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Issue 07 – Saint Rose 2021


The Windings of the Road

On fathers and sons.


My father Joseph Charles Neu was born in July 1940, the second of eight children to a rice farmer in Hamshire, Texas. Dad milked the cow every morning and helped harvest rice every summer. He learned his prayers kneeling on the truck floorboards as his father drove home on country roads after late nights playing shuffleboard at the bar. He learned his religion in a small Catholic church, where the priest had long bony fingers with which he would flick the ears of misbehaving altar boys who messed up the Latin. Joe was good natured, warm, and gregarious. He entered the Navy in 1958 and became a pharmacist’s mate, work that he would continue in civilian life. He also got himself into the kinds of trouble farm boys and sailors usually do. He told us he and his brother Billy once tried to drown each other in the rice paddies, and another time he and friends accidentally sunk a man’s boat.

Nevertheless, he kept confessing his sins on Saturday and attending Mass on Sunday, right up until 1970. Dad never came to terms with the loosening of morals in the 1960s and afterwards, and the revolution in Catholic life brought by the Second Vatican Council disturbed him greatly. When I tried to explain once in my youthful fervor that the Church’s teachings never changed, he winced and without looking up replied, “Well, they changed on me.” Shortly after the introduction of Paul VI’s new missal, one of those young priests, so excited to be looking at everyone in the pews while saying Mass, told him in confession that something he confessed “wasn’t a sin anymore.” Dad was no saint, but he knew what sin was, and he knew he had committed it. If the priests who had taken away his childhood religion were not even going to chastise him for doing wrong anymore, what was the point? He left the church that Saturday and rarely went back.

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About the author

Jake Neu

Jake Neu is a patent attorney in Nashville, Tennessee.

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