Let’s face it: Being a Catholic Christian these days can be tough. Given the state of our increasingly post-Christian culture, the notion of raising children to be happy, well-adjusted Christians can be daunting. In times like these, Catholic parents and prospective parents could use some encouragement. Better yet, they could use a laugh.
Enter Jim Gaffigan: Catholic Christian, father of five, and one of America’s favorite standup comedians.
Author of the best-selling Dad Is Fat, as well as the just-released Food: A Love Story, Jim Gaffigan’s success can be derived in part from his contrarian views on diet (see his routines about seafood, McDonald’s, or Hot Pockets), but also for his large family. While he has made light of “Catholic guilt” and his experience feeling bored at Mass in the past, dig a little deeper into his everyday life – especially the influence of his wife, who he refers to affectionately as a “Shiite Catholic” – and you find a man whose lifestyle is strongly influenced by a culture of Catholicism.
In fact, a Catholic parent might even learn a thing or two from this particular humorist.
1) Stop staring at the mirror
We’re all guilty of a little narcissism, and if you’re like me, one of the places you’ve succumbed to this temptation is at your local gym. In one of his weightier routines (pun intended), Gaffigan lampoons zealous health club patrons, serving up an uproarious caricature of devoted bodybuilders.
Admitting that he’s not exactly the most physically fit guy around, he complains about the inevitability of facing his own reflection in the enormous mirrors that adorn the weight room walls. Unexpectedly, this routine develops into a biting commentary on modern narcissism:
“I wanna look at myself while I work on myself. I should do a recording so I can listen to myself while I look at myself while I work on myself… As I leaf through my Self Magazine, reading how myself can improve myself. Maybe I’ll look at my Facebook page and look at photos of myself, read what myself has written about myself.”
2) Being healthy is great, but don’t let it deprive you of joy in your meals
His routine about the madness of “kale bragging” says it all.
As the title of his two books suggest, Gaffigan’s enthusiasm for unhealthy food is likely to offend the sensibilities of the average Whole Foods shopper. Excusing his comedic flair for exaggeration, the popularity of his numerous food routines (see above) may suggest the average person’s discomfort with a uniquely modern-American problem: We have become a land of “health Puritanism” in which processed food is equivalent to a cardinal sin. Neither of these extremes is particularly appealing to Gaffigan.
At risk of ascribing undue profundity to his comedy, we might go so far as to compare him to the titular character of the film Babette’s Feast, in that he reminds us that our meals should never be solely about health, but also an occasion of joy.
3) Parents: be open to life
Of course, experiencing joy in one’s meals isn’t really about food in the first place, but those with whom you are eating. And what greater joy is there for a man who sits down for dinner at a table surrounded by his own children?
As the comedian himself puts it, big families are a lot like waterbeds: “They used to be everywhere, now they’re just weird.”
Many elite voices in today’s culture have a tendency to treat children more like a burden than a blessing. Instead, these callous critics suggest that we seek fulfillment in pleasurable diversions. From traveling, to frivolous relationships, to barhopping, just about anything is held up as preferable to taking on the responsibilities of parenthood. Even married couples are encouraged to embrace the joy of a “child-free life” (a diabolic contradiction in terms if I’ve ever heard one).
In his first book, Dad Is Fat, Gaffigan offers this pearl of wisdom:
“People treat having a kid as somehow retiring from success. Quitting. Have you seen a baby? They’re pretty cute. Loving them is pretty easy. Smiling babies should actually be categorized by the pharmaceutical industry as a powerful antidepressant. Being happy is really the definition of success, isn’t it?”
[See also: 18 Signs You Might Have A LOT of Kids]
4) Kids > Pets
As Pope Francis has remarked, in so many words, the number of people who forego childbearing in favor of pet purchasing is a depressing sign of the times. Worse still, many of the people who opt for pets over children refer to their four-legged friends in terms that, until recently, would only have been applicable to one’s own progeny.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a proud “dog person” and will be so until the end of my days, but I cannot abide the social acceptability of referring to one’s dogs “my kids” or “my children.” The view that owning a pet is a sufficient training program prior to parenting is similarly absurd. In Dad Is Fat, Gaffigan has this to say on the subject:
“Occasionally, a dog will be presented as some training method for having a baby. “My girlfriend and I got a dog. We are going to see if we can handle that before we have kids.” This is a little like testing the waters of being a vegetarian by having lettuce on your burger. Okay, maybe that metaphor doesn’t make sense, but neither does using a dog as a training method for having a baby.”
5) Marriage and parenthood are about sacrifice, not self-fulfillment
Given his understanding of his role as a parent, it’s no wonder that Gaffigan would take aim at narcissism in his comedy:
“Being a parent is a selfless adventure. The worldview of “Take care of yourself first” is no longer logical to a sane person if your baby wakes up hungry in the middle of the night.”
Far from being treated as an indissoluble bond between man and wife, from which the responsibilities of parenthood naturally proceed, marriage today is often viewed as a mere legal benefit to be bestowed by the government. Its sacrificial elements now almost entirely avoidable thanks to boundless contraceptive techniques, marriage can instead be viewed as a right to personal fulfillment and emotional gratification.
While I have it on good authority that marriage is certainly fulfilling and gratifying, it would be a tragic mistake to limit our understanding of marriage to these characteristics alone. Upon the altar of marriage (and continuously thereafter), a man must die to his selfish desires if he is to carry out his duties as a husband and father. Taking the cross of Christ as his example, the Christian man must give all for his bride and their children. The de-emphasis of this sacrificial element is, of course, a logical consequence of society’s stripping marriage of its sacramental meaning.
In this context, the Gaffigans’ witness to the reality of authentic marriage and parenthood would do St. John Paul II proud.
6) Often, parenthood leads to religion, not the other way around
“Believe me, once you lose a kid in a New York City park, atheist or not, you start talking to God right away.”
We might take this line as just another humorous remark, but it strikes upon a deep truth about a given society’s religiosity.
According to Mary Eberstadt in her essay and book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, the precipitous decline of Christianity in the West is strongly linked to the disintegration of marriage and child rearing. As Catholic parents will likely testify, a person’s participation in marriage and parenthood leaves them more inclined to seek out the good, the true and the beautiful in a religious context. We can see evidence of this pattern throughout much of the developed world. Crushingly low birthrates in Europe seem to parallel the continent’s general rejection of religion, especially orthodox (small “o”) Christianity.
Coupled with the ongoing assault by our own secular elites against the idea of the traditional family, America’s shrinking birthrate could well represent the most significant crisis that the Church in the United States has yet to face.
It is also a crisis from which the Gaffigan family is – blessedly – exempt.
7) Proverbs 31:10
This list would be tragically incomplete were we not to make special mention of Jim Gaffigan’s wife, Jeannie.
While she doesn’t appear in very many interviews alongside her husband, what he says about her – in interviews, in his routines, and in his books – paints a picture of a delightful woman, a devoted wife, and a terrific mother.
“Jeannie was the oldest of nine children, and when I met her she was directing a Shakespearean play with a hip-hop score featuring about fifty inner-city kids. For free. Here was this funny, sexy, smart woman who was passionate about her art and for some reason, children. Working with kids inspired Jeannie, and being with her inspired me. It was an amazing relationship. Jeannie literally wanted to take care of me, and in turn I had this crazy, almost biological desire to provide her with, well, someone to take care of.”
More precious than rubies? I’d call that an understatement of Biblical proportions.