In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. My father-in-law always seemed a little too good to be true, constantly smiling and telling the church he pastored (and everyone else) about how GREAT JESUS IS! I assumed it was a Midwest thing. My wife’s family is from Iowa, and I’m from New England. When my wife moved here, she became visibly upset after we went grocery shopping:
Me: Are you OK?
Her: That cashier was SO RUDE!
Me: What are you talking about? She didn’t even talk to us!
Her: I know, right? How rude!
That about sums up the difference between Midwestern and New England culture.
experience growing up Catholic was that no one ever smiled in church or
talked about how GREAT IT WAS TO BE CATHOLIC! So when I met my in-laws
and went to their tiny Baptist church where my father-in-law was the
pastor, it was quite a different experience. Even though the service
was tame by megachurch standards (which I had yet to experience),
everything felt different. People I didn’t know welcomed me, said
hello, and seemed happy to be there. The cross at the front of the
church didn’t have a giant bleeding statue of Jesus’ corpse nailed to
weirdest thing? The whole place was full of BIBLES! Just lousy with
‘em! There was one for everyone so you could make sure the pastor
wasn’t making shit up. Catholic churches have one giant Bible for the
priest, and a Cliff Notes version for everyone else called a missalet.
It contains snippets from the Bible, as well as a crib sheet on when to
bow and when to stand, and stern instructions to non-Catholics to not
even THINK about taking Communion.
wife’s family and their church seemed like exactly what I was looking
for. Of course, my wife had told me stories. Oh, had she told me
stories. Stories of the huge screaming matches her parents had when she
was younger, and the hurtful comments her dad made about her mom in my
wife’s presence - starting when my wife was three years old. The story
of when her mom threatened to leave and her dad woke up her three
younger siblings (who were about eight years old) in the middle of the
night, lined them up in front of her mom and told them her mother was
going to leave them.
were more. But on some level, I dismissed these stories. I don’t know
why. Was it because her dad seemed so happy now? Maybe, but cracks
occasionally showed. I was witness to some screaming matches, though
they seemed less intense than what my wife had described. Was it
because I just wanted to believe that Jesus could change someone? That
was probably part of it.
But I think the real reason can be found in a book called Matilda by Roald Dahl.
a children’s book. The villain is a character who is the headmistress
of a school in England. She’s referred to as the Trunchbull, and she’s a
terror. She locks kids in a tiny cupboard with broken glass on the
walls. She grabs a girl by the pigtails, whips her around like a lasso,
and throws her over the playground fence. Why? Because she doesn’t
like pigtails. You get the idea.
book contains this quote about her, made by the heroine Matilda, who is
an extremely gifted child. In regards to why no one has stopped the
Trunchbull’s outrageous behavior, she says:
do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous.
Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy
Now, I’m not claiming this was my father-in-law’s intention. I am also not
saying I thought my wife was a liar. But some of the stories my wife
told seemed so off the wall that I think I subconsciously dismissed
them. I just thought she might be a little biased - after all, I told
her stories about how crazy my family was too, but deep down I knew I
was a little biased about them.
after I started dating my wife, gay pornography sites were found in the
browser history of the family’s computer. My father-in-law said he had
been visiting these sites to talk to gay people about JESUS and the
AWFUL SIN OF HOMOSEXUALITY. I believed him.
I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. Take your time, it’s fine.
All set? Great. No really, no apology necessary - I deserve it.
This happened ten years ago. Nothing more was ever said about it.
forward to a year ago. The in-laws come to visit, and they bring one
of my wife’s younger brothers, now a strapping lad of twenty-one (we’ll
call him Nathan). We noticed Nathan was being really rude to his
parents. There was a shouting match in which he stormed out of our
house. We figured it was just normal parent/child stuff.
my mother-in-law revealed that something had happened between Nathan
and his father, but we were “better off not knowing.” When asked, my
father-in-law said Nathan had “found out about some sin in his [my
father-in-law’s] life, and confronted him about it” and that everything
was fine now.
for the non-Christians in my audience, when sin is discovered in a male
American Christian’s life, its almost invariably of a sexual nature.
And usually, it’s porn. Never mind anything else going on in the guy’s
life - he might be prideful, gluttonous, greedy, hateful, what have
you...but when “sin” is discovered it’s usually in the history of their
assumed that’s what happened. Then, my father-in-law found a note from
my Nathan on his pillow: “Either you tell Mom or I will”.
out, Nathan had been molested by his father several times, starting
when he was sixteen. Well, we were right about the sex part, just wrong
on the details.
started to come out. But to hear my in-laws tell the tale, Nathan was
at fault, and, from what we could piece together, had initiated the
whole thing. Why? We were told that he had told his mother that she
“now had biblical grounds for divorce”.
admitted he has said this. So we started to theorize. Had he
entrapped his father to give his mother a way out? Surely this fell
into Trunchbull territory. But had his father actually initiated it?
That also seemed crazy.
details came out. My father-in-law had been molested as a teenager.
He had made inappropriate sexual comments to Nathan when he was
thirteen (something which he still denies, or at least “doesn’t
remember”). We don’t have any specific details as to what happened -
just that it was of a sexual nature. Nathan admitted that in some
cases, he had been the one that initiated it. Other times, it was his
at least things were out in the open, right? But the story doesn’t end
there. Remember how my father-in-law is a pastor? My wife and I
thought things needed to be a little more “out in the open”.
My in-laws disagreed.