- Family and Parenting
My Religious Dad
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.