Dad’s vasectomy: a Christmas story
December 24, 2010
When I was in my late 20s, my sister told me something about Dad that I hadn’t known. It seems that in the late 1940s, Dad was thinking about having a vasectomy.
According to Sis, the parish priest somehow found out what Dad was planning and went to Dad and told him he’d be sinning against God, the world, his neighbor, and probably the priest himself.
The priest was Irish. While we could never prove it, the rumor had gone around for years that he was fostering a competition among parish families to see which one could produce the most children.
Dad wasn’t a Catholic, but Mom was, so Dad had promised her when they married that he’d raise any children they had as Catholics. He sent us to Catholic grade school, and the priest was in charge of the school as well as the parish.
The way Sis told it, Dad was willing to have a vasectomy, but Mom couldn’t ask him to do it. Mom believed whatever the Church taught. The Church was teaching that preventing conception in any way was so bad it could mean hell.
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But in her heart, Mom wouldn’t oppose Dad if he did have a vasectomy. She already had six children. For her, Here-and-Now had a huge edge over a possible hell in the Hereafter.
According to my sister, a priest’s persuasive tongue carried the day. But Dad was also one to hedge his bets. Instead of a vasectomy, he had five more children.
Many years later, I decided to ask Mom to verify Sis’s story. I suspected that a zealous priest telling Dad he’d be sinning could have happened, but I wanted to know how the priest found out in the first place.
Mom said it wasn’t the priest who talked Dad out of a vasectomy. It was her brother Joe.
When I was growing up in our boisterous household, I always wondered why it was much quieter at my uncle’s house. Before he retired, my uncle had been a firefighter. Sometimes he would visit our house, and we kids would hang on his arms while he swung us around, two at a time. One time after he put me down, I noticed how scarred his fingers were. When I asked him what happened, he said his fingers got stuck in a horse’s mouth. That day, I scolded him. “Uncle Joe, don’t put your fingers in a horse’s mouth any more.” He said he wouldn’t, and he smiled weakly.
After I asked, Mom told me her brother got married, then he and my aunt had a boy and a girl, then Joe got a vasectomy. He was a convert like Mom was, so he too believed it was a “sin.” But he went to confession and got forgiveness.
According to Mom, the late 1940s were when Dad first thought about having a vasectomy. Naturally Dad spoke to his brother-in-law about it. Joe told Dad that he regretted having it done and maybe Dad would regret it, too. Dad must have agreed, because he had five more kids.
I thought the story was finished. But many years later I decided to ask Dad for his version.
We were at my sister’s house, at a family reunion in 1999. By then, Dad had been a Catholic for 30-some years, having converted after his youngest child was born. He was almost 83 years old and sat in a wheelchair, because his right leg was paralyzed from a stroke.
I might never have a better chance to confirm a few things about the vasectomy issue. Was it the parish priest (Sis’s version) or my uncle (Mom’s version) who had talked him out of it?
In our conversation that day, Dad first reminded me how his mother had been told when she was 21 and about to get married that she would most likely never have children. As a teenager, she’d been in an ice-skating accident, and doctors confirmed after the accident that she had a tipped uterus.
She married anyway, though the groom was over 50. And they didn’t have children for many years. When she got pregnant, it was a welcome surprise.
The child was born on Christmas Day. His parents considered him a gift from God.
By 1950, when the Christmas child was grown up and married and his own most recent child had just been born on Christmas Eve, Dad was thinking that six children were enough. He was so sure of it, he made an appointment at a doctor’s office.
The day of the appointment, Dad was at home, about to drive to the doctor’s office, when the phone rang. A medical assistant told him the doctor had been called away on an emergency and would have to reschedule the vasectomy.
Dad took it as a sign from God. He never rescheduled the office visit. He had five more children.
Three years after he told me his version, Dad finished his larger life story. Mom had passed away ten months earlier, three weeks after their 63rd wedding anniversary.
My parents left a legacy of 11 children, 27 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren (at last count).
Not bad for the Christmas gift of “Dad’s vasectomy.”