Parents and Estrangement

This is not going to be a fun post to write. It is also going to be a novel, but it needs to be said. But I think more people should talk about this, and it’s been weighing on me, so here it goes. Today I read this article: Life Without My Mother is a Joy. It was posted today and it specifically references mothers, but it definitely can be applicable to either parental figure. It brought up some painful memories.

After my tumultuous “moving-out” experience, both of my parents had plenty of opportunities to be a part of my life. My mom pushed past the hurt that I’d caused her and actively sought to have a relationship with me. And I know it wasn’t easy. There was sometimes where I hung up the phone on her, the first year I didn’t see her on Mother’s Day, the young adult choices I was making that she didn’t necessarily approve of, but she still kept trying. She apologized (and still does) for the actions she was a part of that hurt me growing up. So she and I have a good relationship now – actually much better than it had ever been.

The flip side of the coin, and the real reason for this post is because of my father. Growing up, I’d always considered my papa to be my favorite parent. We bonded over our shared spirituality, my tom-boyishness, etc. In fact, when I went of my first date with my then boyfriend, now fiance, he almost didn’t continue seeing me because of how over-the-moon, “I have the best dad ever”. I had been living on my own for 4 years, trying to figure out how life works, working a soul-draining full-time job and managing to go to school full-time and was about to finish my undergraduate degree.

During the first year of dating my boyfriend, I watched him carefully with his children. That year was personally very difficult for my partner, due to a variety of reasons, but he never ever gave up on his kids. No matter what they went through, or how distant they acted towards him, he was always there, always reaching out to them, refusing to ever let that relationship go. He was respectful of them when they were mad at him, he apologized to them when he was wrong, he sought out fun opportunities to bond with them. That spoke volumes to me. Seeing him be a real father made me realize that I actually didn’t have the utterly fantastic dad I thought I did.

Honestly, I realized that I had barricaded off processing my relationship with my dad because I was just trying to survive myself in the real world. When I thought about my own relationship with my father, I realized he actually had been essentially non-existent for the first five years of me living on my own. He called me once six months after I moved out – only because my mom forced him to. He stopped by my apartment once – I have a hunch it was because I had finally gotten my “own” place and wasn’t rooming with anyone else. But for the vast majority of the time, years in fact, he never reached out. No phone calls, no texts, no even “likes” on my facebook or twitter feeds.

A little over a year after my boyfriend and I had been dating, I came to the conclusion that my relationship with my father needed to be addressed. I was done acting like everything was okay between us. I wrote a five-page letter to my dad explaining what I loved about him growing up as well as my hurt and frustrations with how he was acting towards me. This letter was the first time I’d ever stood up to my dad. The first time I found my voice and told him how I felt. Here’s a small portion of my letter:

So it boils down to the fact that I feel our relationship has been ruined and you haven’t tried to do anything to apologize for the way it is and how you treated me five years ago, and continue to treat me even now. Your recent text seemed to illustrate it to me: “I have never closed the door on you. You chose to go out on your own, but I’m here if you want me. I’ve never “pretended” things are ok. I love you very much even though you chose to leave us.” That text came across to me like this: So “you never closed the door” but you don’t welcome me either… you’re “here if I want you” but only on your terms. Since I haven’t “repented and come home” you’re trying to do the barest minimum. You’ve “neverpretended’ things are okay” – but you’re willing to let them stay like this for the last 5 years until who knows how long? I “chose to leave you” – since when is moving out and becoming an adult a bad thing?

My father’s response to this was basically “You seem to be angry about this, we should talk in person.” No apology, no expression of desire to improve. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to sit down and talk about it with him. It wasn’t my responsibility.

So I set boundaries.

I told him that he had my cell number and my email address, he could call when he wanted. But he couldn’t call on my birthday or Christmas if he didn’t call me on any of the other 363 days of the year. I unfriended him from Facebook, because it hurt me every time he commented on my siblings posts, but never on mine. Every time I saw he had sent my sister a care-package while she was away in college, but never to me. I needed to protect myself and allow myself to live my own life without feeling like a dagger was plunged into me any time he acknowledged someone else but not me, his oldest daughter.

He still hasn’t changed.

Last year in September, about four years after I wrote that letter to him, I planned a small family reunion. I invited my mom, my siblings, my grandparents, and my partner’s children. I did  not invite my father. I didn’t even tell him it was happening. He heard about it at the dinner table a month or so before. “What’s this about this trip?” My siblings told him what we were doing and who was going. He never asked about it after that. Never said “I wonder why she didn’t invite me?” or even seemed to think that it was atypical that a daughter would invite her entire family – minus her dad.

He won’t change.

Last December, I became engaged. A question I’ve had in my mind the last six months is “Do I invite my father?” I’ll be the first to be married, I’m his first-born. This is a memorable event for me, it should be one for him as well.

I had quite a few concerns about inviting him, I can’t list them, but suffice it to say, the real reason is because he hasn’t shown he wants to be in my life.

Being estranged from my father is one of the hardest things. I feel the hard emotional pull when I least expect it. I cried last night watching Survivor and seeing a close father-daughter relationship. It’s toward the end of the season and the contestants had the chance to win precious time with their loved ones. The daughter was crying in her father’s arms – overwhelmed that her dad was there, and he said “I am her strength.” My father isn’t my strength and he doesn’t want to be a part of my life.

I think I know the reason he does this, but in my opinion, there is no valid reason on the face of the planet for why a father should not want to be a part of his daughter’s life. So this estrangement – is actually put in place by him, but I set up the boundaries. The fence-line is put up for my own emotional sanity. And I have the right to do that.

But at the end of the day, what I really want out of this is for people to feel free to talk about this. I don’t know if I’ll ever reconcile with my dad. But I do feel happier in my life. I don’t have to deal with his judgment of my choices, I don’t have to tip-toe around his ideology. Maybe most crucially, I don’t have to listen to him praising our current terror of a president. I am glad that I’ve become a person vastly different from who he wanted me to be. I’m a strong, independent, feminist, liberal, woman who cares about other people, no matter their sexuality, gender, religion, race, or anything else that society tends to judge others by. I have a wonderful man by my side and a puppy at my feet and I am at peace in my own corner of the world.

For my readers:

It’s okay if you and your parents are estranged. No matter who put the walls up. Your reasons are valid. It’s okay to find happiness and joy outside of your parents. Please do. And also please know that I am open to talking about it if you ever need a listening ear.

 

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The wave crashes – my personal story about growing up religious and how that ended

I currently live in a sunny, tropical location where I feel privileged to be able to daily observe the waves crashing as they roll in to shore. I use the waves as a metaphor for how I came to be the person I now am. I grew up in a conservative, fundamental, patriarchal, calvinist, creationist, quiverfull, single-family income family. All of the -isms and ists and such slowly grew into our family until they reached their peak right about a year after I finished my 12th year of homeschooling/co-op/independent learning/community colleges.

At first, my family wasn’t too radical about religion. My parents knew they wanted to homeschool us from the beginning. I was the oldest, and with my father an officer in the military, I’m sure our moving around every 2 years probably played a factor in it. They wanted to give their children a religious up-bringing. I loved my childhood. My mother would take us on great and unique field-trips. We lived on the east coast then, and visiting Monticello where Thomas Jefferson lived and invented, and running on the field where the Wright Brothers first flew their plane, and seeing where George Washington carved his name in a natural bridge in the Appalachian mountains brought American history alive to me.

Then, when I was around 12, a new pastor was brought in by the church and my dad started to become even more “religious”. He started leading bible studies, and every drive to church would quiz us on Bible trivia. He insisted we have personal devotions every morning as soon as we woke up, and we’d have family devotions every night after dinner. I enjoyed learning about the Bible, I didn’t mind memorizing long passages, and worked up memorizing entire books of the Bible (his requirement before we could learn how to drive). A few years later, when I was around 16, he started taking me to creationism, evangelism, and worldview seminars. I enjoyed going to the seminars because I learned new things. I’d read the Bible countless times, I knew what it said, so different material was fascinating. I thought I wanted to be a missionary, so we took in-depth Islamic studies similar to what missionaries would learn. I went on a couple short-term mission trips and I realized I loved traveling. I made lasting memories meeting the local people in third-world countries.  I particularly loved hearing their stories and seeing how they lived their life, trying to understand their culture.

My father believed everything built on each other, and the Bible and God should impact every part of your life.  Christianity was the one thing that my dad and I shared. I was a “rebellious” child, so I was in trouble frequently, but religion was the one thing that I knew I could talk about  with my dad. Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christianity and A Case for Christ made a huge impact on me. I liked having all the answers to life’s toughest questions tightly sewn up in a book. Lee’s life story, that he used to be an atheist and he turned to Christ was powerful and spoke volumes to me. I was baptized in my late teens and while I had the occasional desire to “be more worldly” for the most part I was content with my faith.

***Far from the ocean shore, a small ridge forms past out-cropping of rocks. It didn’t know it, but the ocean behind it is telling it it’s going to do something big, eventually.***

Fast forward to the couple years after I graduated. My family (prodded on by my father) switched to a new church. The smallest church we’d ever attended. It was 40-50 people total I believe. My dad liked the paster because he was staunchly Calvinist, patriarchal, and believed in hard-core evangelism.  We became even more religious with church all day Sunday, Wednesday night Bible study, and Friday night evangelism. I had mixed feelings about the church. Since it was super small, there wasn’t an eligible guy in sight (let’s face it, every good Christian daughter gets married sooner rather than later). But I did get on board with the evangelism. I told myself it was preparation for the mission-field. But still, asking pure strangers “Are you good enough?” never quite sat well with me. I felt like I was guilting them into something. Shouldn’t a genuine faith not require guilt and fear? I preferred an exchange of ideas, friendly debate, explaining flaws in people’s logic.

I was able to go to community college, and I had a few part-time jobs that kept me out of the house a few days of the week. I loved working and earning a paycheck. Babysitting was easy for me, and better yet, when the babies went to sleep, I could try to catch up on the social culture that I felt so far behind in by watching cable TV, and even an occasional R-rated movie.  I’d listen to current music on the radio, and even a couple late-night shows that I knew my mother would never approve of, so I never told her.

***The ridge of water gathers strength, and form. It grows higher and seems to move faster. Even it doesn’t know where or when it’s going to break. It doesn’t know if if it’s going to be majestic and break cleanly, like glass, or tumble over-itself in a mass of foam.***

It starts in a worldly place, with a Christian friend. Of all things, I was trying to explain Carbon-14 dating to her. A tall, dark, handsome and mysterious man who has a couple of classes with me walked over and joined the conversation. He was obviously one of the “others”. The non-believers, the worldly people. We begin conversing, he starts asking me questions, and I tell him I don’t know, but I’d like to do more research. He’s very clear that he doesn’t want me to lose my faith, he just wanted me to think and explore some more. I tell him I don’t mind. It’s a good thing. I like researching and expanding my knowledge. So I go home and pull out every single book in our library that might possibly have to do with creationism apologetics. I read the sections on Carbon-14, and then, like the good scholar I am, I look at the reference pages. I am shocked to find the vast majority of the references were from obviously other Christian scientists who obviously believed in Creationism. I had a hard time accepting what I saw there, plainly. The books had been there the whole time, but I hadn’t seen the obvious deception. Their circular and erroneous logic.

***The wave quickly peaks, its crest perfectly formed in the crescent and the face of the wave crystal clear for a nano-second before it crashes and and the rest of the wave folds into itself.***

Looking at that reference page was the beginning of the end for me.  I’d decided that I’d need to move out. I had to reassess everything that I thought about my life, especially my spiritual life, and I couldn’t do it while living with my family, so I told my parents. My dad arranged for an intervention for me. They took me against my will to his pastor where they guilt-tripped me until I gave up my cell phones. The pastor wanted me to give up my “worldly” jobs, and quit going to a “worldly” school. He pushed for no internet, no phone, no friends, only family and church until I stopped doubting my faith and returned to the fold. That was when the wave crashed for me. I viewed it as essentially brain-washing. I told my father “If all you say is true, why do you need to brainwash me? Haven’t you always said the Truth is there? If I dig more, are you that uncertain that Your truth won’t hold?” It was a wave crashing. Because my father had taught me that everything depended on each other, every spiritual belief I had crumbled into a wide swath of bubbles and foam and nothing-ness.  And it crashed fast and hard – I had moved out of my family’s house within 6 weeks of looking in that first creation apologetics book.

Then, because my spiritual beliefs vanished, my life choices adjusted. I realized what I truly loved: learning and adventure. Traveling and meeting people and seeing how people lived their lives from their eyes, their culture, their values. I was free to work on my career because I sincerely enjoy earning a paycheck and providing for myself. I realized I could enjoy an intimate relationship without the vows of marriage, because, I reasoned, someone who’s not sure of themselves personally, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually should not commit themselves for a life-time to someone else. But most important, I was free to be me, and to figure out what life meant to me, not someone else’s interpretation of something that I should live by.

My wave crashed. Because it crashed, my life changed, but it was necessary, I believe it would have happened sooner or later. The ocean that is my life had the tremors all through my childhood. But it opened me up for my own personal journey, and that’s what matters in the end.

Expectations – Early Marriage and Babies

Photo credit: noahslightfoundation

Felt nostalgic on a rainy night, decided to look up the friends I spent my high school years with, seems like 85% are married, 50% of them have younger siblings that are married or engaged, and most of them have at least one kid, if they don’t have a second on the way.

Growing up very fundamental, religious, and home-schooled seemed to indicate that you get married as soon as possible (can’t be having sex out of wedlock – that would present a poor example to the world and we were supposed to be role models). The rumor-mill at church was so bad that people would start surmising that you were “courting” or dating-with-the-intention-of-marriage if they saw one person talking to another person of the opposite gender by themselves after church. I was suspected of such, or rather, I heard from my mother that someone else had asked her if things were headed “that way”.

I have mixed emotions seeing pictures of my old friends following the prescribed path, and evidently loving it. I can’t imagine being pregnant. I can’t imagine getting married in my early twenties. Not to say that my friends didn’t or haven’t gone through what I have as I moved out of my parent’s house, got a full-time job, took night-classes to finish my degree, living on my own or with a boyfriend. I have had time to reflect on who I was “brought up to be” and how I personally want to be and live my life. I have had time to explore life, try different forbidden or generally frowned on activities admonished against the authorities in my life when I was young.

The opinions I had as a teenager are still pretty much the same. I didn’t want to get married young, I didn’t want to have kids (I don’t know if that was a “forever” thing or just a “not for a few years” thought at that time, but that’s not really important). But that doesn’t mean I don’t get an emotional twinge when I see baby pictures of a friend’s baby when we used to sit in classes together, sing in an choir together, and go to each other’s birthday parties. I was Expected to do what they are doing now. I have to keep telling myself that I’m not wrong for not wanting what they have. I’m not guilty of whatever for not having a toddler running around my ankles and my belly pregnant with another one. I’m not sinning if I’m not a stay-at-home mom who greets her husband with a healthy home-made dinner. I am not ashamed I’m using birth control – we all know what that allows and doesn’t allow.

Venting about this helps. I’m starting to realize that the first few years I focused on just living out of the umbrella that was my life – my family and my church. I was just trying to live and prove to myself that I could make it in the world. I stuffed the hurt, the drama, the high-expectations, and the religious oppression down deep. I’m not and have no desire to live the lifestyle that my parents, church, and community tried to get me to swallow for 21 years. I do feel that I’m in a good place in my life, what I’m doing is meaningful, and I am having an impact. Being married with a kid on the way is not the only way to feel like that, and there are other perfectly fine and acceptable ways of living my life – like the way I am.

Photo credit: Noah Slight Foundation

P.S. I’m really excited I figured out how to link for the photo credit – yay me!

P.S.S. I wrote this blog yesterday, but today found a similar post. Here is a link to another blog post by a young woman who thinks and feels the same (although she has the perspective I would have if I still identified as Christian). Nice to know there are others out there like me.

 

This week….

This was/is kinda a crazy week. Last weekend I wasn’t feeling the greatest physically or emotionally, work seemed drag. I’m part of a group at work that is going through a year-long leadership training class. It’s extremely hard to get into, but I finally racked up enough kudo points with the bosses to be accepted. There were days that being a part of that group is the only reason I showed up at work. Close to the ending of the program, the group gets to try to orchestrate a fundraiser. Let me tell you – trying to figure out a fundraiser, get it through the myriad of approvals for the twenty things you thought wouldn’t need to be thought of twice, much less a written proposal that has to be approved by someone 4 ranks up, is not an easy task. Add in then around the 7-8 other people that you have to get agree on the ideas and how to get it going… well, let’s just say that I adopted the position of event coordinator. I have enjoyed it, but it hasn’t been easy. The reason? An 8-day vacation I’ll be taking in Hawaii next week. 🙂 The anticipation has been building for the last 3 months – and for the last half the work day, I wasn’t as nearly productive as I normally was. But at least I feel really good about where I left my team with me being gone all next week. Then my mom decided to spring an impromptu trip into my town to do some shopping – and decided to bring 3 of my brothers. The two nights before we leave for Hawaii I’ll have company… Cluttered house and all, with no food because I haven’t bought any because it will spoil by the time we get back. So of course I told her it was fine for her and everyone else to stay with me. I’m going to be going to get my hair colored tomorrow (have to look good when I meet my boyfriend’s mom for the first time) and the little errands that seem to creep up right before a big trip… and I have my family in town, and my house is barely presentable, but you know what? Who cares! My brothers won’t notice the mess – they are too busy taunting my boyfriend as they race him playing a racing game at their first attempt on an XBox 360. My mom is appreciative because she won’t be paying mega-money booking a hotel, I get family time with my siblings that I see far too infrequently. Plus, since they are in, they attract the attention of my beloved grandparents who also want to see family, so I get to see even more precious family! So they will have to lock up my house when they leave because I’ll be halfway to Hawaii by the time they get up, these memories are priceless. The more I “grow up” the more I realize family is priceless, my work will “work” itself out. Life is meant to be lived, one day at a time, looking ahead, and trying to move ahead, while treasuring your family.