"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Advent penance

...has been to complain less about being a middle-aged, white American male ('MAWAM' for short). Here's why I'm not crazy to complain, and why it's a penance to complain less.

It is definitely PC to regard people like me as among the most privileged on earth. And I grant that most of the lawyers, doctors, business executives, football coaches, and hack writers among us fit into that category. But largely because the rest of us are lumped in with those guys by the politically correct, we get cut no slack by society at large. I myself have been told I could have taken up any of the above professions successfully, save perhaps for football coach; and I suppose that, ceteris paribus, that is true. But then I have an even bigger talent: being interested only in things that aren't lucrative. It's uncanny, really. People who wish otherwise blame me for that, and even people who admire me don't let it be generally known that they feel sorry for me too. Those who do feel sorry, that is.

As a class, MAWAMs are blamed for most of the world's problems, especially the problems of Americans who are either non-white or non-male. (Please note that, in good PC fashion, I said 'non-male', not 'female'. I have no time to deal with a charge of discrimination against whatever newfangled genders are believed to be out there.) Since almost all of us MAWAMs who can work full-time do so—as we must to avoid the street, jail, or the suspicions of stay-at-home moms—we are ineligible for student discounts while too young for senior discounts. Meanwhile, an amazing number of MAWAMs I know, including yours truly, are paying at least half their incomes in taxes and/or child support. A brother of mine pays even more than that. But it goes without saying that nobody sees good reason to feel sorry for us on that account, and it is considered very bad form indeed if we are diagnosable as feeling sorry for ourselves on that account.

Married MAWAMs, who are (inexplicably to me) still the majority, had better obey their wives dutifully if they don't want to risk being kicked to the curb, stuffed in the trunk, and taken to the cleaners. That is because, in the world of no-fault divorce, men are guilty until proven innocent. To verify that, just ask any five men who've been to family court lately. Providing proof of innocence, assuming that's even theoretically possible, takes a better lawyer than most of us can afford.

Then there are the little things that only MAWAMs can appreciate. We have less and less hair where we want hair and more and more hair where we don't want hair. (Thank God for hair-grafting technology; but health insurance doesn't cover that, and women who feel the need for liposuction and/or Botox treatments definitely do not feel sorry for us.) Worse, we are delighted rather than insulted when we get carded for buying a beer; almost any humiliation will do, apparently, to remind us of the men we once were, before we made various mistakes we're still paying for and outgrew our studded belts. Worst of all, most of us can no longer experience the difference between a wedding and a funeral; over the last 25 years or so, the latter have become more festive even as the main but unspoken thought at the former has become: "I give them five, maybe seven years, tops."

As for the Catholic Church, the lot of the MAWAM is no better. A benighted minority of us, for example, would actually like to serve the Church. But most, for one reason or another, are considered either ineligible or unsuited to be priests; and if one is divorced, or married with children still at home, the diaconate is most unlikely too. The only solution for would-be clerics is to grow old enough to be unthreatening without having accumulated, or failed to unload, a lot of baggage. But by then, of course, one is no longer a MAWAM—just a WAM for whom certain things have become more gratifying than sex, which is either non-existent or not as good as it used to be.

For most of us our chief role, besides showing up in church and listening to music only sopranos can sing, is putting money in the collection basket. Those of us who actually want to do something may involve ourselves with the Knights of Columbus, a club of MAWAMs always eager for members, and most of whose activities take place far enough away from parish grounds to leave the pastor and the parish staff in a state of bliss that is only heightened when they take the money we raise for them. (The exception to this arrangement of non-propinquity is cooking, greasily, for a few on-the-premises fundraisers called "fish fries" or "breakfasts." The Benjamins do have this way of greasing the skids.) A few MAWAMs, admittedly, get to do things like being lectors, EMHCs, ushers (oops, "ministers of hospitality,") or catechists. But those ministries are now dominated by women, most of whom—I speak from experience here—merely tolerate us. One such woman even confided to me that middle-aged men who do such things must be either (a) bored in their marriages; (b) gay, or (c) current or former would-be priests. I looked around us and thought about that. She was right. And that particular parish wasn't even AmChurch.

Merely publishing thoughts such as these should indicate that I complain elsewhere about what they relate. I have to. I would question my own residual rationality if I didn't. Yet, since I know what reception they are likely to get from most of my fellow humans, my complaints are usually sotto voce, to God alone. As best I can tell, his response is: "The more you complain, the longer I'll make you live." So I've decided this Advent to complain less. A painful penance, that. But given the alternative, it's worth it.
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