I recall the pain and loss of my father's constant presence in my life, and when I did see him I recall the further pain of witnessing his "new-found" relationships. "Who were all these women?" I thought. "Why are you so familiar with them?" I wondered. "They are NOT my mother!" I raged.
Then there was all the sexual paraphernalia I found around my father, including that classic resource "The Joy of Sex" with all its detailed illustrations that I so often perused at 7, 8, and 9 years old. It was by this time I had my own "stash" of porn to draw upon. I will never forget when, as a student at Stahl Elementary, just down the road from Madison High School, that a friend and I were caught hoarding a "Hustler" magazine.
My mother worked hard, busting her butt, just to provide for my sister and me, and this was not necessarily the proudest day in her life. Although she told me it was wrong, I never heard why it was wrong. Sure it felt dirty, but dirty felt so good! "Why is it wrong?", I wondered, I even remember sitting in Sunday School, at MacArthur Park Church of Christ, and hearing them say that "pre-marital" sex was wrong; "really?", I thought... "why? ", "Well, it's in the bible" they would say, "it's the bible that says it's wrong". "Ok... why?" Even if they tried to answer the question, and I have no doubt that they did, it surely didn't take.
It was at this time that my mother's third husband, Wes, entered our lives. Wes was a hard working man but had some real struggles with cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and oh yes... porn. By ten years old I had found his stash of VHS tapes and began watching them almost daily. Masturbation had taken root and I was not seeking "our daily bread," rather, I was after "my daily indulgence."
My entire sexual formation was based on my father's and stepfather's lifestyle with a steady stream of pornography. All I ever knew about sexuality, love, romance, the value of women and relationships, was based on what I was watching on the TV and finding in the magazines late at night with a flashlight in my bed. I absolutely thought this is what "making love" was all about, and what women were "good" for. This was the inheritance I took from my father at so young an age.
Vs. 13: Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14: And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want.
By the time I was a teenager it was my mission in life to have as many sexual relationships as possible before graduating. You see I was trying to impress my father; he had countless girlfriends so I would have countless more. I wanted to show my father that I was becoming the man who is "made in HIS image & likeness" and I desperately wanted him to be proud of me.
So I too didn't see women as human persons; no, to me they were like commodities to be consumed. They existed to please me, to meet "my needs", not unlike a can of Coke, when after I have consumed it, I crush the can and toss it in the garbage. As a senior in high school I took full advantage of the young, innocent girls, who really wanted to impress me, you know... to show me they could "meet my needs". They wanted love, affirmation, acceptance, and security, and all I wanted was their flesh. I convinced one girl to give to me what should have been saved for the man whom God had destined for her in covenant marriage, her virginity! But, not many days later, I was no longer interested in her. Like the images on the porn tapes, it served its purpose and I was already bored with her and looking to my next conquest.
In 1991 the first Gulf war broke out and I was "gung-ho," and but because the "Uncle-Sam" won't take a seventeen-year-old kid with out a parents consent, I had to do some convincing to get my mother's permission. I was eager to prove myself to my father, it was simple: my father served in the Army, so I would serve in the Marine Corps. I'll never forget the day that SSgt. Simmons came and picked me up from my mother's apartment and shipped me off to boot camp in San Diego, CA. My father didn't think I had what it took to finish boot camp, so he refused to put the "My Son is a US Marine" sticker on his truck until I'd "earned the title". Don't get me wrong: my father loved me and my sister, very much, but I think deep down he longed for his son to do better, to be better, than he was, even if he was unable to tell me what he felt it in his heart. My father went out of his way to show his love for us; it's just that his world-view, his concupiscence, kept getting in the way.
After three months of blood, sweat, and tears, literally, my parents looked on in amazement as their vastly skinnier, son stood tall in his dress blues, when he received Marine Corps boot-camp's highest award, the recognition as Company Honor-man. I graduated number one out of four hundred and fifty US Marines; I had earned "the title", I was now Lance Corporal Joseph McClane!
Even though the Marines gave me discipline and some honor, my world-view hadn't changed in the slightest. In fact, it only grew more intense in the Corps. From California to Tennessee, with a brief excursion to New Orleans and the Mardi Gras of '93, I was "free" to do as I pleased. The Corps was not going to be my "mommy & daddy." So long as I did my job, they were not going to tell me what "not" to do. Sure there was a price to pay if I got caught, but drinking, bar fights, strip clubs, porn, and chasing women was a pastime for the vast majority of the "Devil-Dogs" in my unit. Perverse sexual conquest was all but encouraged by training instructors and senior enlisted folks at every stop along the way. Better than winning the lottery, I received my permanent duty-station orders that sent me to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Like dropping the wolf in a pen full of helpless sheep, I was let loose in a paradise full of scantly clad women.
Just a few summers prior, back in '89, I lived my with father in Stuttgart, Germany for 3 months where I saw his second wife leave, and his latest mistress try to hide her affair from her husband. This was par for the course, but what was new, was my father and I sharing porn for a brief time. I think it bothered him internally, although we never spoke openly about it, somehow knowing that this is just not what a "father" is supposed to do.
This kind of sharing developed into a mentoring relationship while I was serving in Hawaii. I was eager to impress my father with all of my tales of womanizing and wanted him to know that his son was a "chip off the ol' block". I recall the long phone calls and his advice on how too keep one girlfriend from finding out about the other, and how to prevent venereal diseases from spreading and ruining the "party." I earnestly desired to live up to my father's expectations of my "sex-life", and did so to the fullest extent possible.
There was one young girl that stands out however. She was eighteen and living with her sister and her sister's husband who was a Staff-Sergeant attached to my unit. He and I worked second and third shift, and we got to know one another pretty well. He began inviting me over to his house for dinner and to hang out on the weekends. Taking full advantage of the situation I began sleeping with his sister-law, and even his wife on one occasion; as usual I grew bored pretty quickly. As "luck" would have it, my roommate got to know this girl as well, so I dumped her, giving him a chance to step in, giving me an easy out, allowing me to move on to "bigger and better" prey.
It was a about a month later that I received the phone call; it was her on the other end. "Hey, I'm pregnant" she said, her voice trembling, "and am not sure if it's yours or Mike's... I'm scared and I'm not sure what to do. I think I want to get an abortion!" I listened to how nervous she was, my mind racing, trying to think of what to say, wondering how I would get out of this mess. "Wow, you have got to be kidding me", I thought, "there is no way I want to be tied down with this chick." I quickly responded "yes... an abortion, that sounds like a good idea; do you need money for that? Tell you what, I will drive you there!" I checked her into the clinic and waited with her until the nurse called her name. I watched her go around the corner then I immediately got up, left the clinic, and walked across the street to the Honolulu mall where I started scoping out the girls in the food court.
As I was trying to work my "magic," getting the "digits" from one girl, there was another girl lying naked on her back, feet propped up, crying, while the baby in her womb was sucked out, torn limb from limb. Because I was too cowardly to be the man God created me to be, this girl was all alone in the world, feeling desperate, and with no "choice"! I murdered that child all while setting my "hooks" into my next victim. Needless to say, I no longer wanted to serve my country in honor and integrity as much as I wanted to serve myself in indulgence.
Upon my discharge from the Marines, I returned home to San Antonio and quickly fell into a deep depression. I spent all my time and money on alcohol, strip clubs, and pornography, gaining lots of weight and searching for new purpose in life. Besides a stop over in Dallas, I ended up at my sister's house in Oklahoma City. She was trying to help me find a "new-way", to give me a fresh start. She found a radio broadcasting school nearby, and thought that I would be perfect for it. It sounded great, and I was thinking "yeah, chicks dig the cool DJ... I will hit it big, a great job, lots of pay, and lots of women!" But, ten months, seven thousand dollars, and a hundred and fifty "no-thank-yous" from radio stations across the USA, and I was selling my car so I could buy a train ticket to Boston. My father was living in New Hampshire with his latest girlfriend, and I felt like this would give me a fresh, clean, start to a new life. It didn't take long after moving in to find my father's porn stash, and I started using and abusing as often as possible. It took offering to work for free before I was able to land a couple of radio gigs in southern New Hampshire. One of them was as the news director at WHOB 106.3 in Nashua. It was a good first radio job, and I was having lots of fun as the "side-kick" in the morning drive slot.
It was late summer of 97 and I was at my very first live, remote, broadcast, from a pizza joint in Nashua, when "she" showed up to introduce herself. She had been calling into the show and we were beginning to talk off the air as well. I was enjoying our conversations... trying to make myself sound like the "hip" radio guy as much as possible. I know she sounded so cute over the phone but, I was caught off guard when I first laid eyes on her. She was stunning, and I knew... right then and there... that I wanted to marry her.
I tried my best to "seal the deal" and as fast as I could. I wish I could say that my radio career worked out with great success but it didn't. I had to make a choice... follow the radio jobs, or follow this woman. By the end of that year I was working for a local telecommunications company trying to survive on only eight bucks an hour. When I finally did get on my knee, and present the ring, I was able to work my way up to project manager, which included a decent pay raise. Like music to my ears Michelle said "yes," and I was a very happy man.
"If we're going to get married," she said with some hesitancy, anticipating a negative response, "you're going to have to become a Catholic." "Catholic?" I thought, "Really?" I grew up in the Church of Christ, and they (some not all) think all Catholics are going to hell, so this should have been a big deal to me. However, it wasn't. I had fallen away as a teenager, and didn't really care what religion I was. I felt all religions were the same, so... "sure, I'll become Catholic!" I signed up for RCIA classes at the Cathedral in downtown Manchester. They were very nice people who tolerated me, my crazy world view, foul mouth and twisted since of humor, all without making me feel like the biggest sinner on the planet.
But it was one night that stands out the most. I was sitting there listening to the facilitator read the "beatitudes" in St Matthew's Gospel chapter five, thinking to myself just how "true" this rings! "Jesus is talking about seeking holiness here," I said to myself, "and I am everything opposite of these beatitudes. I mean I'm not 'free' to live, or seek, holiness!"
You see, I knew what I would do that very night as soon as I got back to the apartment. By now, I had high-speed-internet-access, all the porn I wanted was just a mouse click away. That was my reality, certainly not seeking holiness. I would take every opportunity to indulge in lust, listening to the radio, watching TV or even just replaying all the images in my mind... I was a slave to my passions. But, there, in that class... It was a moment of clarity for me. My next thought was, "It's a good thing I have a long life to live. Maybe someday I will be able to seek holiness, maybe someday I will be 'free.'" I still thank God that I was not run over by the proverbial truck after that night, that a chance at conversion could still be realized.
The Low Point
Vs. 15: So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16: And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.
The priest who married us tried very hard to set us straight, but I had convinced Michelle that we should live together first, and we were surely living as man and wife, just without all that "commitment of the will, heart, and self" stuff would have gotten in the way of my desire to have "my needs" met.
It was a busy couple of years completing RCIA, receiving the Sacraments, planning the wedding, getting married, buying our first house, then having Michelle's mother, sister, and both brothers move in just months after signing on the dotted line. Yeah... good times!
Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and feeling very crowded. My work environment lent itself to my perverse lifestyle, and I was living like a drunken sailor, gone out-of-control, on shore leave at Mardi Gras, and no one was very happy about it. I railed against my in-laws, yelling at them constantly, disrespecting them, and making them feel so unwelcome in my home.
Then, one spring day, in 2002, I was laid off from work. Not only was I not bringing home love, charity, and integrity, but now, I was not brining home a paycheck either. Couple this with the many instances my wife had caught me using the porn, and she had enough. She wrote it out on a piece of paper, "You take this, I'll take that; we're done, I want a divorce"!
Vs. 17: But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18: I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19: I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."'
My whole world was crashing down around me. I had lost my job, was losing my house, and now my marriage too. I had nothing left, nowhere to turn, and nothing to hope for.
Feeling totally lost, and desperate, I turned to the one person who I was sure would not be there for me. I mean, I was never there for Him so why would He give me the "time of day"? I opened up the bible I was given in RCIA class to St. Matthew chapter five and began reading those beatitudes. I didn't know what else to do, I had no idea what to expect, so I just read them over and over again. My heart began to fill up with so much emotion and desperation, I was overcome with a great urge to get on my knees.
Vs. 20: And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21: And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
I got down on my knees and I said, "God, I can not do this... you're going to have to do this." I cannot explain how, but in that instant God allowed me to mystically understand things that I didn't understand the very instant before. It was like the "scales" fell from my eyes. The moment before, I would have rationalized with you, "we were all born sexual beings, pre-marital sex, masturbation, fornication, porn, 'free-love'... it's all natural, everyone does it! Yes of course we practice contraception, its irresponsible not to! I mean, after all, its her body, and who are you, God, to tell her what to do with it?!?"
In that miraculous instant of time, God allowed me another wonderful moment of great clarity, and I no longer wanted to make excuses for my selfish ways. Not knowing exactly how I understood for the first time in my life that I had to maintain sexual integrity and practice chastity. For the first day, since I was about ten years old, I would not masturbate.
The "novelty" that women were not objects to be consumed but made in the image and likeness of God himself to be truly loved and cherished-- this idea both confused me and mystified me. My marriage was permanent, and worth saving, worth working for, yes, even worth suffering for, and I would need to beg my wife to stay and work it out.
The last, but certainly not the least, gift I was given that day was an insatiable thirst and hunger to know God. In the moment before, I turned to my bible out of desperation but now, in this moment, I could not get enough of God's word and I had to have more!
I'd had a personal encounter with the Living God but, I had no clue who He was. I was sent on a journey of discovery that would lead me back to the Catholic Church through the graces I had received in the sacraments.
Vs. 22: But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23: and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.
A few weeks later I entered the confessional, begging God for mercy for decades of debauchery, abortion, and licentious behavior, not expecting to really receive it but, as I kneeled there, I heard the voice of Christ, through the person of the priest come through the screen saying the most beautiful words I had ever heard... "I absolve you of all your sins!"
How many times have I prayed for forgiveness, on my knees even, in solitude of my bedroom, but have never heard God's voice? Every time I watched porn, masturbated, or slept with a woman, I was seeking satisfaction but only and every time I found shame. No matter how many times I "confessed" it privately, I never found God's mercy, never receiving the assurance I so desperately desired. But, here, in this confessional, I came as a slave wallowing in the mud with the pigs, and my Father restored my dignity as a son of the Most High God! I was lost, but now was found! I was dead, but am alive again! God clothed me in His mercy, and I was a slave no longer. Now, I am truly free to pursue holiness, to live the beatitudes, now I realize that I was not born to lust, but to truly love; for Christ came to set us free from sin and death.
Over the course of the next several years our Lord would lead me to His cross, teaching me the vital tools of virtue, chastity, continence, and objectivity, so that I may combat my temptations with a healthy Christian response. I learned to avert my eyes, cut off the avenues of lust, and avoid the near occasions of sin, praying to Our Lady for help, and reminding myself of the dignity, value, and gift, of women.
I developed the skill to never allow a temptation to enter my thoughts without a fight. God is truly good, He has blessed me with a beautiful, loving and patient wife and 5 rambunctious and wonderful children. In spite of my unworthiness, I'm so blessed to spend my days sharing the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith with others in my work at Fullness Of Truth Catholic Evangelization Ministries. It never ceases to amaze me how God has opened so many doors, real opportunities, to be used by Him, for His glory, in the lives of other men who have, and still do, struggle with sexual sin.
Sharing my testimony with others has even changed my life and relationship with my father. Unbeknownst to me at the time, back in 2002, the same year God brought me to my knees, my father also had an encounter with Christ, giving his life to Jesus. Given the way in which he had lived his life, it would take some time before my sister and I would realize the fruits of his transformation. I had received many letters over the years from him but there was one that stands out the most. He hand wrote a letter asking me to forgive him for the sins he committed and for the effects they have wrought in my life. I wasn't even the only one, he also wrote to my sister and my mother, as well as others, asking each of them for their forgiveness. I knew at that point he was no longer the same man however, it would be a talk I gave in July of 2008 at men's conference, on this journey, that would change our relationship forever. After hearing my testimony my father wrote to me, "it was like getting to know you for the first time, son... I am so proud of you!"
The cycle of sin handed on from one generation to the next will end with me! My father inherited pornography addiction and sexual license from his father, and me from him. We once talked of conquest together... now, thanks be to God, we talk of what we both now love most... Jesus Christ! I have drawn the "line in the sand" and have declared "this far and no further!" My sons will not inherit this from me... they will not find porn in my home! My daughters will know that they are precious in my eyes and daughters of the Most High God, never to be used as objects rather to be truly loved and deeply understood. Although my father is not Catholic (in deed he is a deeply committed Christian) we have much in common and God is leading us on a journey together towards the day when we shall sit together at the same table, the wedding feast of the lamb!
Temptations will come, and I may fall again, but God in His infinite wisdom has given us the remedy to the wounds we receive in spiritual combat.... the sacraments. What a gift we have in reconciliation, to experience our Father running to meet us on the road, falling upon our neck, and lifting us up from feeding the swine to feasting at His table in His kingdom as His sons! Don't waste another moment of your life living in your sins, cut off from the life of God, repent and confess, for "Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (St. Luke 15:10)!
Notes: Verses taken from Revised Standard Translations. Emphasis added.
Joe McClane is the host of the “Behold The Man”, and former co-host of “Finding Your Keys” radio shows, as well as an a Catholic New Media producer & Evangelist. To learn more about Joe and his ministry please visit his website www.CatholicHack.com.