HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.
There are two versions of me: my parents’ version of me and my version of me. Before my high school years, I don’t think there were two versions of me. Instead, there was just the version my parents wanted. This is probably true of most children, but my parents were fundamentalist Christians involved in ATI – a homeschooling cult.
In my middle school years (I can’t really tell time by years, or by grades, my youth is blurred and marked by big events or debate resolutions), my parents plunged me into the patriarchal/men-must-be-leaders movements of the 1990s. They saw homosexuality, single women, women in authority, and feminism as threats to traditional gender roles. So they trained me to be a warrior for godly men. ATI’s version of this was called ALERT (Ralph has written about it here) and they liked to play Boy Scouts – but with less fun and more Bible study. I became a biblical scholar around this age, constantly studying passages, their Greek and Hebrew meanings, cross-referencing those passages in lexicons and study tools, and recording my observations on something called the “Meditation Worksheet.” Ironically, these worksheets prepared me deconstruct my cultic worldview and to rebuild my own worldview– whoops!
I was that really Christian kid that probably drove you nuts. I preached to my Christian neighbors that they shouldn’t be reading the NIV because it was Satan’s tool to undermine the divinity of Jesus. I passed out tracts at restaurants. I was not afraid to judge everyone, as a thirteen year old, and inform them about the Straight and Narrow Path to Holiness. Some of my closest friends became the pastor of our small Southern Baptist church – we would regularly discuss theology.
In high school, I started to think for myself and form my version of me (I’ll call it “me-me” and my parents’ version “parent-me”). Whenever me-me would discuss his thoughts with my parents, I would come into conflict with them. Their Christian worldview permeated every sector of knowledge – biology, geology, and especially politics, history, and religion. Throughout my high school years I vacillated between me-me and parent-me. At will, I could “turn off” all the parts of myself that my parents disliked. However, when there was something me-me really wanted that I couldn’t just “turn off” my desire for, it drove me crazy. Usually it was girls. It wasn’t a sexual thing, I just loved the intimacy and having someone I could share all my teenage angst with. My parents and I fought for probably five years over girls.
My parents decided that I needed some relationship indoctrination, so I got to learn all about “courtship.” Courtship is about as traditional and stupid as it sounds. I was told that I was supposed to “guard my heart” against “serial dating.” They made dating and breaking up sound like this violent emotional crime that left people with long-term scars. This meant that, before I entered into any relationship, I was supposed to ask my parents’ permission before I asked the girl’s father for permission to date her. Mind you, all power and authority over women was supposed to flow through men. Like any good patriarchy. Physical contact during a courtship is almost always a strict no-no. You are not allowed to hold hands, kiss, hug, or even be together alone. Some of the courtships I have seen have ended in terrible marriages and, in one case, double homicide.
This idea of courtship was huge and fixated on sexual purity and emotional purity. It grew huge after Joshua Harris’ book I Kiss Dating Goodbye and it was advocated at basically every homeschooling event and by most institutions. Some groups formed solely for the purpose of educating people about courtship and Patrick Henry College (started by Michael Farris to train homeschoolers to be influential in Washington, D.C. politics). ATI was huge about courtship, they even advocate betrothal! That’s where the children have even less power in their romantic lives and the parents “pick” out a decent mate for them, then they are forced into a marriage because it’s “God’s will.” Of course, only fathers, and occasionally mothers, know God’s will
So commitment in my romantic relationships was usually propelled by the guilt of needing to be in a “courtship.” Of course, you aren’t supposed to court until the man is financially able to support a woman, which meant I was supposed to avoid romantic relationships til my mid-20s. This was unacceptable, so I just engaged in quasi-courtship with three different girls through high school – sort of promising to marry them all, planning our lives and futures together, and then usually they broke up with me because God told them to (though I was an ass).
I remember I would form a lot of what would become my identity on the car rides home from something. My truck became my only escape on a daily basis – with my truck came the first time in my life I had literal freedom. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. That freedom usually provoked thoughts and I would work big issues like courtship in my mind listening to music. I’m always amazed at how my parents will dismiss me-me and try to guilt and shame parent-me out of the shell. De-construction and re-construction your identity is not easy and my parents always acted like it was fun for me to rebel. Yes, when I was a teenager it was fun to let the immature me-me out for a joy ride, only to be clamped down on and repressed. But that excitement ended in college. I slowly came to a peace about myself that did not depend on my parents, or their affection. Finding the me-me was one thing, but synthesizing that into my emotions was much more difficult.
I say all this to try and explain both of the versions of myself. I can be parent-me, I can turn it on, and turn off my own desires and personality. It took years for me to even find out what me-me wanted from life and I found a tremendous peace when I discovered my desires and not my parents’. Throughout college, I would go home and I would let a little more of me-me come out – it was a very slow “coming out,” to borrow a phrase. I admitted to smoking tobacco. That I wasn’t a libertarian anymore, I was a liberal – lots of these involved political discussions where my parents felt almost as betrayed that I no longer shared their political beliefs than if I had renounced the faith. I never did renounce Christianity, only the corrupt vessel of the Christian church. Admitting I was dating took awhile – I just recently admitted I believed in evolution. Usually, each admission of the me-me ended in a fight or conflict. Even in college, they could not let go.
When I first started dating my wife, I asked if she could stay the night in my parent’s house because I needed a ride back to school. My father said he wasn’t comfortable with that because it would give my younger sister a bad example of “serial dating. To put this in perspective, this would be the second girl I brought home to my family ever. I said that I was really serious about this girl and if they chose to act like this, I would tell my girlfriend, and I would understand if she didn’t want my children around them. This sobered them up quickly and they agreed to let her stay. But it demonstrates the types of conflicts that would occur when me-me contradicted parent-me.
When my parents manage to convince me to attend their church, my mom always expects me to sing. My mother and I spent a lot of time bonding in the church choir when I was younger, so she expects me to find the same joy in it now as I did then. It simply does not work like that. Me-me does not enjoy church because it reminds me of all the negative feelings of guilt, shame, and intense pressure to be good. These days when it comes to spirituality, me-me cannot compromise.
Even now that I am married, my parents still want and expect parent-me. I don’t like the same things, I’m not the same person, and when they laugh and reminisce about the great times they had with parent-me, I can’t help but feel uneasy inside. They reminisce for parent-me because they know they may never see him again. They still try to draw on the guilt and shame they instill in me by saying things like “that’s not what we wanted for your life.” Or telling me the consequences of my sins, then questioning why I don’t think certain things are sins. When they pressure me-me to revert to parent-me, I get angry, defensive, and emotional. So I just stop expecting anything, sharing anything, being vulnerable. I don’t want parent-me for my life – that should mean something. And I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.
To be continued.