HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Smith Lingo” is a pseudonym.
My dad found Jesus towards the end of his college education and immediately wanted to quit his music studies and run off to seminary. Or so he tells me. He only had a year left, so he decided to stick it through to graduate. But that initial determination to sacrifice the reality of his own needs and wants for a far-off ideal, some abstract standard, is something he’s never abandoned, and something he’s done his damndest to pass on to the kids.
Soon after graduating and getting married to my Mom he became seized with another defining idea: that they were destined to be parents, and they would parent not just the amount of children that was healthy, sustainable, or economically viable, but that they would conceive, deliver, and raise as many children they physically could.
This was driven by a rhetorical idea of children not defined as individuals, but a collective force.
Children as “arrows in the hands of a warrior”, “blessings from the Lord”, things to be multiplied instead of cherished, raised for gain as political clout or a future care-taking staff instead of for love.
It was in service to this idea then that my father went back to school for Computer Science, working at a gas station in the morning, going to class in the day, and poring over his Calculus textbook at night. He wanted a new career path, one that paid better than music education. He worked the long days in service to his abstract idea of children — the arrows, the blessings — while the same work separated him from his concrete children. It was for all his future children too, the children of the mind, that he labored and studied while the children of his present were fatherless.
I realized from a very early age that my dad cared more about me as an idea than about me as a person, a discrete, tangible being.
The very first thing I was taught in our homeschool of hard mental knocks was to tell him what he wanted to hear, to tell him what the child of his mind would say. If I didn’t, I knew he would try to pry it out of me, convinced he was simply refining an imperfect vessel, burning the dross away from my crude soul with paddles and palms. I can’t remember ever not knowing that my father was disinterested in my truth.
But, abstract as they were, my dad’s ideas had consequences, and one of those consequences was me. As difficult as it is to reconcile, without my parents’ reckless pursuit of their ideological army of children I would not exist. I am the physical manifestation of my parents’ ideas, even if I could never measure up to the mind-mold in their eyes. As I come to disagree with those fundamental ideas, it becomes more of a struggle. I am opposed to the very reason I exist. I must take the position that if what was best had been, I would never have been born. This is the poison of ideology.
A few years ago, my homeschool education came to an end. I graduated in a ceremony with other homeschoolers from the local area, kids I was lucky to have seen a handful of times in the previous years. I remember before the ceremony the parents of the graduating seniors tried to plan social events for the class. Looking back now through the lens of disillusionment it seems like a desperate attempt to make up for decades of conscious desocialization in a few short months. It certainly worked about as well as you’d expect from that viewpoint.
The first event I attended may have been the first time I had faced the prospect of a purely social gathering by myself. I was terrified, and anxious, and awkward, feelings I would come to be intimate with in the following years.
I was facing for the first time a seemingly impassable gulf of experience and knowledge that my parents never taught me in the syllabus of my home education, and I hadn’t been allowed to gather outside. They had prepared me to take tests in Algebra and English, to converse with adults about the Will of God, to make change, and to tell time.
But they had always, actively kept me from independently forming relationships with anyone my own age.
My parents adequately prepared me to score well on academic tests. I received a scholarship to go to college, and since I was born male and had scored well in Math they decided to allow me to attend the local university, my father’s alma mater, in Computer Science. I had become an expert in telling them what their abstract child would say, so I told them I would study Computer Science.
It was, I told them, a good career to support a family with, and I may not have said the words, we both meant a family with as many future, abstract children as my future, abstract wife could possibly deliver. Their abstract child would never tell them he wanted to study film, so they never heard that in my gentle hints and information requests to other schools. The dross of my dreams was burned away.
I was becoming a pure ideological vessel, a well-fletched arrow they could shoot into the world.
The Gulf has returned to haunt me again and again. I’d recognize it anywhere. In every realm except the academic and physical, I am a child, with a child’s experience and knowledge. I am now old enough to legally drink, but we are born knowing how to drink. I am more than old enough now to connect with my peers, but I do not know how to do it; I never learned. And I am slowly learning now, but the Gulf between me and my generation grows larger as I try to build my flimsy bridges over it.
The Gulf paralyzes me, turns every phrase into mumbled gibberish in my mouth. Every situation contains an unknown, a reminder.
Every experience understood as universal that I can’t possibly relate to, every turn of phrase everyone else understands but is foreign to me, every reference that exposes my naivety transforms me from hulking twenty-something to socially floundering toddler.
College has corrupted the pure vessel my parents thought they had refined. The experience of opening my mind to the truth of people besides my father has bent the arrow they fletched so straight to their mark. I only lasted a semester in the Young Republicans. Nowadays I snicker in chatrooms about the spectre haunting Europe and envy the hammer-and-sickle tattoos my friends are getting.
I lingered at the outskirts of college ministry for a semester longer, but today I’m more concerned about the long-neglected physical ailments of my discrete body than the ideological ailments the campus crusaders claim to cure. And I’m more interested in the concrete bodies of the men and women around me in the present more than the form of a single, abstract, future woman. Perhaps someday I’ll raise a child.
If I do, I’ll raise them to be who they are and not to fit the mold of an ideological soldier in a biological army.
My parents have noticed the change. Every time I’m foolish enough to talk to them about what matters to me now, they purse their lips and shake their heads. The model has been spoiled; their beautiful idea is tarnished. They murmur about my professors, the media, my peers, always my peers. Never me. “I” still mean nothing to them; I’m still an arrow to be fletched and strung and released, an empty vessel to refine in fire. I could try to tell them about the Gulf, the daily struggle to belong to a society I’ve been held separate from for decades.
But the struggles of real people have never interested them as much as the ideological battles being waged in their minds, and on that battlefield, I’ve already been lost.
Thank you for writing this, and please know that you are not alone. Even many of us who were not homeschooled were still raised by parents who saw us as ideas, or as little lumps of clay that they could mold into whatever they wanted them to be, rather than seeing us has human beings with our own unique personalities, temperments and gifts. My husband’s father was determined his sons would be baseball stars and forced them into years of Little League and private coaching, when they would have preferred to be at home reading, playing music and drawing. My husband’s protests that he wanted to quit playing fell on his father’s deaf ears until high school, when a coach finally told him that his son simply wasn’t good enough to play at an elite level and should leave the sport. After that, rather than accept his son for what and who he was, he simply regarded him as a disappointment, and the rifts between them continue to this day. My husband feels bitter and stymied that he missed out on chances to develop his real talents and lead a more fulfilling life, because of his father’s blind determination to turn him into something he wasn’t. I faced similar issues with my own parents, my mother in particular, who felt that since she always wanted to be a cheerleader her daughter should, too, even though I was woefully physically uncoordinated and cheerleading tryouts were a horror I wish I could forget. I am in my forties now, and only recently has my mother admitted that she made mistakes, that she should have allowed and encouraged me to follow my own interests rather than forcing me to live out her own unfulfilled dreams. My father, on the other hand, barely speaks to me because I have taken social and political stances that are the opposite of how I was raised. The problem is undoubtedly magnified in the homeschool community, but our society in general is still failing to realize that children are people, not property.
I am an Asperger’s diagnosed autistic, and at my old special ed schools, many of my teachers did the same thing. In elementary school, they wanted us to fit into the idea of children who are bold, fearless, not afraid to try new things, yet polite and compliant, and of course friendly with other people, not reading books in the corner. They reinforced this by telling me that I was “obsessed with bunnies” although neurotypical kids of elementary school age will also become fixated on a particular animal. The “fearless” ideal was expressed by pushing me on the swings too high without my consent, making jokes about an exploding world, and doing an entire lesson on the song, “I Believe I Can Fly”, to say the least. There are two other episodes that highlight this really well. The first was when I had previously seen a commercial for Gushers™ candy in which the kid eats it and gets sucked into a black hole. Naturally, the idea of getting sucked into a black hole by a piece of candy can be quite scary if you believe it even halfway. The teacher should have empathized with me and said “Yeah, that commercial looks scary, doesn’t it? How about I eat one (or you watch the other children eat one) and see what happens?” Then, once I had seen that, they could have encouraged me to try the Gushers, and when I saw nothing bad happened, acknowledged again that the commercial looks scary but that’s just the company’s way of making it look “exciting”. Instead, they pressured me to try the candy and complimented me on my “bravery”. This only served to make me feel like a scaredy-cat in front of the other kids. However, the worst display of the fearlessness ideal was when a teacher I especially liked (!) ducked me underwater (by the leg, I think) on a class trip to a pool in order to “teach” me how to swim underwater. This coupled with getting dragged into the ocean by a wave once made me fearful of going underwater.
My middle school and high school, which were under the same umbrella, had an even more stringent ideal than that, which was summed up in the slogans “Aim higher” and “Strive for Perfection”. In short, they wanted their ideal student to be in perfect control of their emotions at all times, always with a ready smile, and always willing to talk to people in the politest way possible (Sound familiar?). They punished me for the fear of the water I mentioned in the last paragraph thusly: In middle school, we had a pool, and swimming lessons, and when the time came for everyone to do a length of the pool without a kickboard, I balked out of fear (hydrophobia, which even some adults have, and sometimes more severely than I ever did), and my homeroom assistant teacher, who was not even a swim instructor, barked, “Get out of the pool!!!”. The real swim teacher stood by and did nothing while I walked to the locker room in disgrace, and I was docked behavior points for this, even when I half-screamed a promise that I would “get up and try!!!” – kids do not always act calm when they are scared, and I was so afraid of getting in trouble that it nearly equaled my fear of the water. Also, meltdowns are not that unusual among autistic people, particularly those going through puberty or menopause, and I was going through puberty. I should also point out that though they, in truth, docked points (you could earn a maximum of 40 points per day), they claimed that you “don’t *lose* points, you just *don’t earn* them”, which none of the students, except perhaps for the literal psychopath I had for a classmate, actually believed. Nevertheless, it was an expression of the “positive attitude” they expected us to have. One teacher also told me I was “self-centered” because I did not take criticism well (ultimately, nobody who had been progressively made to feel like trash would do so). Perhaps the manifestation of that ideal that had the worst effect on me was a time I went to the vice-principal’s (acting principal’s) office for an infraction I forget, the teacher told me to stop crying, I asked to be allowed “just one sob” (how pathetic is that) and the vice principal told me not to cry [ever] because it was “not good self-control”. She then said that you shouldn’t cry “because it’s not good … ?” and I dutifully repeated “self-control”. This was, I think, before I was even 12 years old, and again, mood swings that involve crying are common even for NT girls, let alone Aspies, who are known to have an even harder time emotionally. I tried like hell for over 15 years after that to conform to the ideal of never crying a single tear again (not even for sad movies – if someone cried over something that left me impassive, I inwardly felt perversely superior to that). Heck, I even got punished for making an effort to stem tears as a teen by ranting instead, which only got me punished anyway for being disruptive, so I redoubled my effort to banish tears. I swear that that effort not only made me feel ashamed of cry-fests over babyish things that I now realize were pubescent mood swings, but that the number and duration of meltdowns I had drastically increased after that, though I naively thought that if I stopped all crying, surely even worse responses like screaming would not rear their ugly heads. Too bad it doesn’t work that way – I learned in Neurobiology that while anger, fear and screaming are, quite logically, stimulated by the sympathetic “fight-or-flight” nervous system, crying and sadness are actually stimulated by the parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” system. No wonder I “needed” to do endurance breathing to “calm down” slow deep breaths would sometimes have the opposite effect to the one I expected, causing a fresh resurgence of tears! Due to feelings of guilt that I had for not measuring up to this ideal, I beat myself up figuratively and sometimes literally (no need to go into messy details). When I learned that the teacher should not have forbidden crying so expressly I would be convinced that I would be sent to a mental hospital if a roommate saw me crying, I found that I could not bring myself to cry as often as I needed to. I even had a completely sob-free meltdown which was more violent than meltdowns of similar levels would be with crying added. It is a cruel irony that after I learned that I had been emotionally abused, and a great weight came off my shoulders, I can’t cry readily. Instead of teaching me to develop a selective filter of tears that would stop them only at work, they taught me to develop a blanket filter. It is a lot of work teaching this filter to be selective for public (and especially work) problems and not home problems, and of course crying stigma makes it that much harder to fix my emotional filter so that it will work in a more well-adjusted fashion.
I think I should also note that the caring principal who was in my middle school when I first started out disappeared without a good-bye speech. In retrospect, I believe he was fired for caring more about children and less about fundraising (and by extension, mere ideas of children) Perhaps it is no coincidence that I got the no-crying lecture after he was fired – I suspect he would never have done that, because I believe he did care about children as people.
“I must take the position that if what was best had been, I would never have been born.” Me too. But I’m glad you’re a person, not just an arrow.
I am like you in many ways. Home schooled, and pretty much forced to be something I am not. Being Autistic doesn’t help with the feeling of I am behind my peers either.
As someone on the opposite side of this who had a husband who was heavily involved in the fundamentalist/Quiverfull movement, it scares me to see the outright narcissism that these parents harbor. When my children were young and before he passed away, he would only ask them questions regarding historical Bible figures and Bible verses. You were nothing to him unless you served his purpose of being a god on earth. My children are so emotionally healthy because they are free to be themselves. The love of these parents is so flimsy, it would break at a single fault. How does this describe unconditional love?
An eloquent, cogent account that really captures the nature and effect of the ideology.
I can definitely relate to the way you describe your social environment.
I’m reminded of The Myriad’s song ‘Stuck in a Glass Elevator’, from (coincidentally) their album ‘With ARROWS, with Poise’.
“and in the end the glass will crumble
in the end it will burst and break
in the end the glass will crumble
in the end, in the end
we’ll get out, we’ll get out”
Hey Smith Lingo, I was raised in an eerily similar way, right down to the way your dad’s screwed up reasons for changing career paths out of obligation to a fantasy, how he would talk to you and about you as an arrow but ignore you, and how he isolated you. I was raised to be a warrior for Christ, a champion of homeschooling, a compliant model of my parent’s values with no personality or desires to get in the way. I was almost totally socially isolated and found myself at a loss for how to interact with other humans as soon as I hit college.
It’s taken ten years of hard work and acclimation to gain these skills for myself, but I’ve done it. It is possible and it does get better. I want to share with you two things that I would recommend for you that helped me:
(1) Get as much space between you and your parents as possible. That may be difficult if you are still trying to keep a relationship with siblings, but try to keep your parents at arm’s length about your life, your thoughts, your choices. Don’t give them the option of passing judgement on you. Until you get space from them, you will have a harder time differentiating from them. When I got my first apartment I spent the first five months there just sitting on my bed, staring at the ceiling, reveling in the quiet and being able to hear myself think my own thoughts.
(2) Take improv classes. About three years after I graduated college I was at one of the lowest points of my life, and despairing about how my parents had so thoroughly messed up my ability to have relationships. On a whim I decided to take improv classes at a local ComedySportz club. It ended up being one of the best things I could have done to help me learn how to interact and play with others, fail and succeed at human interaction in a safe place, and how to find my sense of humor (fundi parents seem to do everything they can to crush humor out of their children). It gave me a place where I could interact with people of all ages, learn cultural information about things my parents had never let me learn about (evolution, Democrats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.) and have fun thinking and saying whatever I wanted. My uniqueness was a strength in improv rather than a threat to the cause of Christ that my parent’s taught me it was. Even if you don’t like performing or don’t think you are funny, improv classes can teach you so much about life and yourself. It’s some of the best therapy for former homeschool kids that I can think of.
Yes.definitely see the parents as little as possible or not at all, if that is what YOU want.
You will get there. Faking it till you make it is the best way to learn how to connect with your peers. As you get older, people will be more understanding of your individuality and you won’t be met with the strange looks when you explain your past. You’ll be able to explain it in a way that people will understand and you’ll laugh at it, with them. You won’t just be looking at your classmates’ tattoos, you’ll be getting them. Trust me, I’ve got seven. Although when i do see my dad, which is very rarely, I make a point of covering them up because I can’t deal with the comments he’ll make or the looks of disdain, even though I’m all too aware that I terrify him, because I turned out the complete opposite of what he thought was a fail proof plan.
Always remember this: Your parents are fearful of you. They crave control, complete submissiveness, obedience – and that’s the reason why people like this have so many kids because the more little people that they have doing their bidding, the more powerful and important they feel. It’s when you start to form your own ideals, opinions and personality that they can’t cope, because you’re taking the importance away from them. No longer is ‘daddy always right’, daddy just has an opinion like everybody else. He’s no longer somebody special, he’s just a common standard human being with his own opinions that nobody can be forced to agree with. And he cannot deal with that.
If I’d gone to plan I’d be a nurse by now. Probably married or at least ‘courting’, I’d still be a virgin and I’d have long, natural coloured frizzy hair and never wear skirts above the knee, let alone pants. I’d willingly submit to my husband if I had one, and if I was married I’d have given up the career that my parents spent so long educating me for to bring up as many children as I could physically pop out, all the while being a cleaner/cook/teacher/husband’s personal slave. I’d pray regularly, read my Bible every day, and ask my husband or dad for guidance. I’d stay quiet in church, cover my head, and meekly respect the men whilst conversing with the old ladies about how good God is, or knitting or something. My musical taste would be limited to hymns or classical greats, and I’d be a proficient pianist.
Instead, I’m taking a year-break from university to get over the clinical depression that homeschooling/Christianity landed me in. I was studying Psychology and Criminology, but I’ve decided to take up different degree this coming September to pursue the worldly career of journalism. I’m already running my own independent freelance content writing business from home. I listen to rock music. Hell, I listen to death metal and dubstep. I swear like a goddamn fucking sailor. My pure body is defiled with seven ‘marks of the devil’ – tattoos that mean a lot to me. My first was a lotus flower to symbolise growing up and flourishing through the muddy, shitty water. I get drunk, I’ve done drugs. I’ve had a one night stand. ‘Waiting till marriage’ for sex is an alien concept to me. My hair is dyed purple. I have a ring in my nose. I openly reject god and I am proud to be atheist. The last time I set foot in a church was a funeral, over a year ago. Sunday is any other day to me. Going to plan was something that I most definitely did not do. And it’s OK.
The truth is, nobody can plan your life for you. Nobody can plan exactly who you are, how the psychology of your brain is going to turn out and what your opinions and thoughts are going to be. Not your dad, not your mum, not the big old imaginary guy in the sky. Only YOU know who you are, and you can’t be anybody but you. Never make anybody let you feel ashamed of who you are. Form your own opinions. Make your own friends. Drink that beer. Get that tattoo. Tell your dad that you think he’s a fucking idiot. Trust me, it’s worth it.
We are the survivors. The strong ones. The ones who won’t let the abuse, control and instilled fear that was beaten into us in the name of God determine who we are.