Journey to Atheism, Part V

I wrote the entry copied below on the day after my 28th birthday. Growing up, I had been something of a “daddy’s girl.” I’d loved spending time with my dad, discussing philosophy and law and history. I admired his intelligence and adored his sense of humor. He’s a supportive, peaceful man, and he modeled the virtues of kindness, understanding, patience, and empathy to me. When I measure the value of a man, I measure those traits.

Dad and Mom, circa 2001

Dad and Mom, circa 2001

At this specific point in time, there was some upheaval going on in the lives of both my dad and I. Dad remarried after mom’s death. I often felt his new wife was indiscreet in her conversation with me– she treated me too much like a gal-pal, and didn’t seem to recognize the inherent need for circumspection around her husband’s daughter regarding intimate matters. So that was causing tension, obviously.

In the last week of November 2007, John was in a motorcycle accident and placed on temporary disability leave. A week later, in the first week of December 2007, a massive storm hit our state. Power lines were going down, flooding was everywhere, and it was generally just a massive suckfest.

I went to work at the college library that morning, only to find my co-workers standing in a worried clump as they listened to the radio. My supervisor advised me to hurry home and prepare for evacuation. As I drove home, the eerie wail of the city’s emergency siren began crying through the streets. I had only heard something like that in movies about the London Blitz, and the lonely sound echoing through the deserted and rain-swept streets made me shiver.

At home, John prepared us for evacuation. Our puppy, Sirius, and Kidling were packed up in the car, and John sent us off. He would be driving the Jeep up. We went first to my brother’s house, where we stayed a night or so, but it was crowded and Sirius was twitchy and terrified by their larger, full-grown dogs. So we talked to dad and his wife, but they were leery about Sirius and said we would either have to get rid of him or find someone else to take care of him. We ended up staying with the dog-friendly family of a friend of mine for a week or so.

With Christmas rapidly approaching they needed the guest rooms for their children, though, so I spoke to dad, trying to come up with a solution– keeping Sirius outside, in the garage, or in the green-room. I even offered to keep Sirius in our car. Each suggestion was shot down. Meanwhile, I was looking for a pet boarding place, but apparently we were not the only displaced family in the area to need emergency boarding for our pet. Every place I called was filled up. Finally, I found a place that would board him, but it would cost us $175/ week, which was pretty tight for us considering the motorcycle accident and natural disaster combined.

I asked dad for help with the boarding fees, and was told that wasn’t a possibility, either. We stayed with them for about a week and a half, total. His wife was, understandably, stressed by the influx of unexpected visitors, and it shortly became clear that she felt we were ruining her holiday. (That’s not inference, but a direct quote: “You’re ruining the holidays.”)

So in the last week or so of December, we moved back to the house in Centralia, which was now devoid of heating, interior walls, insulation and a kitchen. I swallowed my pride and went to the LDS church for aid, but was told they could not help us, because they needed to focus on active members. Later, two mormons from a ward back in Lacey did in fact come by for a day, having been told of our situation by my brother in law. They helped clean out some of the flood damaged items, although they also (curiously) tried to empty and move our hot water tank, and they also damaged some undamaged walls and doors. And they ripped out our telephone line.

I don’t know why they did any of that, but I do know they thought they were helping, and were not trying to be malicious.

I was feeling lost and abandoned by both my church and my dad, and I blamed myself. I thought it was because I was going inactive and questioning the nature of god. I thought I was losing his love because I had disappointed him, and this scared me. Recall, as you read this, that this was written in 2008. Now it is 2012, and I feel my dad and I have overcome these issues to rebuild our formerly close relationship. He has, since 2008, told me many times that he is proud of the person I’ve become– even after I told him I am an atheist and I have resigned from the church.

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i miss you

January 27, 2008, 16:04

I always feel a little sad around my dad anymore. When I was younger, we shared a camaraderie which I thought nothing could ever break. Time and the inevitable onset of my adulthood would, of course, only serve to bring us closer together. After all, we are similar. Thoughtful, intelligent, given to reading and debate.

This was not the course of events, however.

Instead, I drifted from the Church, and all unknowing, severed my easy relationship with my dad. Conversations with him dance around the unspoken questions now. “Where did I go wrong?” his eyes ask. “Why can’t you love me regardless?” my folded arms and tucked chin respond. Occasionally, one or the other of us will break. He’ll ask, “Didn’t we have Family Prayer? Family Home Evenings? Didn’t we attend church every week? Why don’t you believe?”

I’ll ask, “Do I press my beliefs on you? Do I require you to live in a manner you don’t agree with?” Stymied, we retreat to our corners, both of us unwilling to abandon our personal beliefs – me, with my absolute, unwavering belief in free will and free choice, in doing no harm to others but living my life as I see fit; and he, a faithful and righteous Mormon who is unswerving in his faith.

I cannot reconcile myself to a faith that I do not and think maybe I have never truly believed in. I see no point in forcing myself in a small box that does not exemplify my beliefs, my thoughts, or my morals. Personally, I feel that it would be an insult to the religion and to my father for me to mouth the words, all unbelieving, and to pantomime the actions, all uncaring. I played that act for many years, until the falsity of it stank around me and fouled on my tongue.

My father, however, sees only the rejection of my upbringing. He sees me turning my back on all that I was. He does not see me driving my car through city streets on lazy summer afternoons, singing, “Book of Mormon Stories,” or “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree” to my son.

So upset by the larger sight of my empty space at church, he doesn’t recognize the olive branch I have extended by allowing my son to go whenever they wish to take him. The Church has expanded and filled his vision, until it is all that our family ever was.

I remember other things, like birthday cakes and Japanese Gardens; family vacations and sunrises at the Grand Canyon. I remember camping trips and swimming pools, bike rides and car trips. I remember bedtime stories and Norwegian myths, the Little Match Girl and tears in my father’s beard. I remember thousands of moments, small and large, that make up my childhood. Thousands more than what I spent in prayer.

Now, however, I feel as though I’m re-enacting a play. Ironically enough, Fiddler on the Roof is a play that my father introduced to me and taught me to love. I am the Havilah to my father’s Tevye, and I stand here in a plowfield asking him to look at me, just look at me.

But there is no other hand.

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