"Big Four" Highlights


Saved from Porn

The power of a father’s word

One of the challenges of fatherhood is correcting a wayward child. A dad wants to stop bad behavior without demeaning the child and – ideally – teach a lasting lesson.

Father Ryan O’Neill recalled in a recent article how his own father intervened to cut through his confusion about pornography

O’Neill, from Loveland, Colo., discerned his vocation to the priesthood while studying at Regis University. Ordained two years ago, he serves today as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Snows parish in Granby, Colo. Father O’Neill spoke recently with Fathers for Good about a formative experience of his teen years.

Fathers for Good: Tell us the story of when your father intervened when you were using pornography.

Father Ryan O’Neill: I was just entering high school, 14 or 15 years old. I had the desire to be a man, to be strong, handsome, attractive, noble, good. I just wanted to be a man. I was kind of in an exploration mode, trying to figure out what it means to be a man…. So when I found these pornographic images I thought that was kind of an answer to my question.

FFG: Over time, how did it make you feel?

Father O’Neill: I was in a sensitive period. I was in a time of transition, and I think it’s important for us to be aware whenever we’re in a time of transition. I was going from middle school to high school, and I had a lot of friends in middle school who I wasn’t hanging out with anymore. And I was going through puberty. So I was vulnerable, and I wasn’t aware of it.

So that could have been a natural kind of depression because I was in that time of transition. But then the real depression came when I started looking at pornography because of the darkness and blindness of sin. Sin blinds the intellect and it dulls our senses and makes it hard for us to see ourselves and to see truth. I call it a dark cloud of depression. I didn’t even really realize it until someone reached into my darkness and pulled me out.

FFG: Did your father yell at you?

Father O’Neill: No he didn’t. He spoke very calmly. He was very firm. His words were weighted. What he said was very serious and had a lot of meaning. I was kind of nervous about being in trouble, so I was very sensitive to whatever he said. He was calm and direct, but at the same time kind of gentle. He didn’t raise his voice; he didn’t hit the table or anything. He just said what was on his mind and said the truth. I think that’s what gave it that weight, that my dad was saying, “What you’re doing is wrong, and you need to stop it.” I think most of the force was in that.

FFG: What did he say?

Father O’Neill: When he began the conversation, he said, “I know what you’ve been doing.” He spoke in the best words he could, just directly, he said, “I think I know why you’re looking at pornography, and I think it’s because you want to be a real man.” He just spoke so directly to that question that I had mentioned to you earlier about this quest I was on to become a real man. My dad wasn’t like an orator; he wasn’t honey-coating it, he just said what he thought, and he was right on, and that caught my attention.

And then he talked about sexuality; he talked about how important it is to not abuse my sexuality and how pornography does abuse my sexuality. He started saying, “Pornography hurts you because it warps your understanding of being a man; it warps your understanding of male sexuality.” And then, secondly, he said, “Pornography really hurts women, and especially the women in your life. So it hurts the women who are the subjects of those pornographic pictures, but then it also hurts your mother.” She’s the only woman in our household; I just have a brother.

He said, “It hurts your relationship with her,” and he said, “It hurts your relationship with the girls you go to school with, and it hurts your relationship with—some day—your future wife.” And I was like, “Wow, I never thought of it like that before.” I was just living in this dark cloud of sin, surrounded by my own blindness. And my dad in just one stroke cleared away the smoke, cleared away the cloud and showed me just how many people I was affecting by something that I just thought was individual, personal, private.

FFG: How did you stop?

Father O’Neill: For me, in this experience, it was the will of my father intervening in my life. It was the will of the man I came from, the man who I knew loved me—even though he may not have ever said that very well, he’s always expressed it to me in different ways. But at that moment it really was a unification of my will with what I knew my father’s will was. And I’m not even talking about God. I’m talking about my biological father. That’s the part that amazes me—that my dad took it so seriously that he had power over me and used it for good because if he had not manifested his will to me, that looking at pornography is wrong, and it’s not what we do – it’s not what the men of the O’Neill family do— I would not have been able to unite my will to his will, which was in line with the truth. And my will would have continued to flounder in this darkness and this lie of false manhood and sin.

So I think it was a grace of God my Father—his will working through my father’s will in order to affect my will. And then I just made a simple decision in my mind that I’m going to do what my dad has told me to do. Some people think that’s too simple, but I think there was an added grace to it. Like I said, I think God the Father was also working through my biological father in order to give me that little lift I needed, just to follow through with that decision.