Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Integrated Family Life

Prior to moving to Hendersonville, we lived in Montgomery, AL and were members of St. Bede parish. All of my children attended St. Bede School. St Bede had 4 basketball teams at each age level in a Catholic school basketball league comprised of all the other schools and parishes in Montgomery, very similar to the CYO program here in Nashville. Typically in leagues like this, the coaches are pretty much the same group of men, who then move up each grade level as their children get older, so you get to know these guys pretty well and develop friendships with them. Four of those teams were from my parish school, and the coaches of those teams and I had a good time over the years teasing each other whose team had beaten whom, who had the overall best record between us, that kind of thing. Being from the same parish and school, our sons knew each other, our wives were friends, we worshiped together, it was a family affair.

One of those men had a son who was a very good athlete, so good that as the son approached 7th grade, one of the more affluent private schools in Montgomery began to talk to this man about placing his son in their school. Whereas the Catholic middle school and high school athletic program to which we were all headed might be rated a “B” in terms of wins-losses, this private school was an “A”, and as visions of college athletic scholarships danced in the father’s head, he decided to pull his son out of our Catholic school and place him in the private school.

As our sons grew up during the years of middle school and high school, the fraternity of fathers that dated back to when our sons played 2nd and 3rd grade basketball became stronger. We traveled to remote gyms together in names of towns in Alabama that I didn’t know existed, despite living my entire life in that state. Our families cheered together in the big wins, we mourned the losses, felt badly for each others' sons when they missed crucial free throws down the stretch, exalted in each others' sons when they hit the big shot. At Sunday morning mass after a big weekend game, we’d talk about the game, speculate about the next one, Sunday morning quarterback our coaches’ decisions---and there would be lots of laughter and smiles.

The dad who placed his kid in the private school remained a member of our parish. We’d see him each Sunday, make some pleasant small talk, congratulate him if we read in the paper that his son played a good game. It was very evident, however, that he was no longer a member of the same fraternity—not because he was being excluded, but because as a member of different community, we simply didn’t continue to share those common experiences together. I remember one particular football game in which his son’s team played our team in football, and I felt bad for him---on one side of the field were his church, his long time friends, the folks he had built common memories with—on the other side, his son’s team and his new acquaintances. The first few years we played, he didn’t know where to stand during the games, so he’d stand in the end zone, almost directly in the middle, until over time, his friendships began to evolve toward those of the private school and he began to sit in their bleachers.

I think one of the decisions we make when we choose a school for our child is NOT just whether it’s a good academic school, or whether it will teach the faith effectively, or whether it’s a good fit for our child. Those are all good questions, but they are not the only considerations. It’s also a question of who OUR friends will be, what community will WE live in, and whether or not there will a connection between our family’s life, our faith, our passions and our energies.

Let’s be honest. Given the hectic pace of our lives, about the only thing we’re going to leave the house for when we get home from work is to go see our kids do something—whether that be an athletic event, a piano recital, or some other performance. When our kids are young, we’re not headed out to the union meeting, or a night at the bars with the fellas, or a book-club, or a routine get-together with our best friends. Our lives, rather, revolve around our children, and the friendships we make and the experiences we have are directly tied to the events of their lives.

Catholic schools offer their families the chance for an integrated life—where school, the practice of faith, the extra-curricular life of our children, who are friends are, and the experiences we share together, can all become part of a whole, and not remain distinct, disconnected fragments that we must juggle. This is, perhaps, the greatest blessing that Catholic schools can provide Catholic families.

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