Saturday, September 14, 2013

The passion of Dan Grieco

Daniel Ralph Grieco
SK Daniel J. Grieco: Beloved husband, father,
friend and brother Knight.
Dan Grieco (1948 – 2013) was in many ways the man I want to be when I grow up.

Dan was one of the first people I met when my brother Bob and I joined our parish’s Knights of Columbus council in 2007. If you met him only once, you might just write him off as a “nice guy”. As you got to know him, however, you learned just how shallow such an assessment could be.

Dan was singularly passionate about everything, from the Church and the pro-life movement to hardwood floors. Whatever he was doing, he was excited about it, and he did his level best to get you excited about it too. Commitment was not a dirty word to Dan; it was almost his motto. If there was a project, he would be the first person to arrive — ready to work — and the last person to leave.

So far as Dan was “nice”, it wasn’t just a general air of bonhomie: he took avid interest in other people’s lives, was warm, engaging and funny, and had no hesitation about telling other people — even other men — “I love you”. If you were in the hospital, you could pretty much count on a visit from Dan. His love for his wife and children was boundless, a shining constant in his life.

But the reason I write of Dan here is because that same vital combination of passion and commitment showed through in his religiosity. Dan’s love of God and the Church was just as fierce, devoted and fully committed as his love for his family and friends. You could almost use the word zealous, except that the idea of zealotry has been spoiled by violent nutjobs; Dan was disgustingly sane. Of all the people I’ve known, he was the best at “walking the talk”.

Don’t get me wrong — Dan’s love for the Catholic Church was in no way crippled by an inordinate respect for the cloth. Our parish priest, Fr. George, spoke of this in his remarks at the rosary service at the funeral home Wednesday night. Fr. George, a humble and gentle man from India (he recently became a citizen), has a marked unwillingness to rock the boat, while Dan had no time for mincing words: “So I would say to Dan, ‘No, no, no, you cannot say things like that! People will leave the church if you put it that way!’ And Dan would say to me, ‘You are scared, Father! You are scared!’”

(Fr. George told us this with a smile on his face; he presided over Dan’s funeral Mass with tears in his eyes. That was Dan — you loved him even when you butted heads with him.)

I envied Dan’s strong, masculine piety precisely because, excepting a year misspent at a Jesuit school (“misspent” because I wasted little effort on the classwork), I’d had little experience of it prior to joining the Knights. My father was raised a Presbyterian, and my mother was his second wife. While Dad put no obstacles in our way, neither did he lead by example, nor did he ever speak with us on matters of faith; if I had to guess, I’d say he was functionally a deist. Nor do I have any memory of my mother’s brothers as religiously influential; they were and are Catholics, but my memories of their conversations consist mostly of politics and sports.

The overall correlation of religiosity with both physical and emotional health, and its contribution to stable, well-ordered communities, has been too well and too extensively documented by social researchers to reasonably deny. Moreover, the positive benefits of religion accrue more to persons whose motivation for worship is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Put differently, that means that people who really believe get more of the good stuff out of religion than do people whose motivation for going to church is to get social recognition and networking opportunities out of it. Nor does being “spiritual but not religious” pay the same emotional and physical benefits.

As Dr. Patrick F. Fagan says, “No other dimension of life in America — with the exception of stable marriages and families, which in turn are strongly tied to religious practice — does more to promote the well-being and soundness of the nation’s civil society than citizens’ religious observance.” Critical to that soundness is the religiosity of fathers.

While most social researchers agree that women tend to be more religious than men, the religiosity of the father is an important predictor of the level of warmth, caring and involvement of the father in the lives of their children, and thus of their emotional and physical health (not to mention their own future religiosity). Contrary to Sigmund Freud’s “wish-father” theory, children of abusive, distant or absent fathers are more likely to reject God, or to picture Him as malevolent and capricious, precisely because of His association with fatherhood as they’ve experienced it. Men who value and practice their religion also tend to treat their wives much better; couples who practice a shared religion together tend to be happier in their marriage, to divorce much less frequently and reconcile more frequently.

This ought to concern us because the incidence of births out of wedlock has increased, to about 36% in 2011. Single parenthood depresses the chances of the children achieving academically, of going on to college and decent jobs; cohabitation does not offset that depression. The net effect of this has been to create what researcher Kay Hymowitz has called a “marriage gap … consisting of an unmarried proletariat and married capitalists.”

You guessed it: there is a connection with religiosity. Low religiosity correlates to higher rates of risky sexual behavior and cohabitation, as well as higher rates of divorce. Despite what you might expect, low religiosity also correlates to greater likelihood to bear children out of wedlock, especially among white non-Hispanic women.

To ascribe this to social control — churches “make people behave” — is to engage in shallow analysis. Organized religion is much better than mere spirituality or secular education at passing on “the marriage program” (as in software); that is, the culturally-specific set of rights and responsibilities that pertain to parenthood. It’s also much better at “connecting the dots” between sex, marriage, parenthood and family, as well as at promoting marriage and parenthood as good things, and encouraging behaviors that support the marriage institution.

To rebuild the family, we need to rebuild the bond between marriage and childrearing that was broken between 1960 and 1973. Specifically, we need to reintroduce the traditional family as the preferred method of rearing children, not as one of many theoretically equal options. This means we must rebuild the model of the husband/father — not as a domestic tyrant but as a strong, committed, loving and involved family leader — and teach it to our young men, especially by example.

In other words, we need more Dan Griecos. I would hate to think that such men only come once to each church, temple or synagogue, or that our religious institutions have completely lost all power to produce real men of faith. How strange, to hope such a unique individual was not literally unique!

How Dan would laugh at that!