Monday, November 12, 2012

Do I have to?

"Either God does not exist or he's unimaginably cruel." Dr. Gregory House, House M.D., Season Three

This is what I believe. It took me 34 years to get here, but for the first time last month I acknowledged that my faith is gone for good. It's been gone for a long time, but as long as I didn't say it out loud, I could pretend God and I were just on a break and the reunion episode was coming up shortly. But it's real. We're over.

I don't want to tell my parents. Do I have to?

I could pretend indefinitely. I know all the right words to avoid seeing the hurt, frightened look in my father's eyes after I tell him he's failed at the only thing he really cared about. Despite doing his best as a Christian father, his daughter has turned away from God. She's condemned for eternity, his desperate efforts to save her futile.

When I got 98% on a test, my mother asked, "What happened to the other 2%?" My father quietly said, "Good job" and "You don't have to be perfect." When I sprained my thumb trying to block a spike in a volleyball tournament, my mother said, "Did you manage to stop the other team?" My father said, "Are you OK?"

At my wedding reception, my father got up in front of all those people, hands trembling as he pushed back his fear, so he could tell me how precious I was to him and how happy he was that I'd found such a wonderful man to share my life with.

In the hospital after my daughter was born, my father pulled me into an awkward hug, gently jiggling my shoulder as he whispered, "Congratulations," before posing for pictures with his first grandchild, his arms careful around the fragile bundle.

When my perfect marriage threatened to shatter around me, my father listened quietly through my anguished torrent of words before putting a warm, comforting hand on my shoulder and saying, "You'll get through this. Jay loves you." Then he reached for his steadfast source of strength, the one he wanted me to have after he's no longer here to hold me. "Let's pray."

I don't want to break my father's heart.

Do I have to?


51 comments:

  1. NO - just wait and see how you feel in a few months. Take care and cut yourself some slack.

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    1. I'm leaning toward waiting for it to come up naturally and dealing with it then.

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  2. Oh, man, that's hard. I think at some point a conversation is in order, and while those comments about grades and the ankle are the kind that really sting, the other examples seem to show someone who genuinely cares. I'm sure that he will be praying for you, but also, as your father, HE WON'T STOP LOVING YOU. I know that there are examples of fathers all over the place who are deserters and general awful people, but I'm basing this on the examples you gave.

    Is it weird if I pray for you and this situation? :)

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    1. Not weird at all - I completely get it. Yeah, my mom and I have always had a rocky relationship (eg quotes here), so I'm not as concerned about that. It just makes me really sad to think how disappointed my dad will be, and worse, that he'll blame himself when it has nothing to do with him.

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  3. I'v been sn atheist since I was seven. I live in Iowa, where I read in a comment on a blog post that one woman was "shocked" because she'd never met an atheist before. I resisted the urge to tell her, "Yes, you have, but atheists don't have a mission to covert those around them."

    I am always respectful when someone prays. I'll even join in if it is someone important to me. It no longer hurts me to say those words because I've chosen to believe that those who pray with me are doing if from a place of love. If prayer brings them solace, it's the least I can do for someone who loves me.

    I don't talk about religion and faith with my parents,so nh only advice is to let him process it in any way he needs to and support his choice to pray in your stead.

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    1. I've always respected their depth of conviction and have no problem participating in a prayer or going to an occasional church service with them. I just don't want to lie to them in terms of it meaning anything to me.

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    2. I so get that dilemma. Maybe it's because I came to this decision when I was 7, but my parents have never tried to push me anywhere I didn't want to go.

      I do remember having a conversation with my mom about something else where I said, "Give me more credit. I'm not an idiot, so be honest. I can take whatever you're going to say."

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  4. Hey, atheist here. Raised in Texas by deep Southern parents who are awfully pained over the idea that I will be roasting in Hell while they're walking the golden streets of Heaven, and so on. If I truly believed that future for my children, I'd be pretty upset, too. So, even though they know about me because I stopped believing at a young age when I still told them everytning, I try to spare them any discussion about this topic. Without my input, they can re-frame the situation to believe what they want, to invent heavenly loopholes though which I might be able to slip unnoticed. Plus, sounds like you have a sweet dad and you might as well enjoy him to the max without disturbing his peace of mind totally. Since you asked!

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    1. Yes. I think this is what I'm going to do - not get into the discussion unless they insist on it.

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  5. I would say to wait until it comes up naturally. Being that he is so observant to your feelings, do you think there is a chance he already has an inkling about your beliefs?

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    1. He knows I have "doubts" and don't attend church regularly. I don't think he's realized how far past that I am.

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  6. *teeeears* .... *hugs* ... You'll find the strength to do what's right.

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  7. So tough!!! Don't tell! It's personal.

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    1. Hopefully it doesn't come up any time soon.

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  8. This is so tough. I have always thought that choices like whether to believe, in what to believe, and how or whether to practice are among the most personal choices a person can make in her life. My first inclination would be to wait, and see if maybe it comes up naturally before bringing it up yourself. Wishing you lots of luck.

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    1. Thanks. That's what I'm going to do and I think I'll just not bring it up all.

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  9. Your relationship with God, or without, is yours and yours alone. Know that those praying for you are doing it out of love and concern. It's their way of dealin with your struggles they feel they are not in control of.

    And I send you virtual hugs and strength!

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    1. Thanks. I know he's coming from a place of love and I feel bad that I can't be who he wants, because it means so much to him.

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  10. Yeah, me too. I'm 47 years old and I am never telling my dad, or my in-laws. I expose my kids to all the great religions, but they are already seeing them as cultural mythology. No reason to break dad's heart. He is a good man, I can tell. You are lucky :)

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    1. Yes, very lucky! That's the approach I plan on taking with my kids too. I expect that's how the topic will come up...when it becomes clear that we're not taking our kids to church every Sunday.

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  11. tough...but Id say no. i think god is defined in a million ways. right now, for you, it can be your love for your dad. it seems to me that you have a lot of faith in him. i'd respect that.
    good luck.

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    1. I do have a lot of faith in him, and I've decided not to say anything until I have to.

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  12. Another atheist over here. I don't have much advice, because it came out in a big way when we refused to baptize our son and instead had a Welcoming Ceremony. I hope that whatever way you decide to go, whatever happens, your father continues to show his obvious love for you. Sounds to me like he will.

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    1. He will. I'm not afraid of it damaging our relationship in that sense; I'm sorry for how it will hurt him and make him feel like a failure.

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  13. I didn't realize there were so many yeah write atheists! My Dad is an atheist. I consider myself agnostic, which is not hugely different. I'm a scientist. I need proof. I don't have it either way but yeah, God seems more likely an invention of humans for comfort purposes rather than real. Sometimes I feel spirituality in nature though.

    Your Dad sounds amazing. I don't think there is anything wrong with shielding him if you think he'd be hurt. Just enjoy the time you have together!

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    1. I'm an agnostic who's as close to an atheist as you can be. I don't have proof that God doesn't exist so I wouldn't say I'm 100% certain he doesn't (ie an atheist). I think it's very, very unlikely, and if he/she/it does, he's not the loving, personal god I was taught.

      I hope it never comes up and I don't have to have that conversation with him.

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  14. I see prayer as a type of meditation or a thought process. Same with rituals like saying the rosary (which I've never done). My parents know I'm a godless heathen, and they found out because I stopped going up for communion. When they asked about that, I just said that I respected their beliefs too much to insult them by pretending to believe something I didn't. And going up for communion was pretending. I still go to church with them for holidays when I'm in town, and that's my respect for them, and their desire to show the community their daughter.

    Do what you feel good about. But the short answer, at least the way I see it, is NO. You don't have to break his heart.

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    1. What a great way to phrase it. I won't bring it up, but I'm not going to pretend either.

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  15. I don't think you have to. I think you can gloss it over for his sake. He sounds like an amazing dad!

    This was a lovely and moving post.

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  16. Oh, oh. Your lovely dad. I can just picture those beautiful moments. I'm glad you have this dad, and he's glad he has you... Are there other people/things/forces in your life that make you feel safe and taken care of? That you can mention so he knows you'll be okay?

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    1. Yes, my husband is a great support. I'm so thankful for my dad. Not everyone is so lucky.

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  17. I've read all of the comments, and it sounds like you've settled on a good strategy. This is the internet at it's best! We sruggle with something very personal, write about it and get an torrent of support. I just want to add that I really loved how you treated this subject. You dad sounds wonderful, but you're incredibly sensitive to his perspective. I was moved by the knowledge of his desire for this belief system to give you comfort even after he passes. I suppose when adn if you do have the conversation letting him know that you get that and have found other things to give you comfort might help him accept your different worldview. Beautiful post and big virtual hugs from me to you!!

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    1. Exactly! This is why I blog - to talk about these things and listen to the thoughts and experiences of others. I'm so much better at writing than speaking when it comes to communication, so the Internet is my kind of place. Thank you!

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  18. I have very warm feeling for your dad after reading this. You are so lucky to have two loving men in your life. You father will ALWAYS love you, atheist or not. I think religion is incredibly personal. I stand with you on your approach. While I don't think you ever HAVE to tell him, you will discuss it if it's brought up...by him. This was a beautiful post.

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    1. Thanks so much Gina. I am lucky, and it's good to write about these relationships to remind me of that.

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  19. The love your dad has for you is so clear in your writing, especially that you feel it and acknowledge it so acutely and don't want to hurt him. I say don't then. Discuss it honestly if it comes up (it'll come up, huh?) but trust in his love for you and maybe he'll surprise you with his understanding.

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    1. You never know. I'm fairly sure I know how he'll react, but maybe I'm wrong and he'll be more OK with it than I think.

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  20. This post is so touching and well written that it brought me to tears. As far as the quality of the writing, it is amazing. Regarding the confession of lack of faith, I do not believe it is my job to judge others as a Christian. However, as a good Christian, I do feel it is my job to tell you his love is awesome and he loves you (even in times of doubt or announcements that doubt has become a final decision). I know you didn't want a lecture from this (or I can imagine so), so I will make it brief: but you deserved to be loved and I am sorry you feel let down by your faith or God. If you share your feelings with your dad the way you did here, I'm sure he will appreciate your honesty and emotion, even though he might pray for you too. It's okay to let others pray for you even if you're a non-believer. This is what I have finally convinced my brother of. He considers himself agnostic, and when he was unemployed for a long time, I said I would pray for him. He told me not to because he didn't believe. I said it wouldn't hurt him, so he conceded, but added, "Alright, but you tell Jesus, if he shows up at the interview, he better look professional. None of this robe and sandals bullshit." :) Bottom line: Trust that you are loved by your family and many others.

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    1. Thanks so much Angela - what a compliment. Usually I'm the only one who cries from my writing :) I'm fine with people praying for me and I don't mind talking about it (obviously). It's just not likely at this point that I'm going to change my mind.

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  21. Such a beautiful portrayal of your father and your relationship with him. From what you've written, I do believe he would love you no matter what. For what it's worth, I don't think you're necessarily lying about it unless he asks you directly. Fingers crossed that he doesn't.

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  22. Your father sounds like a wonderful man and I think he would still love and accept you no matter what. But I wouldn't bring it up, I'd just wait for it to come up in conversation one day.

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    1. That seems like the best thing to do right now.

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  23. Such a beautiful post. Your dad sounds so sweet! I'll firmly in the don't ask don't tell camp when it comes to religion. I don't think it's dishonest to simply avoid a subject you know might open wounds.

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    1. Thanks. I feel like I'm lying by omission, but maybe not.

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  24. What a difficult situation for you to be in. I really don't have any good advice for you, except maybe that if I were you, I'd wait and bring it up or let it come up naturally. Then, tell him. It will break his heart for sure, but it will free yours. A double edged sword? Absolutely. But you have to be true to yourself. And don't beat yourself up. We are our own worst critics and judge and jury. -Wishing your peace and a lighter heart.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Yvonne. I feel a bit better just writing about it.

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  25. It sounds as if your dad will be there for you no matter what. Faith in your dad is what's more important than faith in whatever god we may or may not believe in. In fact, if I had a dad like yours I might actually believe in god. That's not helpful is it? The conversation you dread will probably occur naturally, and from what you've said here you have nothing to fear. Maybe the sooner the better so you find some peace. Terrific post.

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    1. Actually that was part of what made it difficult to think about all my doubts. I really respect my dad and think he's a smart guy, so it's a strange feeling to reject his foundational beliefs as untrue.

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Lend me some sugar!