by Carlos Antonio Piñón
May 12, 2017
"Gracias a Dios," my dad says for his life, "Gracias a Dios" for his family, "Gracias a Dios" for just about everything. I nod my head for his sake. "Gracias a Dios," he says for me, for something I achieved without the help of God. I don't say anything. It wouldn't bother me if his gracias didn't make me feel ungrateful as if I'm wrong to be thankful to anyone else. When my dad tries to talk to me, he always asks me "how many girlfriends I have." None, I reply, wondering if he'll realize what a weird question it is to ask. "Gracias a Dios," he says, that his kids aren't starting families too soon before alluding to my future wife. "I'm focusing on school," I say.
Sometimes I feel guilty and even selfish for no longer participating in the whole Sunday morning ritual. I mean, I did it. I bathed in the water of salvation, I partook in the holy bread and wine, I confessed my sins, and if I could've done my confirmation to God online, I would've clicked "Agree" to the terms and conditions. But it didn't make me believe in God the way my parents still want me to.
It took my dad years and several drunken conversations to come to terms with my older brother joining a non-denominational Christian church. To this day, my dad still seems uncomfortable with my brother holding a separate belief than his own Catholic understanding. Even though my brother still believes in a god not too different from his own, it's not enough for my dad. My brother may have required a bible quote for every argument he makes, but my dad still has to contest every minor detail. "Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary," my brother says, "but for Christians, we don't pray to the angels or anyone else. Only to God." My dad claims the angels are there to delegate for God. My brother replies, "Where does it say that? Show me exactly where it says in the Bible."
The conversation keeps going this way, as it always does, with neither mind changed. My cue tends to be, "What about you, Carlos? Do you believe in God?" To which I first lament staying in the room, then reply, "It doesn't really matter if I just try to be a good person." To say yes would be a lie, to say no would be misleading, but to not answer the question in the first place distracts everyone long enough so that the focus shifts away from me. Truth be told, I don't know what my dad thinks about me not going to church at all. I've never heard his slurred voice telling me that I'm a bad influence on my little brothers. For all I know, my dad could be so caught up with my brother that he hasn't even begun to process my beliefs.
I don't look for God the same way my older brother did. If God needs me, He should know where to find me, but my brother needed Him. When my brother first realized he needed to change his life, God must've been the thing he felt he was always missing. My brother was the troublemaker of the family. If it weren't for God, his life trajectory would've ended in a gang. My brother started going to a new Church not long after he dropped out of high school. Even with all of his past failures, I don't think he ever saw religion as being the source of my dad's disappointment. For my brother to finally start believing in something that my dad argued so hard against? It was hard on him. It was hard to not have that support at home, especially when there are so many negative voices out there already in the world. For me, knowing that there are pretentious, know-it-all atheists hell-bent on fulfilling some kind of almighty daddy abandonment issues out there who have the audacity to say that having faith is a waste of time fucking infuriates me. It broke my heart to hear my brother, who firmly believes that his faith in God has made him a better person, cry and say, "Am I stupid for believing in God?
My mom's always been better at letting me and my siblings grow up individually. Unlike my dad, who's a more traditional Mexican parent, my mom was raised in Chicago. She's more open to the idea of her five children going their separate ways even if we choose something she wished we didn't. "I would never make my kids do something they don't wanna do," she says. I know I've disappointed my mom in many ways, having gone to art school instead of something more financially productive. At least then, my mom's still had enough trust in me to know I've done everything I could.
But her failure in raising me was never more apparent when she asked if I wanted to go to the new Catholic Church she's been going to. "I used to be one of those people who sat in the back at Immaculate Conception who only went on the big days like Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas," she said. "Sometimes I would even walk to St. Simon just to get the cross on Ash Wednesday, but at St. Bede, I actually stay for the mass because they engage you there." My mom brings up the pastor's humor, but I just smile. She knew I always felt going to Church to be a chore, but she promised me this time it would be entertaining. I didn't still believe her. She said, "Just come to be with your family." And when I said no again, that's when you could see the disappointment in her eyes. My mom cried and said, "I know that someday, you'll find faith in Him."
We're sitting at the new Church later. It's me, my parents, my sister and her son, and my two younger brothers. This church is bigger than the one we went to before. The lighting is better and it actually has ceiling fans. Instead of a single grand piano, St. Bede has a whole band with a choir section. When the priest starts talking about "the gay trend," I stop trying to pay attention. I knew this would happen, but I figured I could do it just this once for my mom. I sit wondering if my dad would prefer the Spanish mass and if my youngest brother is feeling the same as I did when I was his age. My nephew, who's a baby at the time, starts crying. If it could've gotten me out of having to stay sitting there, I would've cried, too. Instead, I think about what I'm going to have for lunch as the priest keeps preaching. Everyone stands up and starts praying. I stand there quietly because I don't know the prayers. I stay quiet for the prayers I remember, too.