Thursday, July 06, 2006

On Father(s)

I wonder sometimes about the impacts of Fathers, present or absent. My dad was in town a couple of weeks ago to help my brother move. I love my dad. It's good to see him. Playing the most storm-ridden, swamp-mosquito infested round of golf with him and his sister Janet, I marveled at the amount of self that my father and I have in common; how easy it is for us to get along and how frankly comfortable we are in each other's presence.

And yet.

My father was the last of my four "parents" to convert to Christianity. My mother was born again at the behest of her sisters, while she lay in a hospital with morphine coursing through her veins, desperate to believe that she was a good person. She was. But her illness, combined with personal distaste at trying to align her life with a belief system she had earlier rejected, turned her into a crotchety old bitch. She died while selling herself a faith she didn't buy.

Her husband James was devastated by her death. Not one to turn to drink or drugs and always a man of his word, James involved himself in the church, helping youth groups, volunteering time and labour to the creation of non-alcoholic night clubs where kids could dance and party sober. James' faith renewed his hope in the people who surround him. I can not and will not ever fault that.

My dad's wife Maria had surgery a couple of years ago. A massive benign cyst was removed from her body and she emerged convinced that she'd had a near-death experience and she went burnin' to the nearest church to become a believer. Maria is a wonderful woman but surgery is a work of human hands. Controlled and not miraculous. For a more complete understanding of near-death experiences, I suggest becoming a Calgary bike courier. There is no need for an afterlife: the great scam of Christianity has always been the myth of the soul and its continued existence after death. Christ was a helluva guy with some great advice about how to live here on earth. Learn from him on that. Cram heaven. Write a book. Have some kids. Set a world record in cheeseburger eating. Live your afterlife here on earth where you know you truly have some investment in your surroundings.

My father, perhaps in order to save his marriage, perhaps as a way of forming another business network, certainly because he managed to convince himself fully that it's a good idea, has joined his wife in the holier side of their matrimony by joining a particularly virulent and noxious brand of evangelical Christianity called the Victory Church. I used to play some of their sermons during my Sunday morning show on XL radio. They're nuts. Or would be, if they weren't so calculating in their methodology. Perhaps it's more accurate to say they sell nuts.

Seeing my father succumb in this way hurt a great deal more than I possibly could have expected. My dad was the rebel, the strong man who lived his life his way, told you how it was, and showed you how he thought it should be. Yeah, he was the black sheep. That was the measure of strength in his personality. He would tell anyone to fuck off if they weren't shooting straight with him. So, after decades of telling organized religion to pound it, my dad becomes a bible thumping preacher-type. After our round of golf, he hands me a book called "Wild at Heart"; a treatise on how to discover your masculinity within Christianity.

There are two things I have to say about that. The first, dad, is that you never lacked masculinity. I always saw you as a man who represented a masculine ideal of strength. Sure, that ideal is flawed, but the book offers no solutions to those flaws. Its premise and methodology is pedantic, trite, and obvious. And it remains flawed. Second; I have no trouble finding my manhood outside the strictures of the Christian church. My life and body have been consciously shaped and moulded by my will for the last six years. I have an honours degree in the field of my choice, a national award for my work in that field, and a thirteen hour Ironman under my belt. And here's a not-so-secret: anyone can do it, male or female. All it takes is the ability to place your faith in your self. That faith will bring others to you, people who have gifts to match yours and the will to use them.

Dad, your life has been an inspiration to me. You've always been the guy who's done it all and who, on many levels, drove me to do more for myself. You are no less present in my work than mom or my brothers or my lover. Sometimes that work takes the form of a rant. One of the reasons I love you is because I believe you understand that when I tell you how I feel, positive or negative, I'm telling you that you continue to matter; that you still have relevance in my life. So many parents of adult children don't.

Somehow this has become a personal address, rather than a third-person account. Perhaps you'll actually read it. You're welcome to comment, if you do...I don't share your faith but I still want to hear what you have to say, even if we disagree. Have a good week and know that I'm thinking of you as I write my next piece, or drive across the country, or smoke a bowl at a party with some friends, or ride my bicycle up the side of another mountain.


Jill said...

Colin-- yes.

Losing friends to proselytizing "happy clappies" is a confusing and upsetting experience I have had. What does it mean when a formerly vegetarian environmentalist feminist joins (is subsumed) by a church that insists animals don't have souls and women need to obey their husbands, and have them vow to do so in their marriage ceremony? My experience with "fundamentalist" organizations is that they drive wedges between friends and hold their members emotionally hostage. How sinister is it that so many people get "saved" by personality cults when they are at their most vulnerable? Ugh ugh ugh. People change, and everyone has a right to their own journey, but when a person's personality and beliefs change wholesale within weeks (weeks of brainwashing, in the case of my friend), I just have to say, it makes me go "hmmmmmm...."

Colin Martin said...

Well, the thing about brainwashing is that it requires that people wash their own brains. We all have faiths that we adhere to, in one fashion or another (even that delightful cynic yer shacked up with) James' case, his return to religion wrought a marked positive influence in his life. At the end of the day, it's what you do with your beliefs that matters...though having said that, certain organizations make hay with their definitions of a good life. Dirty, shit-filled hay. You can see many of them on Vision.