By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator
< Part Two
Much of what I have discussed is about my childhood and teenage years, but there were three incidents after my marriage that proved my parents were still trapped in ATI Parent Mode.
I assumed, because my parents actually said on multiple occasion, that after I was married I would be treated differently — more independently. I knew to expect this because it’s just the way people who are into courtship think. However, my parents have continually chosen to put their fundamentalism in front of our relationship, despite me now being the “Spiritual Leader of my Household” (in their mind, not mine — you could best describe my marriage as an egalitarian party, looking at you Doug Wilson). They know that I do not agree with them, so most parents would just back off with the religious judgment and prioritize their relationship. But not my parents!
Over a steak dinner celebrating my graduation from my MA program in 18 months with a 4.0, my father half-joked, half-claimed that he lost faith in the university institution because I grew up to disagree with them politically. For my older sister, who converted to Christianity after college, it worked. But my education “failed” me. It failed me because I did not turn out conservatives like them. To his credit, he apologized after I blew up at him (and openly talked about the event on Facebook). I’m a forgiving person, so I let it go.
I thought, maybe this is the last time, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
When I was visiting the next day, I had one of my most triggering conversations I’ve ever had with them. They claimed that the black people of New Orleans are “culturally more violent because they have a long history of accepting government benefits.” I tried to keep my cool, but our argument quickly brought me into a blind rage. This wasn’t the first time I was triggered by a conversation like this and my parents had been trying harder to not argue about politics with me. It might seem strange that I, someone who debated competitively for eight years, would have such an uncontrollable, visceral reaction to a political argument.
I called them racists and, to say the least, they got pissed. The conversation continued deteriorating and I couldn’t take it any longer. I stormed out of their hotel room and said they could just leave. They had brought me crawfish, my favorite food, but when my mom called in tears telling me I had forgotten it in the room, I told them to just throw it away — I couldn’t see them again. Later that day, my oldest sister talked me down. But this incident drove a big wedge my parents’ and my relationship. I sent them a series of emails that led to me calling them Victorian, sexist, racist cultists.
Political arguments with my parents trigger me because the conversations always include a level of personal judgment.
Debate rounds take place outside the realm of personal judgments — I can advocate a position and my opponents don’t take it personally or judge me. In fact, some of my biggest rivals in college debate became my closest friends. When I started attending college and developing concise counter-arguments to my parents’ zealous Reaganism, conservatism, and… well, how do you describe someone who thinks giving the women the right to vote ruined America? My challenges to their political beliefs are what gave me the courage to question many of the cultic philosophies deeply ingrained in me.
Even though I remained a devoted Christian who attended church and bible study for the first two years of college, my parents reacted to my transforming political beliefs as if I was as rejecting the Gospel. One of their biggest mistakes was telling me I was only “in a phase,” and would believe like they did when I joined the “real world and started paying taxes.” (I have had a full-time job since the age of 16, even paying the dreaded self-employment tax, so I’m not unaware of taxation).
My father took my political beliefs incredibly personally.
We had lots of arguments about rich people paying more taxes, namely by repealing the Bush Tax Cuts. My parents helped me a little bit through my four years of undergrad, they bought my books and paid my $50/month car insurance. I still worked a part-time job throughout college and debated one or two weekends a month around the US for a scholarship. Occasionally, I had to ask my parents for a few hundred dollars, but I always paid them back quickly. I hated feeling dependent on them and financial independence gave me. After I graduated, my father informed me that he resented the help he gave me, and couldn’t stomach giving me more, because of how I felt about taxes. Even though I only argued the richest people should pay more taxes, he internalized that as an attack on him.
After the incident in the hotel room, I didn’t talk to my parents much on the phone. I stuck to email because I could control my triggers and reactions much better. Over a year after my marriage, and nine months after the hotel incident, my mother called to have a chat on the phone. During my childhood, we always got along well and she was my confidante. As long as she doesn’t get judgmental, I enjoy her company. I remember it being one of the better conversations we had in quite awhile when she decided to bring up the state of my virginity on my wedding day.
To be clear, I told my mother I was moving in with my girlfriend (now wife) nine months before my wedding (two years prior to this phone call). One would think this would have given her ample time to discuss the consequences of my sinful lifestyle, but she chose to bring it up a year after my marriage.
After finding out I was “impure,” she said that, later in my marriage, I would “face consequences” for my sins. When I told her that I didn’t think it was a sin to live with the woman I was going to marry (we had been engaged over six months at that point) she said that she was “sorry” I believed that and obviously I had bigger problems. Eventually, she said that the root of all of our conflict was my sinful lifestyle — not, of course, their raising me in a homeschooling cult, still clinging desperately to those beliefs, and refusing to accept my personal development/evolution. I pushed back and then my mom started crying.
It’s not like I enjoy making my mother cry, but I now refuse to be manipulated, guilted, and shamed.
And what came next proved the depths of my mother’s spiritual and emotional manipulation. She reminded me of the purity pledge I made to her at 14 years old. That was it, I told her the conversation was over. She apologized and said she didn’t want our great conversation to end this way. I curtly replied that if she wanted to have a good time, she could just not judge my spiritual condition. My father sent me an email after, as he always does now after my mom and I fight. In it, he took on a self-righteous air about how my rebelliousness (against them and God) was the cause of our conflict and that Jesus was right when he said the righteous man would cause strife among his family.
I guess he forgot the one about a father provoking his child to wrath — but that’s my parents! Apply verses selectively to shame, guilt, and manipulate. I replied that I spent the last six years forming my own beliefs and I knew they were wrong ethically, morally, spiritually, and politically.
Even now, I am still on my father’s insurance (because of a crazy accident that left me with a fractured L5 pars and then an ordeal that left me with dying femur heads and a hip replacement) and this has made me feel like I cannot publicly speak against them. When I first became a frequent public critic of my parents and their beliefs, they would email me or call me and plead with me to essentially just let it be. I told them that I believed my cohort of homeschooled peers had been subjected to systemic problems within the Christian homeschool movement and I intended to get to the bottom of it. I moved from Louisiana to Oregon so I could be surrounded by fewer fundamentalists and more free thinkers who will judge me less for my progressive politics. I also moved to get more distance from my parents so I could freely pursue my advocacy, which would include my personal testimony (it feels funny using that word, but it’s applicable here).
The final straw in my attempt to repair our relationship came just a few weeks ago after I underwent my hip replacement.
When I first learned that I would need a hip replacement, my parents made it very clear that they were too busy moving to be expected to come up to Oregon to help me after the surgery. This was fine with me since their presence usually just triggers me. At the same time, I wished that I did want their help because that’s what parents are for, right? And I knew my usual lines of emotional defense would be compromised by my weak physical state. You probably think this is incredibly heartless of me, but the only consistency in my relationship with my parents is that they will somehow judge me with their self-righteousness and ruin whatever good times may have occurred.
The day of my surgery, my mother was bugging me to talk to her. She said “a mother worries when her favorite son is having a major surgery thousands of miles away” and said “glad to know you are alive.” Despite my wife calling her before and after my procedure. After that, I told her to stop trying to guilt me into talking to her more. That wasn’t the way to make me want to talk to her. Later that day, she became infuriated because I updated my Facebook, but didn’t send her a text. So she didn’t get the update until four hours after my status update. I eventually texted her back later that night and gave her an update, but she didn’t reply, so we tried calling her phone only to discover it was off. I believe right around the time she got pissy, my spinal block wore off and I experienced the worst pain of my life. I cried for thirty straight minutes and couldn’t even think. Luckily they doped me up, but I was still a wreck.
A few hours later, my mother posted one of the most passive aggressive Facebook statuses I have ever seen.
You see, although I didn’t have time to text a bunch of people, I did have time to update by Facebook status to let a few hundred people who were concerned about me know what was up. She proclaimed to the Facebook World that she was “breaking up” with it because it found out about me before she did. (Although my wife tried to call her and the phone signal was just bad in the hospital.). The way the status was worded, I could tell she was incensed.
As I finally got a nurse to enter the long distance code on the hotel landline, I tried to call her. I texted my dad saying I didn’t know what was up and I was trying to get in touch with mom. As I lay in the hospital bed — a wreck physically and emotionally — my father responded with this text message:
“Moms phone is off. You hurt her terribly. I’m very disappointed in you. I’m also upset at how you treat her. She is concerned about you. And you blew her off.”
I was just blown away. My mother turned off her phone, the night after my hip replacement, because her feelings were hurt. It’s hard to believe she was truly concerned about me since she turned her phone off.
At this point, the only indication I had that my mom was upset was the passive aggressive Facebook status and my dad’s text message. Because exactly what I wanted to deal with then was my parents’ bullshit.
This was the moment my parents needed to just show sincere compassion, selflessness, and love.
Sure, maybe I was mean, but I was just out of surgery, doped up with insane amounts of oral and intravenous opioids, my brain polluted by lingering anesthesia, and unable to move my right side without immense pain, which was swollen to twice its normal size. On top of that, my wife got food poisoning that night!
With all the energy I could muster, I slowly composed and recomposed a message about ten times. I met with a therapist earlier in the month to prepare for this very moment because I knew I would be vulnerable and my parents would try to manipulate me. It seems completely irrational to expect such behavior, but my instincts proved right. I told my parents that their reactions were completely unacceptable and that I needed space and time. I didn’t mince my words and I told them their attempts to guilt and manipulate me lost them the privilege of getting constant updates. Everyone else in my life gave me nothing but positivity in my moment of need, but my parents put on an entire dramatic performance because I posted to Facebook a few hours before texting them directly.
It seems like I have gone on quite a tangent since my days in ATI, but all three of these instances occurred because of the way they allowed Gothardism to take over their lives. To them, I may always be the son who chose to live, and thrive, outside their Umbrella of Authority. Despite having almost ten years to indoctrinate and brainwash me into their version of cultic Christianity, they continue to try and enforce their perceived God-given right to judge me (or “show me the light”) into adulthood. I now refuse to allow them to treat me as their subordinate. I demand respect and I try to avoid controversial topics.
Unfortunately, nearly every topic is corrupted by their Gothardist fundamentalism.
Only in an ATI home could you get into an argument on Christmas morning about how women should never have gotten the right to vote or divorce. They conceptualize my mental illnesses (anxiety and triggers) as spiritual weakness because Gothard told them that’s how it is. The morning before I left to go to Afghanistan to teach debate for a month, I had terrible anxiety, and my dad just chuckled and said “well you wanted to go there.”
My dad likes to chuckle when I’m in a really awful situation.
I talked to a lot of my ATI friends about all these events that I’ve described and most of them have patched their relationships up with their parents. Most of those friends’ parents have liberalized a lot, but not my parents. My friends are constantly baffled by the way my parents treat me. Because my parents still conceptualize our relationship as that of a parent-child, when I assert myself, it creates conflict. They seem to believe this conflict is the result of my sinful lifestyle. As long as they cannot even understand why what they do is so hurtful, they have no positive impact on my life. Every positive encounter with them becomes overshadowed by an intensely painful experience.
There are only so many times you want to open yourself up when you know what the result will be.
That’s my story. For the ATI kids out there: Did your relationship with your parents improve as they moved away from Gothardism? Does my observation hold true in your life?