Before he committed suicide, before he was institutionalized for threatening to take his own life, before he broke down in front of a psychiatrist, my Dad called God. It wasn’t the first time he sought solace in his Maker. Men my father’s age didn’t talk about depression to strangers, especially the ones you paid to listen to your turmoil; men my father’s age went to church, sat down with a priest, and went back home to pray the Rosary, Hailing Mary and calling to Our Father while meditating on the Second Mystery. There wasn’t any prayer that was going to save my Dad, nor was there any pill in the world that would alleviate his pain. I knew that. But when Dad died, I blamed God. With all my heart.
By that time, I was already a devout atheist. But I hated God as if He was real, as if I believed in Him. As a young university student, I had repeatedly dissected the concept of God. To me, God was a fictional character, a later version of Zeus, but less interesting. I didn’t give much thought about Him throughout most of my young adult life. God and I lived separate lives, it was our understanding: don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you. But when Dad died, I made Him all flesh and blood.
Dad didn’t approve of my readings. I was just a young teenage boy when I came home with Jean-Paul Sartre‘s The Nausea. He wasn’t impressed; actually, he was quite angry, “This is subversive reading, my boy. Existentialists will only get you into trouble. You should read George Bernanos, or François Mauriac.” Subversive reading: wrong words to tell a rebelling teenager. I read Sartre, Camus, Beauvoir. Whatever remaining faith existed in me faded with each book I devoured.
I was introduced to Boris Vian by a high school teacher, to my father’s dismay. God didn’t stand a chance. Around the table one night, when my father was talking about Pope John Paul II, I told everyone that religion was bullshit, that it was just one big business built around the concept of selling crutches to the weak. Dad lifted his plate, and smashed it on the table, “Go to your room! No… Pack up your belongings and these fucking books of yours, and move out. No heathen is going to live under MY roof. You’re no son of mine.” So much anger from a man of God.
As a kid, when it was time to go to church, when we had to wear our Sunday clothes because Jesus didn’t play with the penniless, because cleanliness is Godliness, Dad made wrongful use of the name of the Lord. Dad cursed His name because we took too long, because the car was dirty, because we didn’t have enough money for the offering, because we spoke over the priest during mass. Whatever serenity God was supposed to bring in one’s life, that peaceful look I saw in other churchgoers’ faces, I never caught a glimpse of it in my father’s eyes.
And on that day, many years later, when Dad took his own life and committed the only mortal sin that couldn’t be healed by repentance, I cursed God’s name the way my father did when we were late for church. On that day, God was real all right.
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