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.