From left to right- my younger brother, me, our dad, my younger sister, & someone’s elbow.
This is the second part in a series of self discovery by looking at my dad, and our relationship. Be sure to check out the first post on the connection between our anger. These posts are a way of thinking out loud to discover if there is a connection between my dad and my depression.
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I don’t resent my dad. And I don’t intend for these posts to shame him on the www.
He always provided for our family. He never physically abused my mom and never cheated on her. He never drank and he never came home drunk. In fact he came home every day after work, whereas a lot of his friends probably took to the bar and the strip club…even if they were married. He conducted himself like a gentleman.
Dad was a family man. He took our family camping each year. He raised me in the Baptist church and modeled Godly principles. He served his country for 21 years in the US Navy as a submariner. He’s retired three times since then. Certainly a hard worker with a work ethic as impregnable as steel. He will always be an honorable man in my eyes.
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This post is a narrative on the role religion played both in my life and in the relationship between my dad and I.
The Baptist Church and Hell-
Dad and I had a tenuous relationship exacerbated with the issue of church. I grew up in the New England Baptist church. Yeah, you know, fire-and-brimstone, burn in hell if you do one thing wrong. Set those furnaces to BROIL for this guy! Start the barbecue, baby, this party’s about to get started!
Understanding this Baptist view of Hell is important because it was a major deterrent and tenet of my church.
So, also having a huge inner self-critic (Type 1 enneagram), really made things ride high on the scale of suckwad . I grew up with a huge guilt complex (still live with that, good times) and fearing my actions would earn me an eternity in napalm. You know that stuff has to extinguish itself, right? The jelly burns until there’s no more jelly.
Burns through clothes.
Through eyelids, lips, and scalps.
Down to the bone. I suppose it could disintegrate bone and teeth, too.
The cool thing I’ve learned about the fire in hell is that it never goes out. Kind of like those war memorials of the eternal flame – like the JFK memorial. You’re just doused in it. And you burn for the rest of your existence with no relief. Yeah that mess scared me as a child.
Even more as a grown man.
That was such a great deterrent to being unsaved. Screw that mess! Burn in hell for eternity, or live in a place with no brokenness, sadness, hurt, or pain?
The answer was easy. SAVE ME LORD.
Now in reality I didn’t decide to be born again for this reason, but growing up in the Baptist church had a huge impact on my growing up.
Here’s a few ways-
We always fought about church-
I remember that my dad and I argued pretty much every Sunday after church about things like-
♦ Why I had to go if I didn’t get anything out of it?
♦ Why I couldn’t wear jeans and had to tuck my shirt in (I HATE tucking my shirts in, call it slovenly, it works)?
By the time I signed up for the Marine Corps, I was ready to get out and live my own life, free from the guilt of Baptist Christianity.
I have a huge guilt complex-
I’m really glad you asked about that last part…you know…that part about guilt. Guilt is a HUGE part of my personality.
Just shy of 42 years old and I am starting to outgrow it and put it in its place. I don’t know where this came from but I have a feeling the answer lies somewhere between me being the oldest child and the tenets of that little Baptist church in southeastern Connecticut. I’ve talked to other “oldest children” and they seem to be able to relate to this idea.
I don’t think it’s the fault of my childhood church, rather it may have been the way I interpreted what was preached. There didn’t seem to be any raw compassion.
There was a lot of friendliness, but there wasn’t any talk of real world issues.
THAT’S IT! No. Talk. Of. Real. World. Issues.
No talk of struggles with porn.
No talk of suicide.
No talk of brokenness.
No mention of…
…“I’m hurting and I need your help”
…“I can’t pay my electric bill and don’t have food for my kids”
…“my wife cheated on me and I can’t handle these feelings”
…“I am constantly angry”
You know…no talk of real talk. It was all so perfect and I never felt like I fit in.
So I just suffered inside.
I felt like the black sheep-
I felt like a circle trying to fit in a square.
I never felt a connection between church and my life. I felt so OUT OF TOUCH with it all. It seemed SOsososososo isolated to me.
I felt outside and evil for thinking, acting, and being something that was SO out of touch with my church. In actuality, I probably thought things that a lot of other folks there thought and struggled with.
I felt shame because of my lust.
I felt evil because of my language.
I feel like a let down to the people around me.
In fact, if you REALLY knew me…
I always felt like I was either hiding something. Or faking something because I felt it would earn my dad’s approval. It wasn’t his fault. I always thought my dad and mom were perfect. They never hit each other and I don’t remember them fighting until their separation. They never cussed at us or berated us. They never had affairs. They never drank. They were both good, good parents.
And along with the Baptist upbringing, I never felt like I could measure up to their example. In fact I remember one day my mom told me that I woke them up cursing at the top of my lungs in my sleep. I remember my mom saying something like that meant I do it in when I’m awake. And she was right.
[“I hear the secrets that you keep…when you’re talking in your sleep”]
I felt a huge amount of shame and guilt. That afternoon, after I got home from school I wrote my first suicide note at my desk with a razor blade out.
That’s what my religion did for me.
“The opiate of the people”.
Thanks Karl Marx.
Let’s wrap this up F Troop…
♦ Openness and input. I don’t want to force my daughter to go to church. I’d like to think of it as encouraging her and explaining the benefits to her. I don’t want to it to be a “you’re going as long as you’re living (visiting) under this roof.” She should be able to see some importance in going. Some goodness in her life. It ain’t easy getting up to an alarm clock on Sunday. But amen brother, it helps me to be a gentler, self-sacrificing human. I also want her to feel her input is welcome and regarded. If she doesn’t feel she is getting anything out of it, I would prefer to have a discussion with her, instead of some mandated directorate sent down from me to her.
♦ Try not to give up. As a child, my religion reinforced my already huge guilt complex. For the past several years, I have become a member of a church where I feel like my needs are being met. We call it our hospital. It feels good. I’m glad I found my way there.
♦ Admit your humanity and imperfection to your kids. I try to remember to tell my daughter my imperfections whenever I can. I don’t want her to grow up with the guilt complex I had and still struggle with. I tell her when I’m wrong and I apologize. I give her examples of times I’ve jacked things up. I constantly tell her it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and don’t repeat them. She’s seen me give a reckless driver the bird and has heard me cuss. She knows I have a temper. I slip. She knows that. And she knows it’s wrong. She also knows that I’ve been humbled because I try to admit my imperfection to her.
Thank you for taking your time to read this post, my friend. How has religion impacted who you are today? I welcome your thoughts in the Comments section.