MAY Joseph McDonough teach you a thing or two about your grammar?

What is the most memorable moment from your 18th year?

Probably going with my father to register for the draft the day I turned 18. The list for the draft for the Vietnam war had been announced my last month in High School. As I understand it they were drawing by birth dates, not years, and my date, August 16th was fourth on the list.  I spent the early morning of my birth date in an office in Mount Vernon putting my name on a card. My Dad who was a history teacher had over time decided this war was wrong. He was seriously thinking of sending me to Canada if I was drafted. I had worn a “High School Students Against the War” button all through my senior year and at a Catholic High School that was difficult to do.  All of this was a formality. I was entering religious life. I was going to join the order of the Irish Christian Brothers, like the brothers who taught me in high school, and attend Iona College. On the day I entered the order a paper was sent to the government stating that I was exempt. A few months later Nixon ended the Vietnam war. I had a beer which at that time I could legally drink. I stayed in religious life for seven years. I didn’t enter to escape the draft. I felt I was called to be in religious life. When Nixon ended the war, I felt relief on so many levels.

When did you feel like you became an adult?

I would like to say it was when my first child Kate was born, and I took on the responsibilities of being a parent, but it really was when my father died. I had my second child Nick and in June of 86, when he was about a week old, brought him over to see my dad. My father was going into the hospital the next day for an operation on a brain tumor. He held Nick in his arms and cried. The tumor grew back in two days and the family brought Dad to live out his months at home. He died that October. Right after that I began to grow a mustache which I wore until my wife and I amicably separated. I guess the mustache was an outward sign of the adult responsibility I was feeling at the time. I was 32.  

What is most important rule you follow?

Well people would say it is the golden rule which is in every religion and in life. You treat others the way you would like to be treated but there are times when I fall far short of putting that into practice. I see Jesus’ rule and his life example, no matter what you think of him, as the simple rule that “Everybody Matters.” Everyone is precious on this earth. No one is an object. One must not exclude. One must always include. There is no “us and them” only us. You confront the ones who exclude and make them realize that the ones they talk about excluding are no different. It is hard to do. Praying for your enemies is hard.  

What is the worst rule you’ve broken?

Mostly they were a small compilation of infractions. I have jumped a few turnstiles in my life. Got caught once and had to pay the fine. Called in sick when what I needed was a mental health day. Stole two pens from K Mart in Union Square because I wanted the thrill. Gee that feels good to confess that. Left the breakfast self-serve brunch at a hotel restaurant at one time without paying the bill. I don’t think they even noticed that I had sat down for the brunch. No one ever came to serve me. I got no orange juice. No coffee. Went back for a second soda at the soda machine at a few fast food places. Took a fork from a restaurant because I thought it was the most beautiful fork I had ever seen, and I wanted to order a set from the manufacturer. I do admit that in doing these petty crimes I felt a small thrill that was later mixed with guilt.

Now if the question was, “What was the worst vow you’ve broken?” that is a different story.


What rule would you love to break, but haven’t?

I would like to not pay my train fare if the train is very late. This is especially true with the Metro North trains who can’t seem to handle any form of change in the weather. I would like to say to the conductor that the train was a half hour late, so I don’t want to pay. On occasion they don’t collect my ticket, so I guess it all evens out.

Who’s the biggest rule-breaker you know?

Although I am no longer a practicing Catholic and have been a member of the Lutheran Church since 1995, I have been involved in the Catholic Peace movement since 1980.  I have known many people of many faiths who have risked arrest and death to protest injustice throughout the world. These people of faith are my heroes. Also, my children who have always spoken up against injustice and strive to make the world a better place. They inspire me to be a better person.

What rule do you wish more people would follow?

Well there are a lot of rules in life people should follow but I am going to be petty here. I was an English Major in college and a teacher a long time ago. I wish that these two rules of grammar would be followed.

The first one is the usage of the words May and Can. It is not “Can I see your Zebra?”  It is “May I see your Zebra?” Very few people I know ask permission anymore. They just want validation that their body parts are working normally. “Can I use your bathroom?”  Well, I think to myself, I have seen you sit down, stand, wash your hands and use a towel so I am confident you have good bathroom skills so, “Yes. You can use the bathroom.”

The second, and everyone who knows me knows this is coming, is the double negative. I don’t have no money. I don’t have no pen. I don’t have no love life. I don’t believe he was not involved in collusion. Please just stop. Please. I  don’t have ANY patience with you when you use the double negative.


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