The title track of Lou’s CD is Free As The Sun. The version Shea Mackinnon has so beautifully recorded is the one he and Lou sang together. Based on an earlier version of the same song, the lyrics are poignant & personal, but they are not full of the private pain that was captured in the original chorus, where Lou sings again and again:
“Now I am…finally…free as a son.”
What caused Lou to reframe the song so as to “refrain” from revealing to much? This question is included in the chapter of study questions for the book of Louis’ prose and poetry to be published in early 2016: Free As The Sun: Lou’s Writing Shines a Light on Child Abuse & Addiction.
Some part of an answer may be found between the lines of a letter Louis wrote to Governor Kulongoski in June 2010.* At age 13, Louis chose “Child Abuse” as the topic for his social studies research paper. His letter begins this way:
Dear Mr. Kulongoski,
I was a victim of child abuse. For about 3 years, I would dread going to visit my father. (…) Christmas of 5th grade, December 24th, my dad and I had gotten in a huge fight. When I said, “I’m never coming back,” I meant it. The next day was the best Christmas that I could ever remember …
Well, I think I will always remember the night when we were driving home from church and my mom and I got into a conversation about how life isn’t always fair. About halfway into the conversation, I broke down and told her. I spent that night describing how my dad had abused me, emotionally and physically (….) and after that wave(s) of anxiety poured off my back, and I knew that what had to be done had been done. However, there was still a massive aftershock. I suffered from depression…and had insane flashbacks every once in awhile. Sometimes, it would get so bad I would feel anger that wasn’t mine. I guess you can call this post traumatic stress.
Now, I don’t know if you were abused as a kid, but I’m guessing that you have heard or read about many different types of abuse. If you look at the statistics of how many people in jail were abused as children, it is 36% for women and 16% for men. And when you think about how many people said they weren’t (abused) just so abuse wouldn’t seem as big an issue, you could probably estimate that if abuse was stopped, maybe half of the people who are in jail wouldn’t be there. (Italics added.)
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family, just as it was that Sunday which Lou recalls, December 30, 2007. We had been to evening mass. The priest’s homily was a typical Holy Family shtick. It had stressed the importance of family as the place where we learn about true love and respect for each other. This priest, Father Somebody-or-Other, kept stressing how children must obey their parents because an earthly father models the Love of God the Father to whom we, as His children, must be obedient. Louis doodled on the envelopes in the pew. He drew a devil being devoured by flames.
As we drove home, Louis was silent, lying down in the back seat. I felt compelled to add a commentary, a sad and simple truth which we both knew too well: that the family the priest had been talking about is an ideal one that is not the experience of all God’s children on Earth.
Christmas Eve morning, Lou had called me from his father’s house. He was sobbing as he said, “I really need to come home NOW mom. Will you come get me?” Sadly, the only thing that surprised me in this was that his father allowed him to make that call. Though Louis went back that evening to collect his gifts and to see his half-brothers and nephew, he took a friend with him as witness and protection.
Isn’t it ironic? A homily, delivered on the Feast of the Holy Family, preaching the need for children to obey their parents, is what would set Louis free to begin to speak his truth so that he could be truly “free as a son.” All it took was a simple reality check (not all children are given wise and loving and respectful parents) for Lou to bravely exchange his fearful obedience for liberation. To dare to disobey commands such as, “If you tell what I have been doing, I will kill your mother and your dog,” is no small thing for a child. I think that teaching children to offer blind obedience to their parents or to any adult is sinful. We need instead to teach them to trust their own inner voice.
In Rome today, Pope Francis gave a special homily for the Feast of the Holy Family. He speculates about the family conversation that might have taken place after Mary & Joseph finally found their 12 year old son, Jesus, who had stayed behind in the Temple and was eventually found talking with the teachers there. Francis says, “For this little ‘escapade’, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt. Returning home, Jesus surely remained close to them, as a sign of his complete affection and obedience. Moments like these become part of the pilgrimage of each family; the Lord transforms the moments into opportunities to grow, to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.”
Alice Miller, in her book The Truth Will Set You Free, is clear on this point. A poisonous pedagogy is one that stresses blind obedience, one which expects children to “beg forgiveness” of their parents. Her clients in therapy tended to justify and to minimize the abuse they had suffered, rationalizing the beatings and the verbal violence they had endured. They felt they must have been at fault in some way for their own abuse.
If I were to write a Sunday homily for this feast day, I would write one about the film Spotlight. I’d write about the courage it takes for a man, young or old, to stand up that first time to say, “I was just a little kid. I thought I had to obey. I had been taught that this man, this so called ‘Father‘ was someone who wanted the best for me, and so I believed it. When he said it was the only thing I deserved, I believed that too.”
But nothing I can write would be as powerful as Lou’s own words. These are from a journal he kept while in residential treatment in 2013: “Abused by my father for a good part of my childhood. My sense of self was diminished as I was told I wasn’t worth anything for such a long time. It was difficult for me to learn to love myself and I still struggle with it to this day. I viewed myself as less than a human and I genuinely thought I wasn’t good enough to have a sense of pride at all. My sense of security was severely diminished. I felt like I wasn’t safe in my own skin.”
The book, Free As The Sun: Lou’s Writing Shines a Light on Child Abuse & Addiction will be available in March 2016. “Like” the Free As The Sun Facebook Page to receive updates about ordering the CD and Book.
Note: The Pope isn’t asking me to write sermons, but my Christmas Day journal entry from 2010 (& Christmas Eve 2014 postscript) was published January 4, 2015, one month after Lou’s death, on the “Stop Abuse Campaign” website. Andrew Willis and Melanie Blow of the Stop Abuse Campaign have contributed essays to Lou’s book. Please consider making a year-end contribution of $5.00 or more to their excellent work to abolish child abuse. stopabusecampaign.com/christmas-day-2010-a-journal-reflection/