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‘Day wasn’t a good role model for parenting’

Special to the National Catholic Reporter
San Francisco

Larry Holben’s message to the Catholic Workers attending a recent conference in San Bruno was clear and concise, “The life of a Catholic Worker is a lot easier if you’re single.”

Holben, author of All the Way to Heaven: A Theological Reflection on Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker Movement focused on the difficulties of parenting while in the movement.

“When married, the life of the CW is immensely more complex. The struggles of finances and guilt feelings are often experienced when children are part of the CW life,” Holben said.

Holben is a former Catholic Worker of seven years and cofounder of a skid row “at-cost grocery store” for the poor in East Los Angeles. “Life in proximity of the poor is dangerous,” he said. “Raising children in this environment often creates guilt. And if we look to the gospel for strength, you’ll find it’s not a lot of help.”

“For example,” Holben continued, “When Mary and Joseph found their son after he was missing for a while, they asked him, ‘Where have you been?’ and he answered, ‘I have to be about my father’s business.’ Another example is when Jesus asked James and John to leave their father’s fishing boat and follow him immediately. They did, leaving their father alone to provide for the family. Both these stories are powerful blows to the continuity of family.”

According to Holben, Dorothy Day was an example of “narcissistic parenting, and her daughter took a backseat” to the Catholic Worker houses Day started.

Those with children, who are devoted to the Catholic Worker movement, he said, should not think of Day as a good role model for parenting.

So, where do the children of Catholic Workers fit in the journey their parents have chosen? Must they be compromised? Although Holben had “no magical solutions,” he offered “considerations and thoughts for prayer.”

“Your children are just as poor as those you serve in your daily lives as Catholic Workers,” Holben told the gathering. “The poor and children are dependent on others. Both share radical helplessness. Claim the courage to admit your children have immediate needs and then you need not apologize for attending to those needs.”

Holben said, “Be especially careful you do not sweep your children along with you. Just as you do for other children without embarrassment, you should also do the same for your own.

“CW parents have wonderful stories of their journeys and the visitors in their houses. Pass on to your children the justice ritual of telling stories, for it will create continuity in the tapestry of family and reproduce.

“Teach your children to know their true meanings of persons as God among us,” he said. “The gospel values always liberate.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 29, 1999