Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
In my last post, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?” I kind of further expanded on a topic I had touched on in an earlier post- “No Father but God”. In that earlier post I talked about three things- Father’s Day, my hyperreligious upbringing and the Orlando shooting- and whether Christians can denounce homosexuality as a sin and still say that they’re against things like what happened in Pulse. “No Father but God” ended a little abruptly, so in “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?” I isolated and discussed just that concept- the idea that you can consider homosexuality to be sinful, vote against LGBTQIA rights and still objectively “love” gay people (the floor is still open for comments on that).
Now I want to isolate and talk more about my hyperreligious upbringing and my tenuous relationship with my dad. I’ll dive right in.
My dad is very convinced that I’m a “prophetess to the nations” because of me supposedly accurately predicting something at 3 years old. Now this may sound like a very strange notion to some of you, but please not that in Evangelical/Pentecostal Christian circles titles like “prophet” and “apostle” are tossed about quite readily. My dad believes that I am going to be a “preach the word of God all over the world”. You could say that that is his vision for my life.
He has never supported the idea of me being educated in a traditional college. I was homeschooled for my entire life because he believed the public school system to be unsafe- but mostly because he considered it to just be totally immoral.
Our Bible studies that we had everyday were about the Bible, but also served as an opportunity for my dad to air his opinions on many subjects. He believed that the “educational system” was completely godless and evil, and that you did not need a college degree to succeed in life. He would cite stories of people like Bill Gates and the founder of Dell- who were both college dropouts- and go on and on about how college didn’t really teach you anything useful, just except to hate God. He would often quote a little-known scripture from Jesus in the New Testament, “That which is highly esteemed of men is an abomination to God”. In his opinion, getting a college degree was all about the prestige and therefore evil.
I just say most of that to provide a backstory for why he was willing to pay upfront for me to go to cosmetology school- but doesn’t at all support my musical education at community college today (where by the way, I am not taught even one thing that’s at odds with my religious background).
I didn’t finish cosmetology school because I went into a manic episode (at the time I was diagnosed bipolar I with psychotic features) and just did all sorts of crazy things as a result. The manic episode resulted because I abruptly stopped taking my medication.
My mental illness and medicine compliance are another thing that my dad is in total denial about. He hasn’t taken medicine for anything in about thirty years, and whenever any of us were sick he just “prayed the prayer of faith” and, thankfully, we always recovered (a lot of children have died that way). He was actually diagnosed with bipolar I himself when he was in his twenties, but threw away his medicine after he was convinced by scripture that he was healed. I must say that although he’s had what I can consider some serious lapses in judgment, he’s remained mainly high-functioning since that time. He’s never been re-hospitalized and has always been able to hold down a job- including and especially a very well-paying tech job that he still has today.
So really my dad is a series of contradictions. On the one hand, he believes some things that are pretty wacky, but on the other hand he’s extremely intelligent. On the one hand, he seems isolating and anti-social, and on the other hand, he’s very extroverted and gregarious. He can be extremely generous, and on the other hand, very dismissive. Maybe in the end I can attribute his mercurial nature to mental illness, but honestly I don’t know what to think.
So let’s see what we have so far,
1) Dad hates the “educational system”
2) Dad is against medicine
Check and check. On those two topics, I’ve had my dad tell me, “It isn’t the will of God that any of my offspring graduate college” and also, “With you messing with medicine, you put yourself in danger of the lake of fire [hell]”.
When I was still in recovery residence, my dad nearly convinced me to let him buy me an apartment, as long as I “stayed away from [the people I used to live with]”. He also wanted me to leave school and stop taking my medication. I came this close to doing it- even throwing away my medicine and trying to believe I was healed- but when I went to the owner of the house and told her in tears that I was leaving she said, “Are you really sure this is from God?” and she pointed out that if it was really God telling me I wouldn’t look and feel so horrible.
Since then I have had my guard up at all times. My dad can be very persuasive- and not just because he’s my dad, but because he has a larger than life personality and tends to just dominate arguments.
Also, I’ve come to see that he uses giving and withholding of finances well as an attempt to obtain control. When I was to move into the apartment that I’m in right now, my dad had to notarize a letter saying that he was willing to pay X amount of dollars so that I would meet the income requirements. He wasn’t even going to help me at first, because I had rejected him on the offer that he made earlier, but he said that God said to give me a chance (more on that later).
Anyway, when I expressed some doubts about whether this was the apartment complex I really wanted to be in- my dad said that unless I moved into this place he wouldn’t help me. Note, that he never came to see any of the places I was moving into. He was basing all his decisions on what he had “heard” from God.
See, that’s another thing about my dad. He prays for hours at a time, and as a result believes that what he says bears the weight of God behind it. Of course, he does put some restrictions on that- he says that if he hears one thing, and I “hear” another, I should go with what I feel that God is telling me first. This would mean that the word I received from him was just “confirmation” (that’s another highly thrown around term in Evangelical/Pentecostal circles). “Confirmation” is when first God tells you something, and then you hear it from someone else as “evidence” that you “heard” correctly.
I am really so glad to be done with all of this “hearing” business. I definitely believe that if God is real that he/she/it speaks but it’s more like a sort of “inward witness” or “intuition”. Sometimes someone tells you something and it’s just not right, and other times you feel in your heart and spirit that it is, or in your “gut” and you’ve just got to go with what that inward feeling is telling you.
That’s why, even though it was very obvious that my dad was trying to exert more control in my life, I agreed to choose these apartments (and thus take his help in the form of the letter). Not because he felt they were right, but because I felt they were. I had had a strong feeling like I should move here- but granted, at least I had seen the place and knew that a relative of a co-worker lived here. (Also, it was closer within my budget.)
I’m very glad that things worked out, but I know I have to be careful because sometimes accepting help from my dad comes at a cost- and really, that’s a terrible thing to say about your own father. Right now the only “cost” is that I’ve agreed to do some small job for him, but he doesn’t have any say in whether I’m med compliant or whether I continue going to school. None of his assistance is contingent on that, otherwise I would’ve never taken his help.
In other words, as far as things with my dad go I have to have boundaries, or I’ll get swallowed up in his “vision” for me. With him being as he is, I think he knows that I have these boundaries, and he’s enacted boundaries of his own, which include not really speaking to me unless I visit. I guess, considering how negatively he’s influenced things in the past, I should consider that to be sweet relief. But it isn’t. It’s not a good thing to not even have your father call you and ask how you’re doing, or encourage you in any way.
Of course, he’s still helping out financially. He’s always done that. I feel like, though, that sometimes he can use that to his advantage. My mom has never done this, but my dad will often go, “I raised you, I changed your diapers” etc.. When he, my mom, and my brother’s helped me move into my apartment, he said “Where are all those people you know helping you move? In the end you can only depend on your family”. He ignores the fact that through my entire life he isolated me from other people- and really that’s an isolating statement that he made- and the fact that one of my friends from the recovery residence -did- help me to move in that very day.
I feel like my dad tries to make me feel guilty. Like when I sort of hesitantly brought up the fact that he doesn’t talk to me he basically said, “Well you don’t listen to me so what is there to talk about? Why should I put myself through that kind of pain?” I think that’s the main thing that I couldn’t put my finger on, but now I see. I guess I feel like he makes me feel like I exist to fulfill his dreams and his agendas. Like, he was very keen on me working for him in his business, and then quite excited about my working in Mary Kay because “this is something you can do when you’re married with children” but he has never ever taken into consideration things I want and need for myself. What if I don’t want to have biological kids? What if I want to be a mother and work a regular job? What if I never get married? What if I want to marry a woman?
That is why he was willing to pour money into Mary Kay, or cosmetology school, or me learning HTML or A+ or becoming a real estate agent. He thought those were good ideas. Also, whether he thinks that’s “God’s will” for me or not, it’s very apparent that his will is the one that’s being best served here.
I think that I literally just realized this in the course of writing this- my dad has never actually supported even one of my dreams. He has been ever-minimalizing, saying things like “Opinions- opinions? Who are you? The only opinion that matters is the one God has” as he proceeds to quote the Bible and use it as a gavel to establish that he is right. I’ve actually heard him say in Bible study, “You should always listen to me because you never know if it’s God talking or if it’s me talking”. I mean to be that level of narcissistic you have to be pretty deeply involved in your own head!
Of course, I won’t criticize my dad too much here, because he isn’t in a position to see this and defend himself. In the mean time, I am often filled with dread at the thought of seeing him, while simultaneously wishing he paid more attention to me. Somehow, he spins things around to make it seem like our broken relationship is my fault only and his withdrawal is only a passive result. That is a hallmark sign of an abuser- even though I hesitate to firmly affix that descriptor to my dad. The more I look back though- the minimalizing, the physical intimidation and aggression, the isolating tactics, etc.- the more I see that he really is abusive in many ways. To me, my mother, and my brothers and sisters.
Of course, no one could fault him as a provider. He made sure we had food to eat, were physically safe, etc. In many cases, however, the abuser can justify their actions just because they’re a good provider and that could be what’s happening in this case. There’s no doubt that he always “took care of us” but there’s also no doubt that we had very little rights or say in anything. Our hobbies were all dictated by him, down to him deciding if the family as a whole was going to go out to eat or play tennis or go for a walk. He let up later on, but for the longest time he was like “If we’re going, you’re all going”, and really that is one of the more benign evidences of his dictatorship. More was seen in him choosing to continue to homeschool me even though at high school I requested to go to public school. I had no say in almost anything in my life.
Of course now I’m “free” but sometimes I still feel like I’m 16, eyes just opened to the world and self just realizing how much it wanted to break free (and not being able to). I just have moments of panic where I sit here wondering if all of the sudden I’ll lose my rights again, or if I really do have the right to choose. I sometimes forget that now, no one is stopping me from going places I want to go, pursuing my education, dating, going on outings etc. It’s a very disconcerting feeling and I think it’s just the trauma talking.
So anyway, to make a long story short, I have limited my exposure to my dad. He’s not all bad- almost no one is- but I don’t want to be lectured for 3 hrs. I am so scared he’ll convince me to throw everything away. I just can’t deal with it anymore. That’s why I called this post “The Exile”. I have been exiled from my faith and in some ways exiled from my family. My mom, well-meaning and loving me even as much as she does, usually just takes my dad’s side. Of course I don’t fault her that, but I would hate to have my dad ganging up on me and then being tag-teamed. The thing is I know my mom loves me, I know she has my best interest at heart, but with my dad I’m just not so sure at all. I feel like he loves me when it’s convenient, whereas my mom loved me when it was very inconvenient so I know of course that she loves me still right now.
I think that’s all I can bear to write.