather. Grandpa had retired from Cone Mills just about the time I was born, so he was always there. Not being the type to sit around and get old, he was always doing something and started lawnmower repair business. And I was his helper. Not long after I could walk and talk, I could point out the parts on a Briggs and Stratton engine, tell you how to change the points and condenser and get you the right tools to do the job. Grandpa was a deeply spiritual man and, even though I never realized it, he taught me much about what a Christian is and does. Never overtly, though. He taught by example. My father did the same as did his father. One of my Sunday school teachers was a man named Wallace Ward, who taught me more about being a Christian than any teacher before or after. The men I grew up with may not have sat around telling Bible stories (although they did that, too), but they were just as responsible for transmitting the faith to me as my mother and grandmothers were. When my own children were born, I followed the example set for me by these men and took a hand in my girls’ spiritual education.

Because of this experience, what I heard Phyllis say was that when the pill opened a multitude of possibilities for women and they entered the workforce along with their husbands, a void was left in the home; a void that no one has stepped in to fill. In other words, men are just as responsible for the loss of the transmission of faith as women. For men, maybe this doesn’t sting as much because we were never programmed with the ridiculous idea that having a life made us bad parents. Truthfully, the programming we received, that a man who doesn’t work long hours, climbing the ladder to “success” and, instead, steps off that merry-go-round to be present in his family’s life is somehow less of man, is just as damaging. Like I said, we all have baggage.

Obviously, I have thoughts in this matter. I hope I achieved my goal and passed them on with being an ass. If I did, great. If I didn’t, I am most heartily sorry. But this has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks and I had to get it out. Thanks.