Friday, June 05, 2009

Loss of faith, loss of filial piety

"Filial piety" is a rough translation of the Chinese Confucian term xiào (孝) meaning love and respect for one's parents. Though pervasive in the Far East and expressed in a variety of unique cultural conventions, the sentiment is far from alien to the West. "Honor thy father and thy mother" is the single Commandment of the Decalogue that carries a promise with it: "... that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Ex. 20:12).

A son who writes "honest" but unflattering paeans to his parents may expect to gain some momentary notoriety in the world today, but he loses all personal integrity and honor in the bargain.

This is what we learn about Christopher Buckley from his book, Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir (2009), as Joan Frawley Desmond shows us in "Fathers and Sons" (, May 14, 2009):
When the relatives and friends of William F. Buckley and Patricia Taylor Buckley first learned that Christopher Buckley, the satirical novelist, was completing a memoir of the year during which he lost both his parents, there was considerable and well-founded alarm. All three Buckleys had enjoyed famously contentious relations, and, in recent years, Christopher had not only confirmed his agnosticism on matters religious, but went so far as to announce his plan to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

Has Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir confirmed the worst fears of Buckley loyalists? The appearance of a portion of the book in the New York Times Magazine suggests that the scion has provided a juicy deconstruction of a conservative icon. Readers are invited to feast on a series of delicious vignettes that strip away the parents' public charisma and reveal their profound limitations in domestic relations. Mom is a serial liar and self-justifying socialite who never apologizes for routine bad behavior. Dad is a frenetic "great man" and control freak who impatiently abandons his only son on the day of his college graduation.

What more is there to be said? A great deal, actually. Not only does the younger Buckley acknowledge many rich and distinctive moments of parental love and devotion, the narrative reveals something more than the author may have intended: the connection between this ambivalent portrait of his parents and his own waning faith in God. To this reviewer, his critique of the Buckley paterfamilias reads like an attempt to demystify and exorcise the inconvenient Catholic values that shaped the author's upbringing and still plague his conscience.
Read the rest of Desmond's review here.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

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