Happy Father’s Day to my pastor dad, from your atheist daughter

I never thought it possible for a straight woman to have the same problems as a gay man,” my friend G pointed out amusedly. He was referring to the fact that both our fathers were church leaders, and by some cosmic joke they ended up with offspring who embodied the complete opposite of their beliefs — G was gay, while I was an atheist. A fairly regular fixture in our conversations was how our loving parents still prayed and hoped for the day we were cured/saved.

Outside of our family, many people think the arrangement is a thousand times more dramatic than what actually goes on in our day-to-day lives. Some have tried to give my dad unsolicited parenting advice about me. Others have told me that my beliefs are a slap in my father’s face. It’s a traumatizing and highly unnecessary interpretation of the situation. My non-belief is not an act of rebellion. It is the product of continuous efforts to figure things out for myself, which is the only real way to figure anything out. It is the result of years of asking questions that led to more questions. (I think it all started when I was around three to five years old. I noticed how sure we were of our faith, but also how sure people of other faiths were as well. So how did we know ours was the truth? It was a long and gradual domino effect from there, the bulk of which happened during my early 20s. And it hasn’t stopped, because you’re supposed to keep wondering and turning things over as long as you’re alive.)

I just wish that people would stop pitting myself against my father, seeing wars when we simply are different people living the best version of the truth we can arrive at with our faculties. This Father’s Day especially, I wish that people would not think that my dad has failed. He brought me up the best way he knew how, teaching me all the things he found necessary to teach me. And still we all grow up to be adults with our own minds and ways of thinking. At 26 years old and the farthest thing from a docile lamb, I would like to think people know to give me credit instead of blaming themselves or others. People are like the weather. No one else can really help what’s there. Even the Bible will tell you that God has nothing on free will.

OUR FIGHTS

Of course, we used to fight more often, dad and I, particularly during the time when I stopped going to church. I was convinced that he was trying to control me, while he in turn asked me in earnest, “Why do you think we’re such monsters?”

It turns out he had a point. I was too caught up in preserving my ways to realize that the only reason my dad ever did anything was because he loved me. In fact, back when I was still keeping it a secret from him, I never feared losing my parents’ love if they were ever to find out. I knew to my core that there was nothing I could do or say that could make them care less. It is actually this love that inspired me to hide this particular part of myself. See, they honestly believed in the afterlife of Heaven and Hell and that non-believers were damned. The last thing I wanted was for them to worry about the eternal fate of my soul. I vividly remembered what it was like to believe in supernatural damnation, so this wasn’t an issue that I took lightly.

But at the same time, I didn’t want to pretend to be anything other than who I was, so I expressed myself away from them. They found out by accident through one of my articles, which I naively assumed they wouldn’t get to read — except people always chance upon whatever they’re not supposed to.

IDEOLOGY OVER FLESH AND BLOOD?

At the height of my rebellious phase, a good friend pointed out how absurd it was for me to be killing off a relationship with my father for the sake of an ideology. I am not aware of how my actions changed from that point, but many barriers melted after that. I gave up requiring my dad to see things my way, or to even love me the way I thought he should. People will always be coming from their own places, and that’s just something you have to understand. Surprisingly, my dad has done his fair share of adjustment too. Whenever he sensed I needed a pep talk, he’d actually appropriate the delivery of his points with the phrase, “Even if you take God out of the picture…” just to make sure I hear whatever it is he has to say — a big deal for someone who attributes everything to God. It is here that I get to witness how people can go beyond themselves and continue to breathe life into connections in places you once thought were inhospitable.

I’d be lying if I said the issue was completely settled. There’s a possibility that it will never be. He still prays for my salvation. If there was anything I could do to take that worry off his head (short of re-conversion) I would. But like I said, people are like the weather. I can’t help him either. All I can do is live a life that fulfills me and hope that one day he sees that I really am fine and happy (and he does see that — at least until you ask him about eternity).

But our family is no longer a war zone. It’s just a cocktail of people with parts that you may or may not agree with. And once you give up the overrated utopian fantasy of zero conflict and 100% understanding at all times, you realize that this is what family is supposed to be anyway. And from here on there is nothing else to do but to carry on living with each other for as long as you have.

***

Originally published in The Philippine Star SUPREME (20 June 2015)

 

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