Mom and Pop and Property Rights

MIKE AQUILINA

A few times a day I hear myself tell my toddler daughter, "Put that down. That's Daddy's." And she puts it down — the memento or the fragile bauble or the prized book.

I have to wonder where I learned the words "That's Daddy's." They're not in my first language, the one I learned from Mom and Pop. I mimicked my parents' pleases and thank yous, hellos and good-byes. But I can't recall a time when they taught me "mine" — at least not by example.

When I was growing up, my parents lived a life of renunciation that now seems almost Franciscan. They renounced their time, calling none of it their own. My father worked long, very hard hours for a coal company. When he came home exhausted, I'll bet he wanted nothing more than to collapse beneath the newspaper, but he collapsed beneath kids instead. He would wrestle with me on the floor, let me crawl on him, pounce on him — let me live the dream of any child who's read Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop. Eventually he'd drift off to sleep, while my game went on with him as a prop.

My parents renounced their possessions too. I can remember every detail of the small metal box that held our family's insurance policies and birth certificates. I remember it because it was the only thing in the house that was off-limits. We had open season on everything else. My mother's rosary, necklaces, brooches and bracelets filled a small pirate's cardboard chest to overflowing. (Where did I bury it?) And she never said, "Put that down."

Mom and Pop renounced privacy. We kids grumbled because we had none: six of us filled (and I do mean filled) two beds in two small rooms (and I do mean small). But my parents had no room of their own. Their bed filled an opening, a dent really, in the hallway.

My mother renounced her peeves too. She's orderly by nature. But if I close my eyes, I still can conjure up the disorder I imposed on every available inch of our floor — toys, sneakers, books, crayons, papers...

They renounced their interests. If they ever wanted to do anything but play with us kids, I never noticed. Even with my own kids, I never saw Pop converse with one eye on the TV. My mother has never worried about her own plate while filling mine with pasta, chicken, meatballs, Italian sausage, homemade bread ...

They renounced their interests. If they ever wanted to do anything but play with us kids, I never noticed. Even with my own kids, I never saw Pop converse with one eye on the TV. My mother has never worried about her own plate while filling mine with pasta, chicken, meatballs, Italian sausage, homemade bread ...

I can recall only one lesson on property from my childhood. Once, when I had scrawled on one of my father's books, he told me, "Our books are our friends." I still find it hard to take notes in books.

But somehow, somewhere, I forgot the really valuable lessons of my childhood. Instead I learned to hoard property, call it my own, shelve trinkets high out of the reach of little hands. And I learned to nurse my peeves and interests and pleasures.

I'm the youngest of the children of Mike and Mary Aquilina. Maybe my older sisters and brothers can remember a time when my parents had a speck more of the selfishness that's "normal" in parents. I can't.

The great Pope Paul VI knew instinctively when he wrote his encyclical Humanae Vitae that childrearing is a refiner's fire. The demands, the work and the love burn away the self, the self, the self.

By the time Mom and Pop got around to having me, maybe they'd been rendered, quite literally, selfless. Emptied of self, they could be filled with Christ. At least it seems that way to me.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Mike Aquilina. "Mom and Pop and Property Rights." chapter two from Love in the Little Things: Tales of Family Life (Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2007): 4-6.

Reprinted with permission of Servant Books, an imprint of St. Anthony Messenger Press, and of the author, Mike Aquilina.

THE AUTHOR

Mike Aquilina is vice president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and co-host, with Scott Hahn, of several television series on EWTN. He is the author or co-author of, Love in the Little Things: Tales of Family Life, Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians, Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, The Way of the Fathers: Praying with the Early Christians, and Praying in the Presence of Our Lord: With St. Thomas Aquinas. With Cardinal Donald Wuerl, he is the author of The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home, and The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition. See Mike Aquilina's "The Way of the Fathers" blog here.

Copyright © 2007 Mike Aquilina




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