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My Religious Dad

Updated on January 24, 2015

I don’t plan on my Dad ever seeing this. He wouldn’t like it. Neither will Christians. Neither will most atheists. But it’s something I need to say.

There is no one I have been angrier at than my father for the last 24 months. I didn’t say that so you could compare my father to yours. Because you don’t know my father, honestly. I’ve never met another man like him, and neither have most people.

My dad is a very intelligent man. He’s an engineer, but he is also capable of thinking fairly logically about philosophy and a wide variety of subjects. What’s made me angry, furious, is that my father, who questions almost everything else in his life, believes in the crazily fantastic story of the Bible hook, line, and sinker.

We weren’t like most of the other families growing up. Most of the other families weren’t homeschooled, and most of them didn’t memorize a hundred verses a year, or win Bible Bowls consistently, or pour themselves as fully into church as our family did.

Now that I’m an atheist, I feel like my father, who I once respected – and still do, in many respects—is believing a story that doesn’t make sense and is profoundly harmful. I want him to investigate it more thoroughly. I want him to have a higher regard for the truth of what really happened. I try to tell him, over and over, why he’s wrong.

Before you think that I’m antagonizing him unnecessarily, listen a bit more. Almost all the conversations my Dad and I have had for about as long as I can remember have had to do with God. It’s like me and my Dad were living a story together. And it was generational. I doubt I’ll forget till the day I die the time my father got up and spoke at his father’s (my grandfather’s) funeral. He emphasized the theological points his dad and he agreed on. The points were controversial ones, but that connection, that story, was something he and his dad lived; it was a profound part of the family legacy. And it was passed on down to me.

And I tried to live in that story. But I couldn’t do it, because it was insane. I couldn’t understand how my dad could.

Now I do.

Nothing scares my Dad more than living a purposeless life. He sees my view as advocating a kind of pointless meaninglessness to the universe, and that scares him. When I tell him of my fear of hell, he thinks his fear of a world without God is equivalent.

My Dad’s living in a fairy tale. And I can’t live in it with him. And that’s always going to divide us, because our entire relationship has been based in a fairy tale.

After seeing Big Fish, I thought…maybe my Dad isn’t weak for wanting his illusions. Maybe he just prefers living life in a grand story. Maybe he thinks that this will save his life.

Do I really want to take that away? Do I really want to war against him? Or is it OK to let him live in his grand story?

Yeah, I know the psychological diagnosis…you grow up, and you realize your parents are real people as opposed to the mature giants they were when you were a kid. But it seems like more than this…in a way, explaining the way it is is hopeless. I mean, there’s no way to summarize thirty years of history in a short note. I can’t summarize the smile I got on my face at twelve when Dad let me do the reading for the family Bible Study or the profound feelings of camaraderie I’ll never forget when we read the scriptures on Christmas Day together. I can’t summarize the Thanksgiving prayers or the songs we sung, or the strong sentiments I feel every time I hear them…the memories they bring back. I can’t summarize the pow-wow sessions when yet another professor attacked my faith and my Dad provided a brilliant rebuttal. I can’t summarize the look on my Dad’s face when he realized – and was really the first person to realize – that I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I can’t just summarize the drive we had way back when I was Christian with few doubts and my larger-than-life Dad became human after the recent passing of his own father and said he was afraid of a lot of things, to my shock – and top of the list was that his children would leave God.

My Dad isn’t perfect. But he’s just a man. He’s a man trying to save himself and his family from a dark and dreary world with a story he thinks will encourage and protect them. And in many ways, it has.

I don’t think my father is ever going to be an atheist, and if he did become one, well...he’s been so psychologically averse to the possibility that the change would be traumatic for him, I think. And also, if the genetics are any indication, my Dad is going to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within the next seven-eight years.

Do I really want to spend that time fighting him and trying to tear down his fairy tale?

Or should I let him continue trying to save his life with a story, even if it hurts those around him?

I honestly don’t know. Full stop. This isn’t a request for advice. It’s just a fact.

I love my Dad, and I hate almost everything he stands for, but I understand the value of saving your life with a story, and that’s just the way it is.

I’m tired as hell…getting some shut eye. Now that this is written, I think I’ll get more sleep.

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    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 2 years ago from Tasmania

      Barrier, I have come rather late to this story of yours. Very little I can say that would not be trite, unnecessary.

      As man-to-man, thank you for that honest of searching your inner self for answers, for a way forward, for self-enlightenment. Yet, at heart, I suspect your main reason for the search was to connect with your Dad and his search.

      All power to you, Sir. This world needs more of people like yourself.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 2 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      There are a lot of fairy tales parents try to share with us. They get hurt if we try to point out that they are fairy tales, even if they are terrifying nightmare stories we are pointing out the unreality of.

      I had a very complicated relationship with my dad, too, so I know no one can begin to understand anyone else's relationship with anyone else, really. I was as gentle with my dad's fairy tales as I possibly could be, but it wasn't enough. But I think it was worth it. While he still pulled away from everyone and died alone, he did so a lot later and probably in a lot less fear and anger than he might have.

      Religion isn't even necessary for people to live in fairy tales but it does really leave a mark when it's the source. My dad rejected religion at age ten, but somehow, the most conservative bits of the "morality" and all of the institutionalized fear stayed with him.

      One piece of advice you may not need but I wish I'd known many, many years ago is to never expect unconditional love from your parents but to give it to them anyway. It isn't easy but it makes things a whole lot easier at the end.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Barrier.....Well, I DO like this story~ very much. Rather than this possibly placing me into a category of individuals, I believe it's just a simple matter of truly understanding.

      I'm going to skip through a whole lot of your story, because as you so aptly pointed out, I don't really know your Dad, nor you for that matter. I'd be foolish to think I can get deep enough into your relationship with him. It isn't necessary anyway, in order that I'm able to follow your rationale.

      I'm so glad you aren't looking for advice because I have no more than what you have already realized on your own. I applaud your thought process and appreciate the journey you are on.

      Of course your "anger" will subside. It has to. This is your father you're dealing with and we all know what this means. Unconditional love, which normally goes both ways.

      It's not worth the frustration at this point and time. The bond needs to remain in tact and what will be, will be.

      Wonderful reading, barrier and I thank you for sharing......UP++++ pinned & tweeted..... Peaceful Living, Paula