My Son Sean (Once Again) by author Hal O’Leary in his weekly section on Yareah magazine: Just Hal! Enjoy his deep articles every Saturday.
While I seek tolerance from those of you who find comfort in faith, please allow me the pleasure, for what I trust will be your pleasure, to relate what (in my secular opinion) I think is just a lovely story. Those of you who have read other of my writings may have noticed that I seem to have an affinity for the antics of my son Sean. As a secular humanist, I view him, along with my grandson Joshua and my great-grandson Patrick, both as extensions of and perhaps the only meaning my life can find. Therefore, I make no apology for my little story. The attention and importance I attach to Sean with his accomplishments represent a grateful source of pride in my otherwise rather mundane and mediocre life.
If not a genius, my son is certainly exceptional. His amazing power of conceptualization goes far beyond anything he may have inherited from his father. His ability to analyze and act wisely on his analysis was made clear to me early-on. At age six, in explaining his refusal to follow through on a request I made of him, he simply replied most profoundly, “But Dad, I’ve got so much playing to do.” His acuity at that tender age made me realize a truth that should have been obvious not only to me, but all parents. Out of the mouths of babes . . .
Then, of course, when he entered college and chose his major, I was repeatedly asked what in the world he could do with a degree in philosophy. My answer was always that with philosophy he would learn to think, and that if he learned to think, he could do anything he might choose to do. Was I prophetic? Yes. He has gone on to become an entrepreneur with his own marketing firm, Market Lab. He has become a political pundit with many columns and a published book to his credit. All this he has accomplished while at the same time fulfilling his father’s most fervent dream of becoming a successful playwright, with five of his six plays to date having been professionally produced. But then again, I must profess that he was prophetically named for that great Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey.
But I digress. All that being said, let us turn to the lovely story I promised. At about the same age at which he displayed the acuity I of which I spoke, Sean proved his social acumen in quite a different situation. He performed what I consider an amazing feat in a rather unique method of escape from what might have been a troubling situation both for him and his cousin Scott. They were close in age, with Scott being about a year older, but they differed in their upbringings in terms of belief and nonbelief. Scott’s father was a devout Catholic, and as such had schooled his son in the necessity for evening prayers. Sean, on the other hand, had no such schooling. As far as I was aware, neither Scott, Sean, nor their parents ever ventured into a discussion of religion. Each respected the others’ choices to believe or not to believe; thus, the topic never surfaced.
Whether or not it was the slight difference in their ages, Sean seemed to have had a greater respect for Scott than Scott for Sean. I don’t mean that they didn’t get along. It was just that Sean was more likely to defer to the wishes of Scott than the other way round. There is the possibility that both of them perceived Scott as being the better athlete, although in later years the opposite proved true. As I think back, their perceptions may have been the result of my reluctance, or should I say my refusal, to involve myself in “Little Leagues” of any kind, whereas Scott’s father seemed to view his participation as a sacred obligation of fatherhood. I’m with whoever it was who said that the only appropriate way for an adult to participate in children’s play was to throw a bat and a ball into an empty lot and then get the hell out of their way.
On one particular evening, however, the belief or non-belief difference surfaced in a most unusual manner. Overnight visits by our two families were not common, but this occasion found Sean and Scott sharing a bedroom. Bedtime for the boys came early, and as I walked past the partially open bedroom door, I noticed that Scott had knelt beside the bed with hands folded and head bowed in preparation for his evening prayers. I paused at the door to see what my son, who was standing beside his kneeling cousin, might do. Unaccustomed as Sean was to this ritual, he seemed for the moment a bit confused. Then to my surprise, with what I surmised was deference in a desire to emulate his elder cousin, he also knelt and folded his hands, but with head raised instead of lowered, as if in search of something, I heard him, with a solemnity that would equal the most devout, begin:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag . . .”
I couldn’t wait to hear him out. I had to quickly step away to stifle a glorious laugh.