Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Joke Was On Me (Part Five)

Before I go on with the story, I want to address a frequent question...

Many people have wondered why (if I loved the girl as much as I claim) I didn't just play along with the courtship madness, win over the patriarse, and marry the girl. It's a bit of a variation on the idea that I wasn't willing to do "whatever it takes".

"Why would you put that poor girl through all that?"

Through all what? Telling her the truth? Combatting every lie and standing against every poisonous teaching ever poured into her? If I genuinely loved her (and I did/do), how could I not present the truth against the lies and stand against all of the emotionally and spiritually destructive baloney she'd been taught? How could I continue in a serious relationship with someone who believed and lived this junk, and loving her as I did/do, how could I just leave her in that mess?

She had to come to think critically and examine this stuff before we began our lives together. To have played along, married her, and then spring the truth on her, deciding then to encourage her to critically examine all the crap she'd been taught, would've been as manipulative as her family and friends were to her (I'm not a fan of emotional leveraging). It would also have made me every bit the hypocrite her family and friends are. It would've been enormously risky and unhealthy for our marriage, blatantly unfair to us both. I didn't want to place a bandaid on a sucking chest wound and delay surgery until a more "convenient" time. She needed emotional and spiritual surgery, and while I wasn't authorized, equipped, or qualified to perform it - I absolutely could, and did, encourage it. I don't use bandaids when the source of the problem can be addressed.

Imagine if I had just played along, won over the patriarse, married the girl, and THEN, in addressing the poisons her mind had been polluted with, she'd rejected the truth? That would've left our marriage in one big mell of a hess.

Now then, back to the story...

In the weeks that followed my purchase of the ring, things took a turn for the peaceful, her father continued to basically stay out of the way (if nothing else, my Thanksgiving email produced some breathing room for us - perhaps, now knowing I wasn't a pushover, the patriarse was just regrouping), and our conversations turned much more serious in nature. Now I was the one instigating marriage and future talk. There were a few things I needed to be solid on before I could pop the question. My view of marriage is somewhat unique - I've always believed it genuinely begins, in God's eyes, with the promise - everything else is just ceremony and legality. I only intended to propose once in my life, and I needed to know that SHE knew, and respected, what a "yes" would mean to me. She assured me that she did, in fact, know and respect what a "yes" to my proposal would mean, and, whenever the time came that I might propose, she promised me that my proposal would be treated with understanding and respect of its gravity for us both.

We dug a little deeper into domestic arrangement. We didn't agree on everything (even though she now believed, at least on a surface level, that her patriarchal upbringing had been unhealthy and many of the teachings were askew), but there were no deal-breakers. She was adamant that she wanted to homeschool any future children. I told her I wasn't opposed to that at all, but I didn't think it was wise to make concrete plans about future, potentially liquid circumstances, especially since public schooling isn't the boogieman she'd always been taught. She was adamant that she wanted home childbirth. That was the ONE issue where I had to draw a line. It would all be dependent upon where we lived, as far as I was concerned. The home I was looking into for us is at least 30 minutes from the nearest hospital, and there's a history of REALLY large babies in my family. A maternal uncle was 13lbs, my paternal grandpa was 14lbs, my dad and brother were both 10lbs, and I was 8lbs, 15 ounces, and they took me several weeks early as a precaution. My brother had nearly killed my mom. An emergency C-section saved them both. Then, of course, there was her indoctrination into the idea that "God controls the womb". While that may or may not be so, I assured her that she and I would be controlling the sex, and I think it reckless to introduce new children into a home that may not be able to care for them appropriately and then blame God for it and expect Him to bail us out for our own recklessness. In fact, I think it's beyond reckless. It's an abuse all its own.

As far as the intrusions from her father, she told me "Lew, it will get SOOOOO much better after we're engaged." Mmmm hmmm. With that, I need to back up just a bit in the storyline before moving into the next phase...

A few months back when her father had thwarted my Christmas visit to their home, I began searching for alternatives. Her family was scheduled to perform on a cruise ship during Valentine's week, and this looked like the best option. The cruise itself wasn't a big musical event. It was a regular cruise, and a man with a part-time gospel quartet decided to get a few other relatively unknown singers and groups, get the cruise line to give them a small theater on the ship, and sign up a couple hundred or so cruisers. The other 2000 or so passengers had nothing to do with it. Just a group of a couple hundred or so hearing generally marginal to subpar singers (except for my ex's family) singing Christian music nightly in a private theater. Once I found out about it, I made arrangements with the artist I toured with to have a couple of weeks off, made arrangements for someone to sub for me, and reserved a cabin on the ship. When my ex found out that I'd purchased a ticket, she asked "Do you need to talk to dad about this?" I told her that if I could work it out to meet them a few days early as they were on their way to Miami and ride down with them, then by all means, I'd ask her dad if it was ok - but only pertaining to meeting up with and riding down with them. I didn't need his permission or approval to go on the cruise, and I'd no intentions of seeking it. Within a few days, the new beau in her sister's life (the bandaid from Part Four) wanted to know if I'd like a roommate on the cruise. Regardless of my thoughts about what was going on with her sister, he was a nice enough guy, was pretty sharp, and I guessed he could figure things out quickly enough, so I took him on as a shipmate for the week. Within another week or so, the patriarse called out of the blue wanting to know if I'd want to meet up a few days early and ride down with them. I couldn't help but raise my eyebrows, but we worked out the details, and we were on for February.

(For the record, had he been unwilling to work out the meet up plan, I'd have just driven down to Miami. I'm NOT a happy flier. My standing policy: The only way a plane is gonna kill me is by landing on top of me. I've flown, in both large and small planes, but me no likey. Central Florida is full of my relatives (that's where I'm from, originally), and I'd have left a bit early and spent some time visiting on the way.)

During this period, my ex once said to me somewhat in self-discontent, "Lew, please pray for me." I asked what specifically she wanted me to pray for. She said, "I don't feel like I've been reading my bible enough or praying enough, and I wanna do better with those." Oh wow. Taken aback, the only way I knew to answer her was, "You know, if you're only doing those things out of obligation and duty, what's the point?" And really, what exactly IS the point of dutiful, obligatory bible reading and prayer unless your Christianity is works-based? I mean, why not just read the instruction manuel for the microwave oven, and then stand in front of it and tell it how much you appreciate the magic it performs on Swanson Hungryman dinners when you don't want to cook? You'd accomplish just as much, because your heart would be in it just as much. So many young people from P/QF families feel obligated to do these things, and feel like a lesser Christian if they don't do them.

I could see that she was VERY immature spiritually. Not by her own choice. She was the product of the neo-conservative Christian homeschooling jar she'd been raised in. As I've said before, when you plant a seed in a jar, you sentence the plant that will result to a best case scenario of growing into the shape of the jar - but NEVER exceeding it. No matter how much the sprigs and shoots want to spread out and reach toward the sun that shines on them and gives them life, the jar forms a barrier that prevents it. More often than not, in the P/QF paradigm, the parents, particularly the father, play the role of the jar. Sadly, I think the reason that young women leaving the P/QF lifestyle encounter so much grief, resistance, and totally unnecessary and abusive drama is a simple one: For them to ever live in freedom, the jar has to be shattered. Few P/QF parents volunteer for as much. Exit is NEVER simple. NEVER easy. The jar has to shatter.

Our plan was to meet a few days prior to the cruise in Forsyth, GA, about a 6 hour drive for me. My folks rode down with me (anxious to meet the young lady who'd smitten their boy) so they could bring my vehicle back home for me. I'd booked a concert for her family in FL on the way to the ship, and another in Roanoke, VA for after the cruise, to help them out financially and leave them without wasted days. I'd travel with her family (they were in an RV at this time - a church in MN had given it to them a couple of months prior) while they performed a few concert dates (they'd pick up the bandaid at the airport in Miami the night before boarding), board the ship and cruise with them for a week, and then, they would head back here to NC where they'd do a couple more concert dates and spend a few days in my home, meeting and spending time with family and friends.

I surprised her by showing up in Forsyth a little earlier than planned, and she nearly squeezed me in two. We spent as much time together as humanly possible over the next several days, and loved every minute of it. We'd take long walks together whenever they stopped somewhere in effort to find our own slice of privacy. A funny sidenote - some of my bandmates had jokingly said stuff like "don't break out any of that Mouy Thai stuff on her dad, now" on our last tour run before meeting up with her family. Years ago, I'd been involved in martial arts (my uncle is an instructor and Tae Kwon Do master). While no one had ever confused me with Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris, I still remember enough self-defense basics to give someone a pretty good tussle - even though, at my age, I might sprain parts of my body that heretofore I haven't known to exist. When she'd learned of this a few months before this meeting, she excitedly wanted me to show her a few self-defense moves at some point. Now maybe this was petty of me, but I decided that sometime during my first night on the RV I'd show her a couple of things - in full view of the patriarse. Her sisters also joined in. As much as I hate alpha dog games that people play, I found it a great way to subliminally send the message to the patriarse that I could very easily kick his aesthetic if it ever came to that. The imp in me still chuckles at what might have been going through his mind as he watched.

In the days prior to boarding the ship, I was able to take her family to visit some of my relatives in Florida, particularly an aunt that I was especially close to growing up, and was able to introduce her to some old, old friends. We had a very interesting, and special for us both, few days together. 

Some of the weirdness would creep in, especially when her sisters would begin to opine about the "godly" ways to go about relationships, and their views on kissing, holding hands, et cetera prior to marriage. I also sat in on her family's daily devotionals/indoctrination sessions. Overwhelmingly boring. Her dad would read some passages from the bible as part of something like a "read the bible in a year" program, there'd be minimal talk about any of it (I think that was for my sake being that, at that time, I was serving as road pastor for the artist I toured with, serving as "company pastor" for a record company I worked with, and up until a few months prior, serving as something of a pastor to a very small group of people that met weekly in my home), then each person had to mention a prayer request, and then each person, in turn, said an audible prayer. I kept mine pretty vanilla. Sometimes prayer should be intimate. If I'd said what I really wanted prayer for, and prayed the prayer I really needed, my prayer request would've been "that this religious craziness doesn't rub off on me" and my prayer would've been "God...These people are nuts! Help me! Please! I just love the girl!"

The night before the cruise, we picked up "the bandaid", and the sister he was there for was all smiles. This troubled me soooo deeply. It had nothing to do with him. He was a really nice guy, an EMT with a good career ahead of him, and a bright mind. The whole stinking thing was just so unhealthy for her (as I got into in the last installment). I pitied them both. Her for what her parents were doing to her, and him for the potential emotional firestorm he was entering into blindly. Ironically, the guy this sister had "given her heart away to", and been so in love with just a couple of months prior, was now referred to (post reindoctrination session out-of-state "prayer vigil") in very unflattering terms by the whole family, but especially by her. So sad. So very sad. The real irony is, by the end of this particular year, when things went really sour and became really lonely in her life, HE's the person she reached out to. Sad.

The next morning we boarded the ship. They all relied on me very heavily through the boarding process, as I'd done this so many times at this point that it was second nature. If ANY group of people seemed out of place in the port in Miami boarding a cruise to the Bahamas, it was the fundamentalist homeschooled crowd I was with. But, they were too ignorant to know it.

In the next piece...the proposal.


  1. How could it have ever been loving for you to lie and play a game that you don't believe in? 
    I've definitely heard the "do whatever it takes" bit. The men set up these ridiculous hurdles, and if the guy won't play the game, he's not "man enough." Funny thing is, it's the guys with absolutely no spine who agree to subject themselves to that. I really respect the guys who I know have stepped up to that, realized what was really at stake, and said, "You know what? No."
    The other thing is, you can only help someone who wants to be helped. So many patriarchal fathers have a creepy death-grip on their daughters and, more importantly, their power. If a daughter is clinging to that lifestyle, sadly, she cannot have any normal, healthy relationships, and no one can try to give her that.
    Your ex sounded like she was reaching out.
    It's devastating that the indoctrination won. =(
    But anyway, that "go the distance" bit is mumbo jumbo. If truth has to be sacrificed along the way, what do you have left?

    Hope you're sleeping well!
    I can imagine how painful and exhausting it must be to relive this.

  2. Wow, Lewis. Just wow. I know we've never met, but you mentioned martial arts and my son used to be a competitive you're almost like family. I'd like to knock the jerk's teeth out for the way he treated you...but mainly for how he treated his daughter. My granddaughter's first birthday was yesterday, and I actually thought about you while I was watching her jam pieces of cupcake into her mouth. I would fight anyone who tried to make her feel "less than."

  3. Well said Amy - I've often wondered how it is that patriarchal-influenced daughters and their families expect their guys to be "leaders" and then turn around and make them (or allow them to have to) jump through hoops, do tricks and submit to an insanely invasive analysis to prove how good a follower they are to be worthy of marrying into their borg collective - whoops, I mean "family".


    Jim K.

  4. Actually, if i were to ask you a "why didn't you" question, it would be "why didn't you suggest to her that she leave (her family) that cult?" Or with the dynamics going on and the unfamiliar territory, did it just not occur to you?

  5. Glad you took a break and glad you're back! In addition to the story, lots of good thoughts here to mull over.

  6. You were wise. We've seen the fallout from people who either fled and married, or one partner did the whatever it takes part. It rarely ended well. Marriage can't start out like that, it needs enough regular nurturing on its own without the extra baggage. And, bring grandchildren into the mix, and then the estrangement and hostility can get really ugly. You were wise, and you were a gentleman.

  7. Actually, if i were to ask you a "why didn't you" question, it would be "why didn't you suggest to her that she leave (her family) that cult?"

    Eventually I'd practically beg her to.

    Or with the dynamics going on and the unfamiliar territory, did it just not occur to you?

    At this point of the story, I was still pretty ignorant, overall, about the dynamics of cultic situations and spiritually/emotionally abusive situations. I had trouble grasping that someone could look at quite obvious right contrasted against quite obvious wrong and struggle to determine between them. I thought that if she would just think about it, the answer would be easy, even if it had its own fallout. Really, I didn't begin to intently study these dynamics until after the breakup. There was so much constant drama and turmoil - not with US or created by US, but created by the people around her - that I was constantly having to turn my boat into the waves and didn't have the opportunity to think about much else other than staying afloat.

    The one thing I regret the most about all of it...It all made me a lesser pastor to the people I was supposed to be serving.

  8. Amy...Lots of wisdom in what you wrote there.

    Dorothy...Belated Birthday wishes for the little one.

    Jill...I hope my choices were those of a gentleman, even if in carrying them out I proved something less. I can be a wolverine when I feel people are being wronged, and add in the emotional hurts - it's a wonder I have any sanity left.

  9. No offense to those who wondered why you didn't play along, but this would have been disastrous. Either she fails to fall in line, or she does but now you're the godfather.

    Curious, do you know if they read your blog?

  10. They don't. They think I'm a long defeated and forgotten enemy. They got what they wanted, and they don't really care if I rot. People are completely expendable in that paradigm.

    At some point I may make them aware of it, just to know that I'm trying to make something good out of all the crap, stink, and stain they introduced into my life.

  11. I just found your blog from Permission to Live. Just read through all 5 installments of this series. Pretty gripping stuff. I grew up homeschooled but in a smaller family. We believed in courtship at the time, but by the time I got married, I was into dating. I am a little troubled by how familiar some of the stuff you are talking about sounds to me. Not all of it, but a fair amount. I'll be back.

  12. It totally is off topic, but as a homebirther, I just have to say it: homebirth is safer than hospital births for the typical healthy woman. *sighs breath of relief and resumes the story* :)

    (Here's a study for you if you're interested: )

    I remember the "do whatever it takes" stuff. It's just not FAIR, you know? Well, yes you DO know. My dad was asking my (now HUsband) to compromise his convictions and beliefs. That's just dishonesty. I am now glad my husband DIDN'T do whatever it took. :) (Though in our own way we did.)

  13. Michelle - I had a homebirth too and had the same thought!

    And yet, in this context it still sets my teeth on edge, because of how it's imposed on these young girls as this purer, holier, more righteous ideal (and thus failure if it doesn't happen). Plus that idealizing leads easily into the very dangerous unassisted births, 'cause if you REALLY trust God with your womb... (oy, there are some stories I have heard from a family member who works in these circles - let's just say that there are patriarses out there who don't like being under a midwife's authority.)

    There are in my opinion many, many great reasons to go for a homebirth, but I hate that they set it up as necessary and morally superior.

  14. True! That is a very, very good point CLDG. :) "let's just say that there are patriarses out there who don't like being under a midwife's authority." Ha! Then maybe those patriarses oughta go to midwifery school so they can know how to deliver a baby! :P

  15. Yes. Home birthing might be the way to go but then you don't get the free daycare for the first few days, the awesome food, AND most importantly, you have to clean up after yourself./

  16. I'm not against homebirthing, and I hope I haven't given that impression. What I'm against is an almost religious allegiance to it that, in some cases, would put the mother and child at risk. It hits pretty close to home. If my mom had been adamant about homebirthing my brother, neither one of them would be here today, and by default, neither would I.

    If women prefer it, and aren't risking the health of either themselves or the child, I'm all for it. I just didn't think it wise for my ex to set her plans in stone, given that the babies in my family line generally rival an extra-large sack of potatoes.

  17. Incongruous,
    I had 3 home births, AND all the perks you mentioned. It's called "living near a zillion sisters, mom, MIL, and a great husband". :) All I did was have the baby, they did everything else. And I betcha the food they made me was 110% better than any hospital food. ;)

    I'm a huge home birth advocate, but I simply cannot stand the "holier than thou" attitude in women who do it for religious reasons. Or men who make their wives do it against the wife's wishes or what is best for her, or treat her like a failure if she ends up in the hospital. Ugh.

  18. Lewis, I did get that vibe that you weren't for it but I also had NO IDEA that there was some religious stigma attached to it. I TOTALLY understand now. That's just so crazy.

  19. Incongruous,
    Not true, actually. most people who homebirth absolutely do not want that "childcare" because the first few hours/days of a baby's life are crucial for bonding, the breastfeeding relationship, and mother's health as well. The midwives clean up all the equipment themselves, do any laundry, etc before they leave. Being at home, you get to have homemade meals, crawl into your own bed, take a shower, not worry about hospital staff coming in during all hours bugging you. :D

    Okay, ending homebirth discussion, haha. Sorry, lewis, didn't mean to usurp your comments. I just wanted to make sure you weren't against homebirth.... :)

  20. I can relate to you not wanting to worm your way in and then fix her. I had to prove certain things to DH before he would take the relationship further, because I was really on shaky ground. I do not recommend this in healthy relationships, but I do agree in dealing with the thinking before engaging.

  21. Lewis, Thank you for sharing your story.

    My husband has had to help me work through some hefty emotional baggage, and I'm sure many husbands have had similar tasks, but nothing anywhere NEAR what this poor girl has been through.

    I still vividly recall a time when he sat in the living room, and was basically grilled by my father on something that he had decided. We were already engaged, the date for our wedding was set, and every parental approval "hoop" (and really, honestly there weren't many) had been jumped through.

    My husband was mad enough that he wanted to throw that arrogant little gasbag through the front window. His opinion of the guy hasn't improved any with age. The source of the conflict? My husband stuck to his decision, and showed himself to be a man with convictions and the ability to make a decision, and stick to it. I am not sure but it's entirely possible that was the day my father realized that this would not be someone he could ever hope to gaslight, and who would see through every mindgame he attempted to play.

    I don't know that my mind was clear enough to recognize everything that meant at the time, but looking back, I am grateful that my husband NEVER compromised who he is for the sake of pleasing my father. Yes, he did "play nice" and did what he could to maintain an amicable relationship, much like you agreeing to weird stuff like scheduled phone calls, etc. but when he needed to put his foot down, he did. And when he asked my father's permission to marry, he even told me he didn't care what the answer was, it was between US. NOW I see exactly what he meant, and I thank God for that.

  22. "Many people have wondered why..I didn't just play along with the courtship madness, win over the patriarse, and marry the girl"

    Because you're a man and not a puppet? You don't soft-foot around to make an arse happy. And she's a grown woman who needs to stand up for herself.