Our Fathers: Learning from Wounds – by Laszlo Petrovics

Perhaps the past Century will not be known for the World Wars, for the atom bomb, for the rapid growth of scientific technology leading to IT, nor for even the Holocaust and a new awareness of crimes against humanity. In the long eye of history, perhaps the past Century will be known for fatherlessness. As such it will also be known for “Atyahiány”, Our Father’s absence, a most bitter and embittering fatherlessness: For Hitler was fatherless, Stalin was fatherless, Sceuicescu, the tyrant of Romania, was a bastard, Sadam Hussein of Iraq had no father, the ruler of Libya, Khadaffi was fatherless, Castro was a bastard.

Psychology in all of the last Century focused almost entirely on the role of the mother. We know little about the role of the father in child development.  But we have certainly experienced the role of fatherlessness in our lives and in wars and in loss. Much of the world has embraced nihilism, a nothingness that emanated from the past Century as a precursor for the First World War, the Modernism from Nietchze’s anti-Christ, only to be revived by Hitler in the mandala of the broken cross, the swastika of the Nazi.  Our epoch may become known, in its own way, as the time when Our Father was absent. What we are coming to know is that the father is critical to the development of the child, especially in later childhood and in the teen years.

As the child learns tenderness and the ability to love from the mother, he learns how to live in life from the father. He learns the ability for endurance, for sustained work toward longer-ranged goals, the importance of skills, to risk, and the bravery needed to love – how to live in a work-a-day world.  He learns moral conduct, and he learns, perhaps most importantly, that he was born “to belong somewhere.” These blessings from the father hold equally for both boys and girls.

It is not the intent to be alarming in writing that nearly all terrorists, and suicide bombers, are fatherless, or orphaned. Our time has learned how to manufacture the orphaned, and those humiliated into “unbearable impotence.” Such impotence and humiliation grown unbearable is the source of human violence, writes Morton Deutsch, the preeminent social psychologist from Columbia University. Hungarians, for example, recall the Janicsár.  Hungarian youth, enslaved by the Turks during the Ottoman conquest in the 1600’s, formed the Janissary, the elite force in the Sultan’s Honor Guard.  In writing this, it is not intent to alarm – few fatherless children will become the Stalin or the Castro. Most will grow up to be productive; it is our intent to emphasize how very important it is to personhood to feel that “one was born to belong somewhere.”

If a teenager does not receive this sense of belonging, he or she may gain belonging from their peers and this will often take the form of gang identity.  Just look at the gangs of the tyrant. Hitler formed a big gang. Stalin formed a big gang, as did Castro, and Hussein.  And their sole identity was what derives from the animal world –not of morals –but to be the strongest.  In our culture we still idolize this trait –the rich person is “strong,” the politician is “strong.”  They can lend us protekcio, which comes from the Latin word “yo protect.” The God father protects us. But if such teens, even from broken homes where the father is absent, are brought to Our Father, they can gain sound stability.While the mother teaches tenderness, the father can teach of the bravery needed to love. A healthy man “must be hard-chested, but live from his wounds.”  To live from wounds, implies living in grace, and with the capacity to be forgiving, compassionate.

It is to these tender heroes of our times that we point as most needed in Hungary, the grandfathers, fathers, who take their children by the hand and walk them to school, or wait for them after school and share a soda.  But how much more heroic is the father who leads his children to faith and who prays with them.In our world many men must resist a sense that they are superfluous. No one is superfluous in the eyes of God.  Even the lowest derelict will find holy calling if he cries out to the Lord.  When he puts on a starched shirt, a jacket, perhaps used, but also pressed, will he not lift up others by his example?  For it is common experience, that when a person bottoms out, he does not cry out to empty space so that his heart’s longing echoes empty amid the floes of distant stars, “No more. This way, no more.” He cries out to God, “Dear God, my God, this way no more.” Children essentially need their father, as all peoples hunger for God.

In closing, we turn to the grandfather we know as such a model, a Roma musician.  The Roma (often known as gypsies) in WWII suffered as had the Jew and their loss is known as Porajmos, the Devouring.  But the Roma had few records, few recounting, as if the Nazi had devoured their history as well. But they had music, traditions in dance and song, and even an anthem, “Green the meadow, green the woods…”  The old man hummed the song as he drove with his grandson in his old East German Trabant, an auto with a plastic shell and no more an engine than a lawnmower. They enjoyed the rides because they could have talks. They looked out the windshield, and pretended to be going somewhere.  But really they were mostly just together, alone and talking, and this is what they enjoyed.

The old man told tales of Big Woods, and hunting squirrels, and fishing trout.

“Did you eat them?”

“Sure did, if they were big enough.”

“How big?”

“At least a foot long.”

The boy looked down and pondered his sneakers. His old sneakers had stars on the insides where the joint of his ankles had worm a hole. He lifted up his right foot where the star had worn thin, so they showed a hole to his grandfather.

“Well, that’s not the kind of foot I mean,“ his grandfather laughed. “About twice that long. Or they‘re illegal.“

“What you mean, grandpa?“

“You gotta let them grow a bit longer than even my foot. Or they be too young, and gotta throw them back.”   

On that day, after they had talked about speckled brown trout and the hard fighting small mouth bass which grew thereabouts, they finally arrived at the park.  When he saw the masses of men there playing dominos, grandfather grew excited. He grew agitated and didn’t know that Porajmos was in the air, heavy all around them. He turned and lifted and then pressed down his hands onto the head of his grandchild. He held his hands like that trembling and the press of his hands weighed down irrevocably onto the young child’s head. It weighed heavily as any blessing and also as a curse. “You must be something, Tamás, you hear,” his voice was trembling.  “Be more than nothing.”

The boy grew alarmed. The old man lifted his hands and turned and stared at the mob out there. He talked in an onrush as in tongues. “Poor be poor. If you are poor there is nothing poorer,” he sputtered. “Ain’t got nothing and it’s still too much.”

He looked down at the boy, his eyes brimming, “Be more than nothing, I say, Tamás. Study and work.”

The boy felt an urgency in how his grandfather spoke, his words rushed like the Ojibway creek in springtime where they fished. They conveyed a longing from the man of which the boy had never known. “Study and work.  Study, study, and all of life will be yours. Whatever your heart desires if you work. Wealth, riches, and fame and love, all in life to be yours.”

As of the Spirit, the memory of that day pressed down hard as a branding, unforgettable and unforgiving and the boy studied. He completed High School. This was a first step.

All his brothers and sisters, six in all, completed High School and now work.  And one grandchild –the blessed –became the one in a thousand from among the Roma who attended college and when I last spoke with Tamás last he sought to be a teacher and to lift his people up. A calling that is God-given, “to be born to belong somewhere,” he had become himself. He knew he was of his people, a Roma, and he knew what he had to do. He had to lift his people up.  It meant working, in hopefulness worth living and working for.

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