On Our Lady of Guadalupe and manhood for my 9-year-old son

On Our Lady of Guadalupe and manhood for my 9-year-old son
My son Adrián, an altar server at Chicago's St. Pius V Church

I value taking my 9-year-old son, Adrián, to the barber shop.  As we walk from the car to the shop’s door, I take his hand.  When he was smaller, his little fingers barely wrapped around the edge of my palm.  Now that he’s older, his grasp inside my hand is changing. These days, his fingers remain outstretched like a comb in my grasp.  My little boy is searching for his independence.   So I encourage him to tell the barber how to cut his hair: “I want the front long.”

Adrián, it’s too long,” I step in.

“Noooo,” he responds with a tone of disappointment he’ll likely use one day when I say he cannot use my car or stay out late.  For now, the barber still looks to me for the final word.  “Fine.  Just a bit on top.”

On Sunday mornings, I want to repeat the memory I have of my father combing my damp hair when I was a kid.  With brilliantine on Easter and on school picture days, my dad sent me off proudly with the scent and slickness of a new haircut.  I treasure the few moments of my father combing my hair, making the perfect part on the left side of my head.

My son doesn’t want anything in his hair on Sunday mornings.  “Just water,” he says as we prepare to go to church.

In what seems like only weeks ago, I lifted my little boy up with one arm, carrying him next to my heart: my little boy who looks like me and, at three years old, sang off-key.  But these days, he is a too heavy to hold on one forearm.  Now, his voice blends smoothly into songs as it does into prayers.

At mass, dressed as an altar server, Adrián’s hair sweeps across his forehead as if brushed over by someone’s blessing. In the procession bearing a heavy cross high above his head with hair I want to comb neatly, my son struggles to balance the pole.  He persists.  On Sundays, this is how he carries out his faith.

I watch him from a pew wondering how he remains comfortable with the tips of his hair in his eyes.  Then I begin to wonder in my internal silence, more soundless than a prayer, if or when my son will question the Mexican Catholic faith he was born into.

The other day in the car, out of nowhere, my son asked me, “Papi, what was your greatest fear as a kid?”  I couldn’t find an answer.  “I don’t know, m’ijo,” I said after some silence.  “Maybe failure.”

If or when my son asks me to explain the complexities of our faith, I don’t know if I’ll find the words.  So, for now, on this December 12, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I find the words to explain what I believe about our faith to my nine-year-old son.

Adrián, as you grow older each December 12, you’ll hear how people question our celebration of La Vírgen.  Some associate her origins with the European conquest.  Others doubt her image’s celestial creation.  Others say she is a commercial figure, no longer a religious one.

But within the faith that you were born into, within the family that all the goodness of the universe brought you into, each December 12, we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe’s influence.

As you grow older, I hope that when you see the image with the patient gaze, when you see the outline of her bent knee underneath her golden gown—as if she were moving closer to all who visit her, I hope that you affirm her maternal image.

When you see her brown hands perhaps enclosed in thoughtful prayer or perhaps compelled to open and embrace those asking for intervention at her feet, I hope you recognize, as all Guadalupanos do around the world, that she is the mother of Jesus.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the mother of a Jesus I want you to know not as the martyr, the victim, or the chilling image of a crucified man I knew as a child.  I want you to know Jesus as a man whose existence inspired a sense of justice.  I want you to know a Jesus who rebelled.  I want you to know a Jesus who knew his purpose in the world and fulfilled it.  Because by knowing this Jesus, you will grow into a man who helps others.

When you become a teenager, you’ll likely hear someone tell you to “man up” and to face fear with an unmoved heart.  But this is not the man I want you to be.

Our Lady of Guadalupe gave life to man who expressed the emotion within his human heart.  Even when able to perform the miracle of bringing a dead man back to life, Jesus did not give into a perspective of insensitivity.  He saw the sad circumstances of human loss from other people’s views.  Jesus recognized the grief in others’ hearts.  Jesus cried.

I hope, my son, that you define your manhood not with stoicism but with sensitivity.

When your heart is moved by anger and you, perhaps, feel compelled to express that rage with violence using a manly brute strength, I ask you to remember that greater insurrections occur through acts of kindness.

One Sabbath, despite the tradition of rest, Jesus healed a crippled woman.  With his controversial act, Jesus set a woman free from her infirmity, lifted her face into the sky, and helped her see, again, the universe’s glory.  Criticized for breaking custom,  Jesus—as a lone man—defended his actions against his critics.  He grounded his rebellion in the belief that on that holy day all life should be liberated.

Acts of kindness, Adrián, can give a sole man the courage to challenge the misguided—no matter how powerful they might be.

Whenever you face a seemingly impossible decision—whether drawn out or abrupt—may your mind and heart be guided by that memory of Jesus’s radical benevolence.

Most importantly, may you fight against the manly impulse of impatience.  For nine months, your mother patiently carried you inside of her womb.  As your temperament evolves, may you somehow, somewhere inside of you, carry that pre-natal memory: that waiting, that unknowing, that trusting in something grander than yourself.

May you value, as I have come to value, the power of a mother’s patience—a quality many men, unfortunately, disparage.  Patience, we must remember, brings new understandings.

I, your father, am not a faultless man.  So I, too, must remember the fortitude of recognizing my mistakes.  All good men should.

Nine years ago, Adrián, minutes after you were born, I brushed the thin hair on your soft head with my fingers and whispered into your tiny ear the destiny I ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help you fulfill: “Welcome to the world, m’ijo.  Here, you will use your intellect to help lots and lots of people.”

On December 12, may our Lady of Guadalupe bless you, inspire you to believe in her, to believe in yourself, and to remember—always—how much your father believes in you.

Read how I explain Our Lady of Guadalupe to my 6-year-old daughter.

And the ofrenda I wrote to Our Lady of Guadalupe after my mom fought cancer.


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