I'm pretty often asked what it was like for me, an outsider to the P/QF movement, during my relationship with my ex and her family. What were my thoughts?...How did I cope?...et cetera. I'm gonna try to tell you in this series of posts. This post needs a great big SA here at the beginning, because it's gonna be sarcastic, dry, and will attempt to find humor at the expense of all parties, including me. I have to either laugh at it all or cry at it all, and I've been all cried out for a couple of years now.
Until 3 and a half, almost 4, years ago I'd never heard of "patriarchy". I wasn't homeschooled, and no one in my immediate circle of friends, peers, and associates had a homeschooling background. I'd barely heard Gothard's name in passing over the years (usually not in complimentary fashion) and I knew nothing of him or what he taught. I only knew that he was generally considered somewhat religiously goofy. His name meant nothing to me. I'd never heard of Vision Forum at all, nor of any of it's associated royalty. I wasn't aware of the quiverfull movement. Sure, I knew some people had large families, and I'd seen the commercials advertising the Duggar's show, but their show didn't interest me. I simply saw them as reckless and unfair to their children. I knew nothing of the "why" behind their large family (and it wouldn't have changed my opinion). I'd heard of "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" years ago, and thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard of. Still do. I thought even LESS of it when I found out the young age of its author. The handful of instances where someone I knew would mention it and praise it in some fashion were met with this from me: "That's just silly. Are you such a horndog that you can't control yourself and do right by the person you're dating?" I didn't feel anyone who needed such a legalistic set of guidelines for a relationship should even be in a relationship at all. I still don't. I pretty much dismissed it as "Christian" legalistic psycho-babble and tomfoolery, disappointed that the Harris guy was getting rich off of the conscious decisions of so many young Christians to willingly be stupid and let someone else think for them.
To sum up that loooong paragraph, while I knew there were some things that would be "different" about my ex, I really had no idea what I was getting into.
To best sum up my overall experience with her family, I needed a perpetual cartoon bubble (you know, those word bubbles over your head?). That's "perpetual". Stuck there with crazy glue. All the time. It needed to say, "What the...?!"
My ex's family is, hands down, the single most musically talented family I've ever encountered. They're also the single most spiritually, socially, emotionally, intellectually, and morally dysfunctional family I've ever personally encountered. Second place isn't even close. Not. Even. Close.
Back in 2006, I was working for one of the more influential people in a particular genre of Christian music, and someone who knew my ex's family had asked him if he could help them in the music business. He went out of his way to do so (a wasted investment, as ultimately he and his foundation lost thousands upon thousands of dollars due to the flakiness of my ex's family). Later that year, he invited them to attend the largest event in the genre, in Louisville, KY, an event which he is an owner of. I met her and her family that year at this event, found them very naive and different, but engaging, and was blown away by their talent. I saw her as a beautiful, quiet, and interesting young woman, but given the age difference, the fact that she lived on the other side of the continent, and my extremely full and stressful life, I thought nothing of it at the time. She and her sisters had seemed to take an interest in me, and I found it flattering, but I was a busy, busy man at the time with a lot of other responsibilities, especially during that particular event, which is always a hectic week - four sets on the main stage (with all of the logistical issues of gear and sound checks), other showcase events (and the same logistical issues), events and luncheons involving record labels I worked for as a session musician and as a company pastor, duties at my artist's booth and merchandise display (which I was in charge of that year), and constant interactions with fans seeking autographs or photos. Not a lot of free social time.
At this same event in 2007 I had far fewer responsibilities and much more free time. I was at my artist's booth when my ex came walking up to me, and Yowza! She looked gorgeous. Over the next couple of days we spent a great deal of time talking, and she was definitely under my skin. She was the kind of woman I could see myself marrying. Physically, just a gorgeous creation of a woman, and spiritually, she professed a deep commitment to her faith. Emotionally, I could see that there was some baggage, even though I wasn't sure of its origins, and I could see that she was behind in some areas, being extremely naive and green about many of the topics I might bring up in the conversation. I found her innocence beautiful. Also, it became very clear to me that she didn't care who I was, who I knew, what I did for a living, or how many (ignorant) people would want my autograph. I can't put into words how attracted to her that made me, as that was something I'd always wanted. Most of the women I've met through the music business have the depth of a day-old mud puddle.
It was somewhere in the course of our second deep conversation that some things began to ping my weird meter. She mentioned something concerning one of her sisters, and said her sister was "wrong" because she was being "rebellious" toward their parents. Ping! I asked her "How old is your sister?" Her sister was 25. I didn't press the issue, as I didn't want to close the door on any more weirdness that might seep out. I needed to know these things. Other words like "honor","submissive", and "godly" were also used in a very liberal, and I felt irresponsible, manner. I didn't hold it against her. I just wanted to see how the sausage was made in her mind concerning the critical mass of her beliefs.
Despite the bits of weirdness, there was a connection between the two of us, and it was well on the way to becoming a matter of the heart for us both. Within a couple of days, I decided to sit her down and discuss my interest in her. Her face lit up, and she also expressed her interest in me (she'd been interested in me since the initial meeting a year earlier), but at the same time I could tell she was extremely nervous, and I wanted to put her at ease. She asked me if I would talk to her father about this. I agreed, not really knowing what I was supposed to talk to him about ("Hey man, how about that game last night? Some game, huh? Yeah, well, err, nice talkin' to ya."), but, like I said, I just wanted to put her at ease.
[ETA: When I decided to talk to her about my interest in her, and set out to find her to have the conversation, I found her as she was coming to find me. She was extremely nervous, and before I could even utter some form of "hello", she told me, "I need to talk to you." Curious, I said, "Is now ok?" She nodded her head "yes". We took a walk to find a semi-private spot to sit down, and the whole time I could literally feel her tension and nervousness. Once we sat down, she timidly explained to me that her father felt she should apologize to me for having been "forward". She hadn't been forward at all. We'd merely spent a few hours talking in the preceeding couple of days, and hadn't even ventured into anything suggestive or romantic. We'd only talked. Yes, maybe she had instigated those conversations, but so what? "What the...?!" I told her how surprised I was by an apology that I didn't need or expect, and I began to feel that expressing my interest in her would almost do her a favor at that point, and relieve whatever ridiculous pressure of "wrongdoing" was being applied to her. It did help. It changed her from almost an embarrassed, humiliated, submissive person to an excitedly confused and nervously happy person. I could see the transformation in her face and eyes.]
Outside of the P/QF world of legalism and authoritarianism, it isn't normal for a grown man to approach the father of a grown woman and ask permission to get to know them better, or even, dare I say it, DATE! *gasp* I wasn't 17 year-old Jim-Bob asking 16 year-old Sissy Sue to the prom. Sure, we approach the father to seek a blessing prior to a marriage proposal, but even that's just ceremonial and tradition at its core. I mean, it's not like if he'd have said "no" that I wouldn't have still proposed if the two of us wanted to get married. Did he really think that if he'd have said "no" that I wouldn't have pursued a relationship with her? That's just dumb. But he's a pretty dumb dude.
The conversation with her father was pretty strange for me. It really, really perturbed me. And, dry sarcastic imp that I can be, I came really close to saying some interesting stuff. I wish I HAD said some of it. I began by expressing my interest in her and my desire to get to know her better. He wanted to know how I planned to do that. I WANTED to say, "Well, I thought I might get her liquored up real good, and later tonight, get us a suite down at the Galt House to see how we, umm, click, if ya know what I mean (as I elbow his ribs and *wink*)" Sheesh. I told him I hoped to get to know her better by spending as much time with her as possible over the next few days. He replied, "As long as it's in public places", as if an event where I was a recognizable face, with 20-25 thousand people on the grounds at any given time, offered private places. As I began to walk away, he stopped me, and he said, "I've heard you've been married before. Is that right?" The answer was "No", but what I WANTED to say was, "Dude, who have you been talking to about me?...because their version of me sounds a lot more interesting than mine."
[ETA: After this conversation with her dad, we had a set coming up on the main stage, and I had hoped to find her and see if she'd like to accompany me down to the stage and sit in the stage ring below the piano as we performed our set. No one in her family knew where she was. According to her sisters, she returned from our talk only able to say "He uh...He said, ummm...He uh" before disappearing. I looked high and low, and eventually had to give up my search for her and head down to the stage. It turns out, she had gone into the upper level of the building, found a fairly private spot with a sofa in a side room, and laid down and cried out of happiness for two hours.]
Over the next day or so, I began to notice him talking to various friends and peers of mine. He'd been going around and asking all about me, and creeping a lot of people out in the process. Most of them came to me over the next couple of days asking me, "What was that all about? That guy is kinda strange." Turns out he'd been telling them that I "had approached him to inquire about possible marriage with his daughter." Where's my "What the...?!" bubble when I need it?
She and I began to grow closer, spending as much time as possible together during the remainder of the event (several hours a night), and spending two to three hours daily on the phone in the weeks that followed. During this period, she informed me of her family's former involvement in an acknowledged cult, a cult that had been started by her great-grandfather years before. Her family had been ex-communicated when she was a toddler. It's pretty obvious that I already had deep feelings for her, being that the word "cult" entering the relationship vernacular in its formative weeks didn't send me running. Things were moving along fine, until...
During one conversation, I sensed some unease in her, and she told me her dad wanted to speak with me. He proceeded to tell me that "She's getting emotionally attached to you, and is missing you." I'm thinking, "Umm...Isn't that the point of all this?" He went on to tell me that he didn't like what he was seeing, and I was now no longer allowed to call her everyday. What an emotionally stunted, dictatorial moron. I asked, "Umm, shouldn't that be up to her, being she's a grown woman?" He responded with, "I'm her father and I don't like what I'm seeing, and I think this will be best for all concerned."
What I wanted to say was, "What I think would be best would be for you to have a hot cup of "Shut up" to go with a "Mind your own business" bagel and put your daughter back on the phone." This was my first real glimpse at just how dysfunctional of a dynamic I was dealing with, and just how spiritually and emotionally troubled her home life truly was. She felt things would go smoother for her if we went along with his "request", so we started an every-other-day telephone routine. I agreed for HER sake. Not his. I'd quickly lost interest in him.
Over the next few weeks, as things progressed, we openly acknowledged to each other that we saw ourselves as a future married couple. It's the natural process as two people begin to fall in love, so I was in no way threatened by thoughts or discussion of the subject, and I was honest about how I felt. She, however, did the majority of talking about marriage. Daddy dearest didn't like this. On one particular Monday, as I arrived home from the prior week of touring, an email awaited me. Her father essentially attempted to co-opt control of our relationship via this email, accused me of using the "tactics of persuasion" on his daughter, letting me know that he was unhappy with "the pace", that he considered certain topics off-limits for discussion (like I said, she was bringing up most of those topics, and she was a grown woman), and proceeded to tell me that "you are old enough to be her father". Sure I am. Of course I am. That is, if I were getting jiggy with it and impregnating the masses at 13 or 14 years of age. I'm not a violent person, but if he'd have been in the room with me when I read that email, I'd have shaved a couple of inches off of each one of his buttocks and beat him into next week with the shavings. I let members of my family read it, and my dad, who is as gentle of a soul as walks this earth, had steam coming out of his ears. I printed it out and carried it on the tour bus later that week to let a couple of my bandmates read it. One said, "That deserves a whuppin'! What an ass!" And it's true. The man is an ass. A restaurant-quality ass (most "patriarchs" are...it's the natural by-product of a messed-up authoritarian religious system). It was pretty clear that it wasn't just me "misreading" something.
This was the point where things went from "strange and different" to downright sickening (at times) and destructive. The point where people began to be senselessly and needlessly hurt, and hurt deeply, sacrificed on the altar of an evil, EVIL patriarchal doctrine to appease the tender sensibilities of a world-class narcissistic and sociopathic patriarse.
Part Two coming soon...For now I need to put a new coat of polish on my "What the...?!" bubble.