Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Joke Was On Me (Part Eleven)

So now I was gonna get my first taste of Grandpa.

Her paternal grandfather was likely the most influential person in her life - something I'd later discover was a huge contributor to many of her insecurities and askew standards. He wasn't a part of the P/QF movement directly, but, he was his father's son. His father had created the little fundamentalist cult group they'd all come out of.

The day after she informed me of his desire to talk to me, he called. He went on and on about the many failures of his son, speaking  a great deal to an issue between the patriarse and the oldest daughter from the summer before - later that day even forwarding me a bunch of personal correspondence between he and his son concerning it. Some really screwed up stuff all the way around. Then, unsolicited, he went into almost a self-defense mode about his father and his own religious past, claiming that his father didn't start a cult, but rather, started a fellowship of sincere Christians that didn't become cultic until his father had died and some other less scrupulous men had grappled their way into leadership. I've no doubt that many, if not most, of the people who had become a part of his father's group were sincere and well-intentioned, but I've even less doubt that his father's teachings had created - at the very least - an environment ripe for cultic dynamics. I've read some transcripts of some of his messages. Fundamentalist, narrow-minded, some of it just downright kooky. Rigid views on gender. One message was titled "Heady Women and Headless Homes", for instance, so it's pretty clear that his father wasn't exactly a "thinking" man, but rather a fundamentalist literalist, and probably an imbibler and religioholic to some degree.

While I was glad that grandpa had taken my ex in for a couple of days while things were at the boiling point in patriarseville, there were some things about this initial conversation that troubled me. The largest red flag for me was that he seemed to skirt around just how wrong his son was, any way you might measure it, in what he was doing to his family currently, seeming more bent on past issues, nor did he seem terribly concerned with the aberrant doctrines involved - despite having told my ex that, as an adult, she was only obligated to honor her parents, not to obey them. I got the sense that there was some sort of feud or vendetta, some sort of ulterior motive in his desire to involve himself. I didn't think he was as concerned about assisting "us" (me and her - and watching out for her best interest) as he was about capitalizing on the situation and using us as a means to get the drop on his son in some way. No matter how I tried to get a feel for where he was on what was going on currently, he'd skirt around it, which clued me in to the feud dynamic, but also, clued me in to the lack of understanding, on his part, of just how messed up his son really was.

When we'd had our difficulty back in the fall, when my chief concern was about the intrusion of her parents, and my belief (which continues to this day) that however you have to deal with in-laws prior to the marriage is generally how you'll be dealing with them for the rest of your life, she had broached the subject of my concern with her grandpa. Her grandpa had told her, with much bravado, "You tell Lewis that if they tried to interfere in your marriage, I'd lay down in front of their car if I had to! That would be stopped!" I knew that was BS. If what they were doing would call for that kind of action after a ceremony, seems to me it would be wrong at ANY time, so why wasn't he napping under the tires now? Somehow, in their world, a wedding ceremony flipped a plethora of magic switches that instantaneously changed outlooks, behaviors, emotions, moral parameters. Promises were nothing. To them, it was all in the ceremony. 

Wrong is wrong is wrong. Anytime and any place. Wrong is wrong.

What this initial encounter gave me a wake-up call to was this: All of the people in her world were shull of fit. That isn't hyperbole or exaggeration. I came to know character after character (with grandpa leading the pack) from here on out who seriously, seriously, over-estimated themselves and their personal fortitude, who were overwhelmingly liberal and generous in their self-assessments of how committed they were to doing the right thing in a given situation. People whom I could anticipate the future courses of actions and behaviors of, without fail, I repeat - without fail, by taking every bold declaration, every statement of belief, every stated measure of morality regarding right and wrong, and expecting the exact opposite of everything they'd said. It never failed. Everything they declared they'd never, ever do - they did. Everything they were so demonstratively adamant that they stood for - they acted against. Everything they ever said they would do, everything they constantly assured me of and begged me to believe they'd do - they didn't do. Heck, I have a ton of it in their own writing - samples of which we'll probably get into in future installments.

After this first call, I was even less comfortable with the involvement of her grandfather. He struck me as the most self-righteous, religiously grandiose individual I'd ever encountered. The kind of guy I could literally imagine writing hymns about himself. The kind of guy who gets up in the morning, and, like Ricky Bobby, pisses excellence, sings "How Great Thou Art" to himself in the bathroom mirror, sits down to a breakfast of Heavenly manna, then later, spends some time working on his Apostle Paul impression, getting the inflections just right on his "Certainly not!" and his "God forbid!", then reads from the Holy papyrus just to remind himself how much more spiritually advanced he is than the rest of us weak-minded souls.

The one interesting thing about the conversation, though, was that her grandfather told me, "There's no reason to wait or sense in waiting until October to have the wedding. **** told me that you have time off in August, and I think you should do it then. The weather in October will be a guessing game. It might be nice, but it might also be cold and rainy. She wants an outdoor wedding, and August will probably be hot, but it's a safe bet to be dry." I agreed with the reasoning entirely, and this hadn't escaped my thinking prior to this conversation, but with all the dynamics involved, I was content to leave the date alone - unless her father became intent on making her life hell, at which point we could do it yesterday as far as I was concerned. I'd want to get her out of that as soon as possible. Apparently, he'd already mentioned this August scenario to her...but my main concern was dealing with the dysfunction of the here and now and her well-being, as well as our well-being as a couple, and THEN we could talk about changing the date if we needed to.

When she and I first spoke after the initial call from her grandpa, while I didn't get as in-depth about it as I have in the previous couple of paragraphs, I made clear to her that, again, while I appreciated her grandparents housing her for a few days, I wasn't at ALL comfortable with his involvement in "us". She began singing his praises once again, "But Lew, he's such a "godly" man. People come to his home from hours away just for his counsel and his wisdom." First of all, those poor people. Those poor, poor people. What I think is that he revels in people seeking his counsel, that he revels in being considered a spiritual "wise man", that he cultivates such a persona, and does so to offset the deficiencies he feels in being booted out of the movement his father started and that he, personally, was a "big deal" in. It's all unhealthy. Both for him and the people subjected to his "wisdom". He was and is a man with no real sense of the people around him. I mean, he had no idea how deeply the people he was closest to, the people he most confided in, were involved in the Christian homeschool culture and the Gothard, VF, and Pearl aspects of it. These same people were/are also the closest confidants of his son. He kept encouraging his son to heed their counsel on the issue of me and my ex, completely unaware that they were as batcrap crazy with P/QF doctrine as his son was, completely unaware of the poisons they filled his already disturbed mind with. The absolute WORST environment for a person with mental illness and instability is a fundamentalist environment.

At this point, I still didn't know the scoop on the patriarchal doctrines, still didn't know who Gothard, VF, or any of the rest of the patriarchal crowd was. I generally attributed all of this nonsense and dysfunction to the now-defunct cult group her great-grandfather had started, since most of the significant people in their lives had ties to it, but these initial conversations with her grandfather opened the door for me to begin realizing there was something deeper going on. I mean, if there was sooo much difference in what he stated as his belief and what they stated as theirs (all of which he was completely unaware of), there had to be a disconnect somewhere AFTER the cult experience. I knew there was more to it. I wasn't sure what that "more" was, but I knew I didn't want "us" to be lead by a blind man oblivious to the contaminated culture around him.

While the cult had more than it's share of crazy fundamentalism, most of these people (in their circle) who'd been excommunicated in the 80s had children and became immersed in the more neo-conservative aspects of the then burgeoning Christian homeschooling movement in what was likely a natural progression for them. In their loss of the "security" of one legalistic system, their religious paranoia drew them to the "security" of another legalistic way of life. When her grandfather was put out, his children were grown, and I believe he was totally naive to the culture which the rest of them became involved in. No TV, no dating, no birth control, home childbirth, holistic healing, faux-organic eating, yadda, yadda, yadda. Not that there's a problem with those things individually, but rather, the problem is when those things happen in bulk - because a religious system dictates it (and usually without dictating it *wink*). When your own lifestyle is very religiously conservative, and you're a naive individual, those kind of things aren't really things you'll notice or that'll come up in small talk. I think he and most of his buddies spent all of their time assuring each other how "godly" they were and how bad "the world" was, anyway, rather than talking about anything meaningful concerning life.

All of this drama and craziness was really creeping me out - which is saying something being that I was still even around given pretty much everything I'd seen so far, all of the craziness I'd witnessed from the beginning. Now that someone was "helping" us, it all felt even more precarious to me. There was no one in her world I trusted...and rightly so.

I was coming to see that I didn't like anyone in her life, and I was coming to be aware of the toxicity of all the key relationships in her life where nourishment is needed to thrive - from her interfamily relationships (and I realize she can't help who her family is), to her own choice of friends, to the religiously sociopathic relationship choices that formed her family's circle of friends. From my perspective, this was a survivable dynamic for "us", because it shouldn't have been about any of them. I was amazed that she was who she was in spite of having grown up in this bizarro world where up was down and left was right.

I still saw only a group of people who, when faced with choices of right or wrong, stumbled around aimlessly before choosing, at best, "easy".

I just loved the girl, and I'd promised to love her no matter what.


  1. No wonder the father had issues if this was what the grandfather was like.

  2. Lewis, I sincerely do not see how you could have had a happy, healthy family of your own if you had been tied to this extended family for the rest of your life. I believe there are some things which love can not overcome. I am wishing you all the best for a healthy present and future...


  3. The ties would've been minimal. We'd have been on the other side of the continent from them, and clear boundaries would've been established.

    Perhaps it still would've been a pain in our rear. I can't say. At least she would've been in a MUCH healthier situation here.

    It would've all been dependent on her ability to heal from all of it, I suppose.

  4. If what I ask here is somehow offensive (I have Aspergers, I can't allways tell), please forgive me:

    Your ex, din't she perhaps show a willingness to be won over to your way of thinking because she believe the central tenets of patriarchy? Believed she should follow her man, and while unmarried she should believe the religious ideas of her father, and if she's planning to marry you she should shift to follow your views?

    That her willingness to learn from you was not so much a growing understanding of truth, but partly about replacing her patriarch with the new "patriarch" she came to love?

  5. That her willingness to learn from you was not so much a growing understanding of truth, but partly about replacing her patriarch with the new "patriarch" she came to love?

    When she was with me, I believe it was mainly the former. I didn't encourage the latter and spoke strongly against it. When she was away from me and surrounded by them, it was probably a combination which eventually they steered toward the latter, then set about to prove to her that I was unworthy to be her "spiritual head" - her new patriarch. Yikes.

    And you can ask anything you'd like. No offense at all.

  6. Every time you write something like, "At this point, I still didn't know the scoop on the patriarchal doctrines, still didn't know who Gothard, VF, or any of the rest of the patriarchal crowd was..." I feel a little slap somewhere around the cerebral cortex. You mean there's actually folks out there who *don't* run into this bunch on a regular basis? Who knew...

    Been tangling with this mess for three decades now and, I'm telling you, I could write the script for parts twelve through twenty, no problem.

  7. You probably could, Connie. So many of these deals all go down much the same.

    Yeah, I'm serious. Until 4 years ago I'd never even heard of this stuff. I'd heard Gothard's name a handful of times in passing over the years, but I didn't know anything about him other than that people in my world considered him "fringe". Hadn't heard of ANY of the VF crowd.

  8. I heard of VF, etc. through the home schooling world. I think that is how they reach most of their audience. It doesn't surprise me that you had not heard of them since you had no connection with home schooling. I know what Connie means, though, about thinking that of course, everyone must be familiar with these movements and people while they loom so large in one's own life.

  9. Fringe is right--

    (as in, lunatic fringe.)

    Aileen: Yes, it was the hsing crowd where we got the biggest dose, but they were mixed in throughout every church I attended going back to the mid eighties.

    IMO, the fruits of the doctrine took awhile to surface. Looked pretty good at the beginning, from the distance of a few pews over, especially if you liked kids and worried about the moral decay of the youth of America :) And I remember holding that first VF catalog in my grubby little paws and feeling like I'd found Nirvana. Took awhile for some of the creepier books and such to make the product line.

  10. It's that perfect family photo exterior that makes it sell, IMO. The problem is, the photo is in 2D, but life happens in 3D, and it's in the hole left by the missing dimension that all of the dysfunction resides.

    There's height and there's width, but no depth in the patriarchal lifestyle. Everything is about the surface.

  11. I've seen a trend of a type of comment throughout your series, an attempt at comfort perhaps... and while I won't bother speaking to any particular comment, I do want to speak to the sentiment.

    "If you *had* married ****, this probably would have happened/not changed/ruined things/etc, so that you guys broke up is probably all for the best."

    That just isn't comfort, folks. That almost isn't right. Lewis loved this girl, and what's more, he knew this girl, which almost none of us did. I think we should be giving Lewis at least the benefit of the doubt that she was, per se, worthy of his love and would have made him a great wife.

    Whatever she would have done had she married him is speculation, and to be pessimistic about that speculation in order to try to comfort Lewis is in some ways insulting to those girls of us who have left (especially the ones who left "by" marriage), and insulting to Lewis' love for her.

  12. I am sorry if my comment was out of line. I understand simplymerry's point about not knowing the full situation or the people involved. Please pardon me for being too quick to speak.

    Peace to you, Lewis and those who comment here...


  13. No worries, Aileen. It wasn't out of line. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the situation I'm describing in this story, and I can understand where those who think "God did you a favor" or "You'd have suffered for the rest of your life" are coming from, even though I disagree with much of that type of thinking.

    That said...I don't want anyone to lose sight of the primary message that I'm trying to convey...that she and I will never, ever be allowed to know what our future would've looked like because a screwed-up religious belief system and lifestyle created screwed up people who did some screwed up things to me and to her.

    She may have become the wonderful, loving, devoted wife I hoped she would become. She may have been a horrible spouse. We'll never get the opportunity to know either way because of the people AROUND her - not because of me or her - and to me, that's the tragedy. That's what I want people to take from all of this.

    I loved her completely, and would've loved her completely even through a lifetime of the baggage others created if she would've kept her promises of devotion to me/us. Ultimately, she was coerced to be devoted to the baggage, and that was the one thing that made her not only unreachable, but unlovable - as I was given no access TO love her.

  14. "Somehow, in their world, a wedding ceremony flipped a plethora of magic switches that instantaneously changed outlooks, behaviors, emotions, moral parameters."

    So true. So true. I have been seeing the analogy of the switch for years, about sex after marriage, in mainstream Christianity. You're taught, "dirty, dirty, dirty!!!!", all your life, then, when you get married, somehow, you're supposed to "flip the switch" to "wonderful, good, pure!"

    So true about all the other items in that list.

  15. Now I'm trying to figure out which movement the family started...Did you come to feel (in a non religious sense) that you were her potential "savior" from the batcrap....? Poor girl. I really, really feel for her (and for you).

  16. Hopewell...It wasn't related to P/QF, and wasn't any movement that was well-known. It was pretty small. If I were to name it, no one here would've ever heard of it.

    Over time, yes, I did want to get her out of her environment before she became as crazy as the rest of them.

  17. "Wrong is wrong is wrong. Anytime and any place. Wrong is wrong."

    This is the only bit I have taken an issue with so far in your writing. Wrong is not always wrong. Wrong and right are relative, based on what culture/household you were raised in. Yes, obviously I agree that so much about this situation was wrong and evil. I am speaking in a more general sense, I guess. For example, we Americans adore our pets and the general American public is quite fond of pets... but pretty much any undeveloped nation has a huge problem with wild packs of dogs and feral cat colonies, and subsequently see these animals as annoying, or a potential food source. Eating Rover is not appealing to probably any American, and certainly could be seen as wrong... but is it?

  18. Well, I'll comment, if I may. It's wrong to eat your pet, and it's wrong to eat someone else's pet. But a feral cat or dog is not a pet. Nevertheless, I agree with your point-- but I see right and wrong not so much as relative, but as often overlapping due to the nature of reality. Is it wrong to lie? Yes. Is it wrong to lie to fascist soldiers when you are concealing an innocent person they are seeking? No, because the Right of helping the innocent overshadows the Wrong of the lie. Is it wrong to lie about something small in order to not hurt someone's feelings? That one's harder. Which is the more important Right-- telling the truth, or sparing someone needless pain? The situation and the individuals involved will nuance the response. But I don't see that as quite the same thing as right and wrong being relative.

    1. Right can't overshadow wrong. If you're doing something wrong, no matter what situation you're in, it is still wrong. Even if you have the purest of motives when lying or stealing or doing whatever else, it's still wrong, although anyone can trick themselves into thinking that their motives somehow make their actions okay.