Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Four

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Four

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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My Home “Education”

A lot of people read this site and remark on how accomplished, out-spoken, and well-educated we all seem.  Many have remarked that it was obviously homeschooling that made us who we are.  The answer to that question is complicated because I am what I am because of, and despite of, homeschooling.  When your entire social life and community K-12 is homeschooled, of course these influences significantly impacted my life.  But much of my adult life has been spent “re-learning” everything (from social skills, to history, to biology, to relationship etiquette).  I was taught about all of these things through homeschooling.  Some subjects I was never taught properly in high school and my insufficiency handicapped my educational opportunities.

My mother was the primary instructor and, bless her heart, she only had a GED and a few college classes.  It’s not that my mother is not smart, or stupid; it’s that she was not qualified to give me a high school education.  I consider most of my educational experiences before 8th or 9th grade to be generally positive.  I excelled in spelling, math, science, and language arts.  I really had an interest in science at an early age – I can remember enjoying earth science, nuclear science, and astronomy/space.  As I entered high school, a few things happened.  First, we got involved in ATI (a homeschooling cult) when I was about 10, but by my high school years the “Wisdom Booklets” became my primary textbooks (other than math).  Second, I became involved in NCFCA/CFC when I was 13 – started debating at 14.  Third, I started liking girls and “rebelling” by falling for them and having innocent phone and text conversations.

We used Saxon math as a supplement to the Wisdom Booklets.  I excelled at geometry, basic algebra, and word problems.  I’ve always enjoyed problem solving.  As I got involved with advanced geometry and algebra II, my mother simply could not keep up.  I would call my older sister, who was pursuing an engineering degree, and she would try to help me through it.  But math-by-phone is no substitute for a math teacher.

I think about 15 or 16, when I got involved heavily in debate, my mom stopped requiring me to do math.  Debate literally took over my life and I spent about 40 hours a week researching, writing speeches, and talking to friends in homeschool debate.  I consider my friends from CFC/NCFCA as the closest thing to a “high school class” because they were the only social group that I interacted with somewhat limited parental oversight.  I excelled at debate and it fed my father’s interest in history and politics.  So for three years all I did was debate, which was vastly superior to Wisdom Booklets.  My education with Wisdom Booklets made me think that AIDS was a gay disease and my sex mis-education was downright reckless.  I “learned” about logarithms intertwined with the tale of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes.

When it came time to submit my high school transcript for college (and to apply for state scholarships) my parents sat down at the computer and literally made up my transcript.  Debate-related activities and research were labeled under lots of different titles (American History, Composition, Logic, Civics, Public Speaking, English, etc).  Of course, I got A’s in all of these categories.  Now, my parents had some semblance of ethics and they decided I needed to complete some science courses to qualify for the state’s college entrance requirements.  My science courses in high school were pathetic, with the exception of computers because my dad worked in the industry for his entire adult life.

During most of my junior and senior years, I worked full-time and debated.  There was a long-distance Latin course from PHC, chemistry, and biology course interlaced with working and debate.  I got C’s in all of these classes and I’m pretty sure I had to cheat on two of the finals just to pass.

Technically, I took a chemistry and biology course, but in reality, I learned nothing about those subjects.  My mom wasn’t that knowledgeable in sciences. I used the Apologia biology textbook.  I remember bumbling through the biology book, not understanding anything I was reading.  Mostly because there was no grand narrative, like evolution, to make sense of all the different species.  I excelled in college biology, but not until I understood the topics from an evolutionary perspective.  My chemistry course was me and my homeschooled friend learning from his father, who was a doctor.  The “classes” lasted for maybe a month or two, but then life got busy and I stopped going.  He didn’t really follow-up, for whatever reason, and my parents didn’t seem that interested either.  So I taught myself chemistry?  Nope, I suck at chemistry – on a very basic level.

As a side note, I’m great with computers because of my father, but I never took a programming class beyond Visual Basic.  He tried to teach me about things, but it always seemed like I was missing part of the story – like he wasn’t “dumbing it down” enough.  Looking back, I realize it’s because my father was trying to teach me only the practical applications of computers while never learning the scientific theory.  I know he knows all about it, but I don’t know that he was qualified to teach it to a child.  It’s not like I gained marketable skills from my computer education.

I was also a huge asshole when I began college. I’m sure you know the type: fundamentalist Christian debater.  I had no idea how to navigate relationships with non-homeschooled people and it took a year or two, many broken friendships, and loneliness to find friends.  I was also encouraged through programs like Summit to challenge my “evil, secular humanist” professors in class – to “stand up” for Jesus in the public classroom.  I was prepared to enter an atmosphere that antagonized Christians and Christianity.

College was fantastic, but difficult and filled with substance abuse.  I realized that I had ADD, but self-medicated for sometime with cannabis.  Alcohol and cannabis helped with the anxiety –social, existential, spiritual, school and parent-related – and helped me to socialize with big groups.  I still can’t socialize with big groups of people easily and I lucked into taking a lot of Honors classes with small class sizes.  I almost lost my big scholarship (which required me to keep a 3.5) in my sophomore year because I got terrible grades in science and foreign languages.  I didn’t know how grades or tests worked, let alone how to study.  I excelled in political science and history, so that’s where I stayed.  I didn’t take biology until my senior year.  I finally understood it and, since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in neurobiology, psychopharmacology, psychology, and health care issues.  At this point, I’d love another two or three years of school to get a B.S. and another three to get an M.S., but that part of my life is over now.

I remember a time in middle school when I really wanted to be an engineer and I still think I could have excelled at it, if it wasn’t for my homeschooling.  Yes, I have an MA, but I’m confident I could have a stable, well-paying job in a science-related field.  My liberal arts education came easily to me, but I would have relished the challenge of advanced science and math.  Almost every public school student has a somewhat competent math teacher and most have access to AP calculus.  Yes, debate is a great skill and it has made me successful, but I’ve always been jealous of people who excelled in math or science – like I once did – and moved seamlessly into the job market.

To be continued.

Torching All That Is Sacred: Alexander Anon’s Story, Part Two

Torching All That Is Sacred — One Child’s Emergence From a Totalitarian Environment: Alexander Anon’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alexander Anon” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two

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Something people should know about me: I am a fighter. Now, I am not an obvious fighter, and if I was put into the ring, I guarantee nobody would put money on me; but that does not change what I am by nature. See, I am a quirky fighter.  I am weird.  I am unpredictable, though not always intentionally so.  For a while, I simply took what my parents dished out and did not question it.  I do not mean what they intentionally dished out; I mean that I adopted a victim mentality and pitied myself for being in the situations I found myself in.

As I grew older though, I started wanting to change things.  I would still take things timidly, but if they pushed too hard, a fire would flare up in me and I would push back.  Harder.  Through this, I learned that I am much stronger than I had ever previously thought.  I am not a victim; I am the one in control.  If my parents would chide me for engaging in foolishness, I would keep it coming and even ramp up my efforts.  What could they do?  I was invincible.  My foolishness knew no bounds; there were no depths which could be plumbed, no dregs that could be drained.  I could out resource them, outlast them, and outsmart them at virtually every corner until they admitted the futility of their efforts to make me into the cookie-cutter Christian homeschool child.  I had another advantage: the sibling just under me was much more openly defiant (although he used vastly different tactics), thereby allowing me to get by being just slightly less troublesome.

Since being in college, my mom has several times equated my academic success (completed undergraduate honors program with a GPA of 3.92) to having been homeschooled.  This is quite possibly true, but I have never quite had the heart to tell her the truth: her perceptions of my homeschooling experience are much different than my perceptions of that same experience.  If I was to be completely honest, what I enjoyed most was the freedom of homeschooling.  I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, and pursue whatever caught and kept my attention for as long as I wanted without interruption.  For me, at that point in my life, it meant creating Redwall cards that played similar to the Decipher Lord of the Ring’s trading card game.  I would spend hours reading the books, creating workable game mechanics and themes for each culture, and then drawing and coloring the cards.  I was an artist, and a not-too-bad one at that.  I was also an avid reader, but only if the book was of interest.  Many history books and other required readings were simply not to my tastes, and since there was no way to prove if I had actually read the book, I occasionally lied about how much of the book I had read in a particular day (or, at my worst, simply did not read the book while claiming I did).  I did this so that I could spend time doing what I wanted to do: Redwall cards.

I was also notoriously bad at science.  For a while, I thought I simply sucked at science.  Since then, I have realized I did not understand how to study at that point in time.  I would shove a bunch of scientific definitions in, then output them for the test.  On tests where there was more information to memorize, I would earn lower grades.  This measured nothing about my ability to actually understand science; it measured how well I could replicate 15+ definitions word-for-word, with each definition containing several sentences and sometimes looking more like paragraphs.  My junior year, she threatened to kick me into public school for my senior year if I failed a particular science test (since I wouldn’t then be able to pass that grade of science).  Needless to say, I took the ethical high ground and cheated my ass off.  I did not (and still don’t) think it is fair to both at once tell your child that public school is essentially hell and then threaten to send your child to that hell if they do not perform to your liking.

I mention these two aspects of my homeschooling life because they would later get me in trouble just when I thought I was home free in college.  After attending college a few years, I casually joked about how I sometimes wasn’t the best homeschool student as a kid.  To me, it was funny.  Look how well I’m doing in college despite goofing off the last few years I was homeschooled (11th & 12th grade).  My mom, on the other hand, broke out crying at even the hint that I had cheated or lied.  To her, my not taking some aspects of school seriously somehow reflected on her.  It told her she hadn’t done well enough homeschooling to make me care, even though not caring about school is typical for teenagers at that age and I had proven I could excel in college.  She had not failed in any sense of the word, since I was prepared for college and doing well.  But she did not see it that way; only saw that I was admitting homeschool had not been the perfect picture of happiness she thought it had been.

Secretly, deep down, I suspect the true reason she cried is because my goofing off the last 2 years I was homeschooled sent a clear message that I did not need her and homeschooling as much as she thought I did.  Did not need her as a teacher, that is.

This gets to the crux of the matter; it ties together this up-until-now rather bizarre and random story of my childhood.  I think that despite whatever reasons my mom thought she was homeschooling us for, her true motivation was to never have to be alone again after living her entire childhood virtually alone.  Homeschooling, while it may have been about us not getting hurt by others in public school, was also about her not getting hurt by nobody needing her.  It was about making us dependent on her, so that she felt wanted.  Needed.  Ironically, she sometimes lashed out when we expressed the very dependence on her that she had fostered in us.  More than a true need for us to be homeschooled was the need for her to have an identity outside of her children.  An identity that should have come from her relationship with my dad, and with friends her own age.  She needed to escape the burden of parenting for a time instead of embracing it even more fully and homeschooling us all.

I am not saying we should not have been homeschooled; but rather, homeschooling us should not have been the top priority.  She often screamed, “What about me? When do I get to do what I want to do?!?” when she got mad at us for needing her.  But the truth of the matter is this; she was too scared of nobody needing her to ever wander off and do something she wanted to do.  She was afraid that if she did wander off, she might return and find everyone had forgotten her, or worse: never even noticed she left in the first place.

This, then, is what I want to communicate: my entire childhood was shaped by events driven just as much by my mom’s need to be emotionally fulfilled as it was trying to give me what I needed in an education.

Possibly more.

The worst part is knowing she did not do this consciously, she simply failed to recognize what was going on and intervene.  This is not a ‘Fuck you, mom! Fuck you, dad!’ letter.  This is not an article to be used for arguing homeschooling is psychologically harmful and should therefore be overseen, controlled, or prevented by the government.  There is no political message here, no hint of animosity towards anyone; no purpose for saying any of this other than that it is the truth.

The truth.

Truth is never something I was good at hiding, or even wanted to hide.  I tell everyone who will listen that I would rather have a ‘fuck you!’ screamed in my face and punctuated with physical blows than have someone pretend to be my friend.  I do not care if I am physically assaulted; I care if I am told the truth.  Asshats are a dime a dozen; but honest people are virtually impossible to find.  Bluntness, that is.  People who throw social politeness under the bus in favor of calling it like it is.  The ‘ain’t no bullshit here, captain!’ kind of people.  There many honest people in the world, but few who will be blunt with you.

That is what I mean.

In order to avoid ending on a downer note, I will fully self-disclose that things have gotten so much better over the past few years I have been attending college.  Only my youngest brother and sister are still homeschooled, with my oldest sister having attended public school since 9th grade.  I do see my youngest brother struggle with many of the same things I did, but I know I am here to guide him through the confusion and pain that accompanies his upbringing.

More importantly, I know what helped me cope and have given him access to these means at a much younger age.  When I was growing up, I did not have anyone to reach out to about this.  My youngest brother can talk with me about this all; about how sometimes although our parents love us both very much, they do not act rationally and instead resort to violating their own rules and taking their emotional issues out on the children and use us to meet deep needs that we can never fullfill.  He can question me about why most people think the earth is billions of years old but he learns it is only several thousand.  I do not provide him with ‘the answers’, but ask questions to help him think through the issues on his own.

That is what true homeschooling should be: parents providing their children with an outlet to escape the biases and politics of public school without imposing their own biases and politics.  Because ultimately, that’s what homeschooling is: freedom.  Freedom to question authority, to question rules, to question the ‘no tolerance’ policies that are a virtual shitstorm in public schools.  My story is one of that freedom being unconsciously abused, but that same freedom can be used to free others from the abuses they may receive elsewhere.

As hinted at in my opening paragraph, eventually my parents figured a lot of their issues out and loosened the stranglehold conservative Christians had on their throats.  This legalism went to hell when our family became the black sheep of the congregation and the pastor and elders treated our family like shit.  We were accused of much, and treated like enemies instead of brothers and sisters in Christ like they claim to treat all believers.  What they failed to mention when you sign up is that their interpretation of the Bible only tells you to treat people as human if they think as you do and do not question what you demand of them.  Anyone who threatens their reputation, who is similar enough to them and then suddenly appears less than perfect, is quickly either intimidated to fall back into line or else cast out into the cold world to die a lonely and painful death.  Fortunately, our family pulled together and told them that while we appreciate their willingness to spend their entire lives with their heads on vacation in the wonderful world of Up-Your-Ass, our family preferred to admit we are living, breathing, feeling, fallible individuals who must address our shortcomings and forgive each other.

So yes, our family is no longer the perfect Christian, homeschooling family we once were. Thank God. And I mean that; I am both relieved to leave the bullshit and small-mindedness, and thankful to God for rescuing us from the bullshit.

As you can tell, I still believe in God. But not the Orthodox Presbyterian Church God that requires men to dominate women, for children to obey their parents without questioning what they are told to do, and for His followers to spend their time prior to dying and enjoying their life in blissful paradise feeling like shit because they believe happiness is automatically indicative of falling into sin.  Focusing on how fucked up you are, or others are, does nothing to solve the problem.  Even their own book tells them that much, but they still do not see despite claiming you do not see.  Slowly, their God died to me (not for me), and I can personally attest that this death did not occur on a cross.  It took place in my mind, after years of watching my family suffer the consequences of sucking it up when things got hard and pretending everything was alright.  However; this god did die at a cross.  Crossroad that is. The death of the OPC God was a crossroad where I switched paths.  Where our whole family switched paths.

I have never been more proud of our parents than when they essentially told our old OPC church to go fuck themselves. (This message was not communicated quite as bluntly, but the effect was the same).

In closing, I am not mad at my parents. I hold no bitterness for them, or anyone else, including the OPC church and their members.  I am still friends with many of them, and see the pleading looks in their eyes to come back when I occasionally visit.  But I see more than this.

Underneath the pleading for me to return to them I see another kind of pleading; a pleading for someone to rescue them from themselves.  As for me, I am never going back. Not permanently, although I do visit every once in a blue mooon. Having now experienced life in the open — in the sunlit world having emerged from Plato’s cave with the totalitarian forces striving to keep individuals locked away in the cave — I know what it is I will spend the rest of my life doing:

Fighting to free others from the blindness, from being emotionally used and feeling helpless to escape, whether it occurs while being homeschooled, public-schooled, or not schooled. Because using others, even unconsciously, to meet your needs is not right; and having gone through this myself, I find that I cannot wish it upon anyone else either.

We are Anonymous.

We are Legion.

We are Homeschooled.

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End of series.

Torching All That Is Sacred: Alexander Anon’s Story

Torching All That Is Sacred — One Child’s Emergence From a Totalitarian Environment: Alexander Anon’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alexander Anon” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two

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As I start, I wish to be clear that this story is intended to convey my experience of the complex phenomenon that was my homeschooling experience, not make broad claims about homeschooling in general; and that within this narrative I perceive not villains but instead numerous individuals that were products of factors they either did not understand or were helpless to change.  What follows is a tale of how homeschooling efforts collided with conservative Christian values to create the perfect maelstrom of do’s and don’ts, and the resulting insecurities I was left with in the wake of destruction caused by the brain-washing and intimidation tactics utilized by the primarily homeschooling congregation of the local Orthodox Presbyterian Church our family attended.

I guess the best place to begin this story is to discuss the dynamics of my parents’ relationships with each other, their seven children, and their parents growing up.  My mother had a hard life growing up, with her parents fighting constantly and physical violence prevalent.  Her experiences in public school were not much better, as she has mentioned on various occasions that she felt isolated, unwanted, and ignored.  The three main things she learned growing up were: (1) you keep fighting even when nothing is alright; (2) if nothing is alright, you shut up and pretend everything is alright; and (3) people will never give you what you want unless you trick them into giving you what you want.  My father, on the other hand, appears to have had a much healthier childhood, although certainly no childhood is ever without its scarring moments.

Although they are virtually mum on the circumstances surrounding their dating and eventual marriage, as best I can surmise my mom wanted to escape her emotionally damaging life at home and my dad possessed the perfect combination of charm and wit necessary to distract her from her emotional wounds.  Underneath his charm and wit; however, was an anger that would flare up from time to time and remind my mom of the dad she was forced to accept ‘loved her in his own way’, but certainly never expressed it in a manner that made her feel loved or accepted by him.

It was into this environment, sometimes wonderfully loving, other times frighteningly turbulent, that our parents brought seven children, of which I am the second oldest.  For the most part, we grew up in a stable, loving place and had the typical American childhood everyone longs for.

We were also homeschooled.

Much of the driving force behind my mom’s decision to homeschool us, I believe, was wanting to shield us from the horrible experience she had with public school.  Although our family never really talked about it, there was an unspoken understanding that people in general are mean, morally bankrupt, and frightening.  While never outwardly communicated, I tuned in to this message that people do not care about you and will ridicule you, and internalized it so that my self-confidence was (and still is, in many areas) virtually non-existent.

To this day I struggle to believe people in my college classes, on the street, in church, and everywhere else I go could find something to like about me.  Because people just don’t like or accept others.  People were monsters.  They were the unknown, and the unknown was frightening.

Our parents were overprotective of us.  Out of love, of course; but still overprotective to the point of being constrictive.  Even as teenagers, we were prohibited from riding our bikes further than a block away from our house.  This severely limited the number of friends we could have.

I can only remember a handful of times our parents had non-family members over to our house, and we certainly were not allowed to go to others’ houses to play unless they lived only a few houses away.  From this all, the message was clear: people are scary.  Something to be avoided.  I still have high social anxiety to this day because of our mom’s fear of being hurt by others.

One particular incident stands out to me.  My older brother was watching over a couple kids at a summer camp as a counselor for several weeks, and had made several friends (he was always more outgoing than I).  After the first week, one of the female friends he had made at camp returned to her home and sent a friendly email to my brother, who was still at camp.  I remember our mom flipping out to our dad because she thought my brother had a girlfriend.  I read the email myself; it was harmless.  The girl was just being friendly.  Even worse; why was the idea of my older brother (at that time in his teens) having a girlfriend something to freak out over?  Why did this idea deserve such a harsh, negative reaction?  I still do not understand to this day, and yet the message could not have been clearer: people are something we avoid.

To be clear, I am not trying to suggest that all homeschooling families are like this; this is certainly not the case, as I personally know family after family that encouraged their children to have as many friends as possible.  However; in our family, having friends almost always seemed bad.  There were a few exceptions.  A homeschooling family moved in down the street from us when I was a young teenager, and our families became as close as possible without being related by blood.  To this day, the two oldest boys in their family are my best guy friends.  Their family moved away after less than a year in our neighborhood.  A few years later, I met another homeschool family at our church and eventually became good friends with the two oldest girls.  Being friends with girls was new to me, since the only previous female friend I had made attended a homeschool co-op that our family left just a few weeks after I finally started feeling comfortable interacting with her.

Besides unintentionally (I truly believe my parents did nothing out of bad intent) restricting my access to friends for the greater portion of my childhood, several other areas of my life were censored out of a need to please God.  This was most noticeable in the music I was allowed to listen to.

I had no interest in music until our local church offered to pay for one cd for every 20 Westminster Shorter Catechism questions I memorized.  Being a homeschooler with little else to do, I beasted this mental feat.  Every time I recited 20 catechism responses, our mom would drive us to the local bookstore, listen to music samples from the cd’s we wanted, and read printouts of the lyrics.  Almost nothing was Christian enough for her tastes.  Newsboys’ Thrive, with its song ‘It Is You’ and lyrics “holy, holy is our God Almighty/ holy, holy is his name alone” was not good enough.  Relient K’s Anatomy of Tongue and Cheek, with lyrics such as “Never underestimate my Jesus/ You’re telling me that there’s no hope/ I’m telling you you’re wrong” (For the Moments I Feel Faint) was not good enough.

You get the picture.

I used to cry every time we returned from the bookstore with my 10th choice cd; or worse, empty-handed after killing an entire afternoon in the store reviewing lyrics.  The point of mentioning this isn’t to generate pity, or talk bad about my mom who I love very much; I bring this up because I learned several very important lessons through this experience:

1. Persistence

If a cd was shot down, my mom would agree to listen to it the next time we went.  Several times she would cave on the third or fourth listen simply because I kept making her listen to it again.  This was not always the case, as Skillet’s Collide album was shot down no matter how hard I tried to get her to accept it as Christian rock.

2. Self-Motivation

No one was going to get me the album I wanted to listen to unless I put in the hard work, constructed arguments my mom was willing to accept for why I should be allowed to have it (usually revolving around why the lyrics were “Christian” lyrics), and didn’t stop the barrage of arguments until I had won or was shut down completely.  Even when a particular album was shot down, I would pick a similar sounding album and push for that, because I suspected that while she claimed to be judging albums based on lyrical content, her genre preferences were also a significant deciding factor.  In other words, I became a social scientist formulating and testing hypotheses because of this process.  I am currently a first year Master’s student studying forensic psychology, and intend to pursue a Ph.D. in criminology.  The skills I learned as a result of these unpleasant music-judging trips have been invaluable to me throughout my academic journey.

3. There Is Always A Way

After trying for several years to get specific albums and failing despite all my best hypothesis testing and revising, I finally stumbled onto the perfect solution without even intending to.  My parents gave us the opportunity to play music, and after a few failed years of learning piano (I did not appreciate the teacher’s mechanical playing style and wanted to play a specific genre of music she did not let me learn), I took up guitar.  The guitar teacher was amazing in so many ways, the most important of which was he alternated between learning how to play and teaching me how to play the songs I wanted to learn.  For this, it was necessary to bring in a recording of the song for him to play along with and figure out the notes.  At first, I would bring in Christian music my mom had let me get.  Then, because I was embarrassed that the guitar teacher did not know any of these songs, I started bringing in more “secular” songs I had recorded on a cassette tape from the radio.  One day, I got the bright idea to search online to see if I could listen to the songs.  Quite accidentally, I discovered a place to illegally download mp3’s of the any song I ever wanted.  Needless to say, I secretly binged and downloaded hundreds of albums this way.  After years of secret listening to music this way and fearing being found out, I finally broke the silence and reported that I had access to any music I wanted and desired to pay the artists money to actually legally own the cd’s.  After the shock wore off, my mom reasonably agreed that the Christian thing to do was to pay money to own them legally since she couldn’t stop me from listening to them anyway, as long as I didn’t buy any “Eminem.”

One of my pet peeves growing up, and that will still get me fired up when I hear my dad tell my youngest brother this, is the phrase “just stop the foolishness.”  This phrase was the buzzword for enjoying yourself, reveling in the absurd nature of something, or presenting something logically impossible.  In other words, it was the response used to prevent a child from being a child and utilizing their imagination.

Foolishness was a concept derived from the Bible (particularly Proverbs), and foolishness was to be avoided at all costs.  Six year olds laughing at farts was “foolishness”; but it was not “foolishness” when my dad wanted to crack a joke about farts.  It was only foolishness if a child tried to add something on to our father’s joke that our dad did not find amusing.  Then, magically, what was not foolish only a moment ago became foolish.  I know my parents did not intend to link enjoying yourself or being happy with punishment, but they did.  One minute I was laughing and having a good time, the next I was being rebuked for foolishness because I had tried to add something of value to the conversation.

Not only did this make me fearful of being happy; it discouraged me from speaking up, because speaking up can inexplicably lead to being punished.

To be continued.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Three

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Three

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Why It’s Not Just About the Past and My Bitterness

"Their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians."
“Their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians.”

As I sat down to a steak dinner with my parents after my MA graduation ceremony (8-2012), the conversation drifted to my younger sister’s future plans.  She is being homeschooled much in the same way I was, except with a hefty dose of Victorian ideas on gender roles and sexuality. (She is truly brilliant and reads tremendous amounts of literature. She could likely score a 30+ on the ACT and receive a scholarship.) I asked her if she still intended to go to college — she used to talk of being a veterinarian – and she replied that my father gave her a choice. She could either have him pay for her wedding or her college. I said that giving a young girl such a choice was cruel and my father replied that he had “lost confidence in college since [my] education obviously failed me.” And I said, “Well, I guess it failed [my older sister] too.” He said, no it hadn’t, because she is now a Christian, homeschool mother who generally agrees with them religiously. So basically, he said college failed me because I don’t believe what he does. 

Throughout my years at college, in a rural town in the Bible Belt, he has used this line of thought many times. I discovered in conversation with my extended family that he led them to believe I’d been “brainwashed” at college by my professors. I’d confronted my father numerous times about how insulting this was, but he really didn’t get it. Not until I told him that my being a liberal was actually going against the grain did he begin to respect me.

They continue to expect me to be a person that I’m not. I’ve written about how there are two versions of me and I want to focus on a few occasions during and after college that illustrate how their beliefs have continued to hurt me. Nearly every time we get together, conversations devolve into arguments about politics because their identity as conservative Republicans is almost as important as their identity as Christians. They insult my beliefs by saying that they are just a phase – when I am living in the “real world,” I will surely be conservative like them.

When I tried to explain that their twisted worldview makes nearly every minute political and social issue into a religious issue, my father simply did not understand. He responded…“Yes I try to live my life in obedience to the Word of God in the Bible. That means these beliefs inform all I do in my life. If that insults you then truly Jesus was correct in stating that those that followed Him would enter into conflict, even with their own family.”

When I visited home for Christmas with my then-fiancé, my mother started a conversation on Christmas morning about how the rise of feminism ruined America. To give some background, my wife is incredibly close to her mother, who divorced when she was young. My wife’s mother worked extremely hard and worked her way up the corporate ladder. My wife draws a lot of inspiration from her mother. Now to the conversation. My mother said that women should never have been given the right to vote, that birth control broke down the American family, and women in the workforce was simply not the proper place for women. My mother subscribes completely to the submission doctrines of fundamentalist Protestantism and, suffice it to say, my wife is very empowered. Like most Christmases with my family, it devolved into a heated argument and my wife was very offended by what my mom said. My mom was literally saying women like my wife’s mother were ruining America.

Nearly six months after my graduation-fight with my parents, my mother finally decided to weigh-in. My father and I sent a barrage of emails back and forth, because I cannot control my emotions when we get into arguments.  After a lot of small talk, the conversation turned to my sinful lifestyle. My mom asked me if I was “pure” on my wedding day. I told her no I wasn’t and I didn’t want to talk about my sex life with her. She reminded me of a pledge I made to her at the age of fourteen, promising abstinence until marriage. I told her that was very unfair to bring up something like that. Then she proceeded to tell me how I would face “consequences” later in my marriage because of my sins.Then she told me the reason we fight is because I just “feel guilty” about all my sinning. She never said anything about my living with my fiancée before our marriage. Only after we were married did she choose to judge me. She didn’t even understand why her comments were judgmental – to her she was just imparting some righteousness. It’s like she forgot to judge me two years ago, so she did it then. But to my mother, it’s not “judging,” it’s just telling the truth – she likes to call herself a prophet.

So I told her some truth. That I think they raised me in a fundamentalist cult and that’s why I don’t get along with them. Especially because they believe all the same things they used to. She tried to say they believe differently now, but couldn’t name a single area where they’ve changed their minds, except they watch more TV now. So when mom is crying on the phone telling me that “we don’t get along because your conscious is guilty” or that I broke a promise to “stay pure” that I made to her at 14, I go to a very dark place.

Whenever we go back to arguing about the things we’ve literally been arguing about for a decade, I am physical affected. The sort of panic attacks I used to have come back and I have a lot of trouble controlling my emotions. They still think rock is evil, they are going to push my sister into courtship like they did me, they are going to fuck her up.  My only twisted hope is that I can reach out to her when they start to become senile.

I don’t enjoy spending any time with them because I just leave feeling shitty. I’m so sick of it. It’s emotionally and intellectually exhausting. They say things like “we’re proud of you” but they only ever talk about my accomplishments. When it comes to my intelligence, morals, or ethics, I’m just a dirty liberal sinner to them. The fact that, after seven years of this, they still refuse to see past my political beliefs and have made no real efforts to get to know me is incredibly discouraging. I have made a lot of efforts to be more reasonable, less argumentative, and I try to never bring up an issue that would spark an argument.  The reason it’s still hard for me is because they aren’t over it and they still inject it into my life. In the past, it was easier to pretend like it didn’t bother me and I figured mom and dad would grow out of it (like almost all of my friends’ parents).

It would be different if my parents made an effort to get to know me – instead of the me I used to be. They still give me Lamplighter books for Christmas, which are out-of-print works of fiction, re-printed by Christian Book Distributers because they are explicitly Christian. I have no interest in these shitty books – I will be reading Harry Potter to my children. I recently moved across the country and they have taken literally no interest in my safety or my new home. Part of why I moved was to get away from them. I don’t want to be obligated to see them – ever.  Maybe after years of space, I can start to forgive them. It feels like every time I make myself vulnerable, usually against my better judgment, it ends in pain. Every time I let things go, more gets piled onto me.  It’s unfortunate, but the less time I spend interacting with my parents, the happier I am.

To be continued.