The Shining City’s Superman: By Alisa Harris

The Shining City’s Superman: By Alisa Harris

HA note: The following story is reprinted with permission. Excerpted from Raised Right by Alisa Harris Copyright © 2011 by Alisa Harris. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. – See more at: http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/catalog.php?work=206894#sthash.Wt4qBeys.dpuf

It was clear on day one of our homeschool speech class that our instructor, the head of the county Republican party, was training us up to be GOP operatives. And it was clear in the final days of the class that I was up to the challenge.

“And for our final exercise we will have a mini-debate competition. And for the resolution… Drumroll please! ‘Resolved: that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of the twentieth century!’”

He held aloft the prize, a calendar featuring Ronald Reagan pictures alongside quotes from the Great Communicator. I promptly died and went to a heaven where there was no more dying and no more tears, no progressive income taxes, and no ACLU. No Democratic National Committee or William Jefferson Clinton. Where the Gipper sat at the right hand of Jesus who sat at the right hand of God. When I returned to earth, I knew only one thing mattered: I had to have that calendar.

Some children revere saints. In the conservative circles of my childhood, we had heroes—not suffering martyrs who sacrificed for their faith but conquerors who crushed the enemies of God with truth and justice. These conquerors had to be Christians, preferably of humble roots and always of stainless character, who overcame their enemies to accomplish deeds that changed the world. We read glowing heroic accounts that omitted Thomas Jefferson’s deism, Louisa May Alcott’s transcendentalism, and Christopher Columbus’s avarice.

Choosing a hero was imperative, and mine was Ronald Reagan. I devoured every book that canonized him and gulped down his 752-page autobiography. I collected his movies: The Hasty Heart, in which an angry Scotsman bests him for the broken heart of an angelic nurse; Bedtime for Bonzo, in which he parents a monkey while accidentally winning the affection of a charming farm girl. But the crown was This Is the Army, a patriotic epic in which Reagan plays an entertainer who joins the army and discovers his assignment is to put on a musical show to boost morale.

In my speech class we were debating the greatness of Ronald Reagan not because anyone disagreed he was great but because we had to know our enemies’ arguments if we were to defeat them. Whenever our speech teacher asked, “Why do we learn speech?” my hand shot up: “To learn to give a defense for the hope that’s within us!” I was quoting the apostle Peter, who was speaking of the gospel. But to me the hope of the gospel meant more than the truth that Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, had come to earth, died on a cross to free us from sin, and then rose on the third day. It also meant the hope of being free from the shackles of government as we worked to redeem the world for Christ through political means. I read Jesus’s words in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.”When I heard “freedom” I thought “deregulation of onerous government rules”; when I heard “blind” I thought “blind to the virtue of limited government”; when I heard “oppressed” I thought of children who were not allowed to pray in school and successful rich people whose money was seized by the government. I would whisper, “It is for freedom that Christ set us free,” and would think, Freedom to display the Ten Commandments in a public place!

And Ronald Reagan was the earthly bringer of this good news. His story proved the truth that one person had the power to mold our nation into the kingdom of God if he had the fortitude to stand against the axis of evil, cut taxes, and build up nuclear arms. Ronald Reagan restored America to its economic and moral and political glory. I could do the same for my own generation if I was only open to God working through me, if I could give great speeches full of great thoughts.

***

And so this semester-long speech class was a practice drill for my ultimate mission. I gave speeches on the power of words to change the world (using Ronald Reagan as my prime example), on why George W. Bush should be the Republican nominee for president (comparing him to Ronald Reagan), and on why public school students should rise up against tyrannical administrators who forbade prayer in public schools. Before my speech teacher announced our final debate, I had given a speech on why Ronald Reagan was the greatest president since Teddy Roosevelt. I was the greatest communicator of the Great Communicator’s greatness.

That calendar should be mine.

A few days before the debate took place, I had the chance to defend my arguments before opponents who didn’t just pretend to disagree. We had my grandparents over for dinner—a set of urbane atheists who had birthed a couple of disappointingly religious nuts in my mother and her older sister, a Russian Orthodox nun. When my sisters and I mentioned we were working hard on our speeches, our parents seized the opportunity to squeeze in some rhetorical practice. “Why don’t you give your grandparents one of your speeches?” my dad asked.

I mentally ran through my repertoire, realizing that I was now forced, by the limitations of my earlier rhetorical exercises, to take a stand for truth and seize the moment to witness for God and Republican values. The time to share my hope with the unconverted had come. When the Word of God goes out, it does not come back void, I reminded myself—and besides, their criticism would help hone my arguments for our Reagan debate. So I printed out the latest draft of my speech on why Ronald Reagan was the greatest president since Teddy Roosevelt.

As my grandparents settled onto the couch, I took my place behind the large stereo speaker we used as a podium, my belly quaking a little. My deaf grandmother always boomed her outrage at a volume I could not match, at which point she would bellow, “Speak from your diaphragm!”—an order we never quite executed to her satisfaction.

I cleared my throat and opened my eyes wide as my parents had instructed when I’d practiced my speeches before. Hand gestures were still beyond my preadolescent oratorical skills, so I anchored my fists to my sides and lobbed my cause: “Ronald Reagan stood before the vast, huge, thick Berlin wall and said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ And Mr. Gorbachev did tear down that wall.” I described how Ronald Reagan had inspired Americans to be “happy, joyous, and proud to be Americans again.” He was great because he had destroyed the “evil, inhuman wrong Communist empire.” And most important, he believed in God.

I sat down, trembling with the thrill of suffering the persecution sure to come, but my grandparents merely applauded. My mild-mannered grandfather was too polite to match his seventy-five years of honed intellect against that of a twelve-year-old. My deaf grandmother had not heard a word.

When the debate day came, my sister and I took our places behind our table and I sized up our two opponents. Daniel was a massive youth with an imposing physical presence, but when our dad said, “I just think girls have more natural verbal skills than some men,” he was speaking of Daniel. Mark, by contrast, was a gentle soul whose goal was to become a veterinarian. He had a habit of walking my mom out to her car and carefully closing her car door behind her. She always said, “Well, thank you, Mark,” and as we drove off, my dad would say, “He’s such a nice kid, but it’s a little too much.”

No doubt, my sister and I were sharper and feistier. This would be an easy victory.

The boys, as born conservatives themselves, knew it was impossible to argue that Ronald Reagan was bad, so they argued instead that he was not quite as good as Theodore Roosevelt. I debated brilliantly, argued passionately, painted a deft picture of Theodore Roosevelt as a progressive who instituted unconstitutional national parks and set Big Government in motion. I dipped into my brain and drew up fistfuls of Gipper trivia, skewering each of my opponents with the force of truth.

After we gave our rebuttals, I waited impatiently for our teacher to announce the winner, anguishing over the thought that the calendar might adorn Mark’s wall or, even worse, kick around the room of someone who wouldn’t give it a place of honor. “And the prize goes to the Affirmative team, which has proved that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of the twentieth century!”

I took the calendar, cupping Ronald Reagan’s face in my loving hands. My sister and I would enshrine his image on the wall of the bedroom we shared, but he was really all mine.

A few months later someone at church trying to make conversation on a topic they knew I loved and casually mentioned some news I found devastating. A liberal media outlet had taken a poll on who was the greatest president of the century. Of the choices offered, Ronald Reagan came in last. I ranted and raved to my family in the car on the way home, seething at the idiocy of my fellow Americans. The next day I collared a mother at speech class to inform her of this travesty. She politely extricated herself by saying consolingly, “Well, at least we know the truth.”

But her response wounded me as much as the poll. For the next few days I was brimming with tears, my heart breaking for the Americans who had ranked Ronald Reagan last, not because they were malicious but because how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And why would anyone preach if they thought it was enough simply to know the truth themselves?

Somewhere in there, I got my gospels crossed.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Nine, I Am Ashamed Of TeenPact

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Nine was originally published on May 24, 2013.

*****

Part Nine: I Am Ashamed Of TeenPact, by David Chapman

I have really struggled to write about TeenPact. My history with the organization goes back to 1996, when I first attended a Georgia state class as a student, in only its third year of existence. I continued to serve as a staffer through 1998, working on the early state classes in Alabama, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. Then, after college, the most intense part of my TeenPact history occurred between 2002 and 2004, when I served full-time with the ministry, first as a traveling “Assistant Director” (a position we later renamed “Program Director”), then as Operations Manager—basically second-in-command to the founder/president—at the ministry’s headquarters located in rural northeast Georgia. I had a long relationship with the ministry in its first decade and with many of its most influential early members. Please note: I have had almost no contact with the group in its last ten years and I am certain the ministry has changed drastically since I was involved. From what I see of its website, however, most of the core values have remained.

As a former insider, now ideologically opposed to TeenPact in every way, I thought that I might write scathing exposés about how ministry leaders in my day skirted ethics, exploited underage labor, underpaid their full-time staff, used ministry resources to support local, state, and national politics, and so on. But my many false starts on these topics all felt wrong. I was myself culpable in a few of these. I taught these practices to others. I was an ideologue, the same as all the others in the ministry. Compared to my office mates at TP HQ, I was paid rather obscenely well for a recent college grad with no experience and no particular expertise (I had been a piano performance major).

The truth is this: I am ashamed of my time at TeenPact. I don’t acknowledge it on my resumé. I describe it to my current colleagues as “the time that I worked for the right-wing conspiracy” and then I say little more. I wish I didn’t even have to talk about it, because I wish it had never happened. But strangely I also feel compelled to write about it, especially since my therapist has recommended doing so for my ongoing depression.

When I read others’ stories, I note key differences between their memories and mine. They remember being told their blouses were too busty or their attitudes were somewhat less than obnoxiously enthusiastic. Ministry leaders like me assessed these black sheep as rebellious and obstinate, definitely not TeenPact staff material.

In truth, they simply saw through the B.S. rather more quickly than I did. I was in charge of TeenPact. I told my staffers all these things myself and instructed them to say such things to their students. I was not the first nor the only person to teach these things at the time, but I certainly helped perpetuate them as a ministry leader.

My memories of TeenPact are certainly angry and righteously indignant, as are so many others’, but for me they also involve overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame.

I recently realized that this malaise was the root of my writing block when a familiar name started popping up on Facebook via my new network of Homeschoolers Anonymous friends. I’ll not identify her specifically, but she was one of my interns while I was in charge of ministry operations. It occurred to me that, if she and others like her have ex-TeenPact (XTP?) stories of their own to tell, some probably involve me. Seeing this former intern’s name made me realize how inappropriate it would be to criticize the ministry when, for her and others, I may have been part of the problem.

Perhaps this is not her opinion at all, or perhaps it over-inflates my importance. But I once googled mine and the ministry’s name to see what mildly incriminating evidence might be out there. I found a message board where someone said something like: “ugh, TeenPact… that David Chapman and I did NOT get along.” Thousands of students like this person, as well as hundreds of staffers and dozens of interns, passed through the ministry while I was in charge of it. Many of these became TeenPact zealots (ministry leaders expected no less). Many did not drink the Kool-Aid and some of these might cite my leadership as part of the reason, as this anonymous commenter did.

I fear the day when my work at TeenPact comes back to bite me. Some day, some former student or intern of mine will say something reprehensible in public (Sarah-Palin- or Glenn-Beck-style) and I will have to endure knowing that I contributed to that person’s disgusting ideological education in some way.

Or else someone will write their own exposé and name me as the villain in the story.

For the record, I am thrilled beyond words (proud, even?) whenever I learn that former students and interns of mine have repudiated much of the TeenPact ideology and are forging their own path through adulthood. I am impressed that they are doing so much earlier than I did. In fact, I’m a bit jealous of them. I was still toeing the line for TeenPact into my late twenties.

There are recordings floating around that would truly embarrass me if they resurfaced: speeches, lectures, and sermons I gave while still in thrall to the conservative, evangelical, Republican, nationalist, homeschooling movement. If anyone has those, I beg you to destroy them. You might still like them, but almost everything I said was wrong. I repudiate and disown them. If anyone finds them and is disappointed in me, please understand that they were the work of an immature and stunted thinker. I’ve grown a bit since then.

Also for the record: I am now a liberal, an agnostic, a feminist, the parent of a child in public school (no regrets!), a pessimist, and a humanist. As of May 2013, I can also say that I am a Ph.D. Soon I will be one of those college professors that I was always warned about by homeschoolers, evangelicals, and conservatives like those in TeenPact.

I do want to say more in future posts about why I became disillusioned, about the things I observed during my time in the ministry, about the terrible ideas that I helped to instill in others, and about the ways that TeenPact and organizations like it failed me.

But I was once TeenPact.

I was acting and speaking in the best way I knew how, but I was wrong.

And for that I am ashamed… and I’m sorry.

To be continued.

A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War: Philosophical Perspectives’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “PhilosophicalPerspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.

*****

In this series: Part One — We Need Advocates | Part Two — A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War

***** 

The stories shared so far on HA are rough.  Whenever another story pops up on my blogroll, I take a deep breath before reading – and sometimes I have to cut myself off.  There’s only so much trauma I can read in a day, especially when so much of it triggers my own.

Part of growing up in the homeschool community in the 80’s and 90’s was living defensively.  Our parents felt like they were culture warriors, and everyone and everything in the world was against them and their choice to homeschool. We, their children, were the proof they offered to the world (and each other) that they weren’t screwing up. Not only was it vital that we act like little adults on all occasions, but we had to be well-spoken, articulate, and ourselves advocates for homeschooling. I remember many conversations with my mother at the age of 8, where I agreed with her disapproval of *that* family whose children just couldn’t sit still and be quiet, or walk through a museum and respectful read all the placards. We, on the other hand, were excellent at it – and this meant that we were “good children”.

We visited well-respected leaders in government and business, we politely and persuasively argued the case for our political agenda, all while going through puberty. We were nowhere near normal, but that’s why we appealed to powerful people. Who has ever heard of a 15 year old who argues persuasively in front of the state legislature, instead of hanging out at the mall with her friends? No one.

Except homeschoolers. We sure churn out a lot of teenage spokespeople.

I always cringe when I hear stories like Sarah Merkle’s, because I was one of the kids who spoke before legislatures and guest-lectured in local high schools. I was a tool in someone else’s culture war. I was remarkable for my non-normalcy, and I was praised for it.

My reality check came later. I don’t know Sarah, but when I was in her shoes, I didn’t actually have my own, well researched, well-formed and nuanced thoughts on gun control or any other topic – I had my parents’ thoughts, or my pastor’s thoughts, or the thoughts of another influential adult who told me what the “good arguments” were on the topic in question. I was smart, so I didn’t just take talking points from my handlers – I accumulated a lot of other people’s ideas, and even a couple of dissenting opinions, and synthesized them all so that I could speak from “my own” perspective. The thing is, it didn’t require me to seriously wrestle with dissent, or the complications of policy ideas, it just required me to adopt, reformulate, and regurgitate what I’d heard. What’s worse – I was never really allowed to ask questions about the assumptions that were passed on to me. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was actually free to think and ponder and explore, intellectually as well as personally.

I didn’t have my own thoughts at 15 – they weren’t allowed. As others have noted here, debate is seen as a vital skill for homeschooled offspring – after all, “God’s Harvard” prides itself on the quality of their moot court team (as well as, apparently, soccer…). Debate is important, not because it teaches kids to think, but because it gives us the skill to package propaganda in a convenient, Bill O’Reilly-friendly segment, and makes us appealing politicians and lawyers, ready to be the next generation of culture warriors.

For all our debating, dissent wasn’t allowed. I remember losing debate rounds because an argument that I made sounded something remotely like it could be related to a philosophical principle advocated by Marx. I’m not kidding.

Wait, let me rephrase. Dissent was fine, within a prescribed sphere.

The following topics were open for discussion:

• Infant vs. Adult Baptism

• Predestination vs. Free Will

• The moral weight of a vote for a republican (compared, of course, to a vote for the constitution party)

• The US Farm Bill.

• The failings of other religions and how to prove Christianity was right

• Whether or not it’s morally acceptable to wear a sleeveless dress on your wedding day (the answer: no)

• And, my favorite — the real reasons for the Civil War (slavery or states’ rights?!)

Anyway, the real point — we’ve been parroting a Republican platform and the great things about homeschooling since we were toddlers. Any negative or critical commentary was marked as “rebellious”, and unacceptable, especially when it was directed at homeschooling itself. The options were, repent, or get out. I carried my parents’ defensiveness about the homeschooling movement with me into college, where I had many conversations that started off, “yes, there are some downsides to homeschooling, but…”

It’s taken me a long time away from the homeschooling movement to detox, and come to terms with the pain it inflicted. After eight years away from the movement, I started realizing that I wasn’t just a disobedient, sinful, and rebellious teen. I began naming the things I suffered, and the perpetrators who inflicted them.

I felt totally alone.

None of my non-homeschooled friends had any categories to begin to understand what I was talking about. I was lucky if they’d ever even heard of Josh Harris, and they’d certainly never had personal interaction with his family. They had no concept of a world where it was acceptable for a father to deny a daughter her driver’s license, because her husband might not want her to have that freedom (a position I heard advocated at a young age, at a homeschool conference in my home state). Any time I began a conversation about my own experiences, I ended up answering the same questions. “Did you, like, have a desk in your living room?” “Did you go to school in your pajamas?” “Did you get to sleep in until 10?” Sometimes, we’d get to the real crap, but they were so shocked by the extremes of the movement that they didn’t believe they were real, or that something so blatantly ridiculous had actually impacted my life. I never got to process the things that really changed me.  I never had space to talk about how the patriarchal narrative that reigns uncontested within the homeschooling movement affected my identity as a woman, or how purity and courtship teachings twisted my view of cross-gender relationships, whether platonic or romantic. Two examples spring to mind.

1. I remember telling a prominent female homeschooling leader during my senior year of high school how excited I was to go to the prestigious college to which I’d been accepted. She responded with concern, asking me “whether or not I was planning to pursue a career.”  I think I told her that I didn’t really know, but I was looking forward to all the new opportunities to learn.  The next time I saw her, she gave me a graduation present with a note reading, “with prayers that God will reveal his word and will clearly to you that you might joyfully embrace His ways.” For those not adept at reading between homeschooler lines – my pursuit of a secular education, and potentially a career, she was telling me, was at best based on ignorance of the Word of God, and at worst, on disobedience and rebellion.

With a few swift words and a terrible present, she not only undermined my accomplishments, skills, and personality (I was too ‘leaderly’ for a woman), she questioned my obedience to the God I claimed to follow. I’ve noticed that the thoughts that this woman reinforced (they’d been planted much earlier) have haunted me as I’ve applied for fellowships, talked to recruiters, and pursued career paths.  Despite my (objectively) impressive resume, I find myself wrestling with a toxic combination of shame, insecurity, and guilt whenever I pursue or am offered a prestigious position or set an ambitious goal. Mental accusations of pride, selfishness, or narcissism rush to the forefront. I’m just now learning how to fend them off.

2. I recently came across an Instant Message conversation with the guy I sort of dated in high school (culture notes, for the uninitiated – AIM was a primary source of social interaction for many of us.  I say “sort of dated” because the attraction we felt was taboo, and therefore secret).  It was the conversation where we decided that we “had romantic feelings for each other”.  I was 18 at the time. The exchange went something like this:

Me – “I need to pray about what to tell my parents.”

Him – “What kind of commitment do we have to each other?”

Me – “well, we’re not dating… we can’t”

Him – “just because we haven’t verbalized it doesn’t mean we don’t have one.  I think our commitment should be to prayerfully and cautiously court nine months from now, when you go to college.”

Me – “That sounds great.”

Him – “Shall we state our commitment?”

Me – “I commit to begin a relationship with you for the purpose of exploring a deeper commitment, while bathed in prayer”

Him – “I commit to prayerfully begin a relationship for the purpose of exploring the possibility of a more permanent and concrete commitment, to begin approximately nine months from now.  I intend to ask your father’s blessing when we begin the next phase”.

When I found this conversation, I couldn’t help but laugh. Such contractual language was the model we had for beginning a mature, and godly relationship – and it gave us both the warm fuzzies (I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation). All of this, mind you, was undertaken under much secrecy, because our parents would have objected in a million unimaginable ways.  This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of problematic things about that relationship – but it strikes me how deep courtship culture influenced me.  I saw myself as an object to be negotiated for, between me, my “beau” (as my mom always calls them), my father, and God.  I was “progressive” in that I was willing to strike a deal on my own, at least in the short term.  Thus, this dry, non-salacious exchange between people who were legally adults, via computer, across thousands of miles, was considered both the height of “romance” (because of the bargain we struck) and the height of rebellion (because my dad wasn’t at the negotiating table).

To get back to the point. As I look back at experiences like these, which are far less intense than many others shared on this blog, I realize that I have never had a chance to actually dig into the underlying values I imbibed, and process the pain, anger, and embarrassment that I experienced. I need space to write, and to read, and to be reassured I’m not crazy or alone when I tell stories like mine.

That’s why Homeschoolers Anonymous is so important. We’ve been isolated from each other from a long time. We’ve never had anywhere to share our stories with each other and the world. This is a space for recounting the past and healing from the damage it has done. Trust me, we know the good bits of homeschooling, and we know the ways it’s benefitted us – we’ve been talking about it since we could talk.  What we need now is space to voice the bad.

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.

*****

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

*****

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.