Confessions of a heretic father

When I was about five years old, I was terrified of dying. Twenty eight years later, I still have clear memories of the fear that gripped me.  I remember  looking at a Lego model I had built, and thinking I wish I were like this thing. It doesn’t have to worry about dying.

I was so terrified of dying I wished I was an inanimate object.

I don’t know how I got to that point. My parents are good Catholics; by that point they had probably already started talking about God and Heaven.  And yet, somehow, I had a concept of death but no concept of Heaven.  Being a pretty quiet kid, I didn’t go to my parents with my concerns (at least as far as I can remember).

Is it any wonder I wound up taking Prozac to control my anxiety?

My oldest daughter is now four years old and has started asking questions about death.  What’s a heretic to do?

I told her to relax: when people die, they go to heaven and live with God.

Atheist readers: please stop glaring at me.

Theist readers: please stop smirking.

Do to my ongoing spiritual crisis downsizing journey, my wife and I have been avoiding the question of what to tell our children about faith and God.  I swore I wouldn’t let my children become indoctrinated with the beliefs I was indoctrinated with as a child (and again as an adult).

But I’m not talking about a belief in a God or an afterlife. I’m talking about specific beliefs like a snake tempting nudists with an apple, or God speaking infallibly through the Pope.

For lack of a better label, I’m an agnostic with trace elements of Christianity thrown into the mix.  I don’t believe with certainty that there’s no God and no afterlife, so why would I tell my children they don’t exist?

Of course, I’m not certain they do exist either. So why tell my children that they do?

Because, dear readers, when I’m forced to explain to a four year old what death is (in four year old terms), I’m forced to admit that this is a pretty shitty world her mother and I have brought her into.

I told her that everyone dies, including myself, her, and her mother.  I told her it won’t happen for a long, long, long, long, long, time (which is in itself a partial truth as young people die every day).  I tried to explain to her what death is, and probably failed miserably.

I mean, what can you say?  That you’re going to get old?  Your body, and perhaps your mind, will wear out and betray you?  You’ll watch those you love die one by one?  And that’s if you’re lucky and don’t get hit by a car tomorrow.

Before that happens, any number of horrific things could happen to you or the ones you love.

Oh, and your mother and I brought you into this world knowing full well that this would happen.  You’re welcome!

Honestly, it’s enough to make me question our decision to have kids in the first place.

(And I say all this as a middle class American. Our lives can’t be considered hard by any stretch of the imagination. We think we have it tough when the entertainment budget runs out a week before my next paycheck.)

Voltaire said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”.  Whether or not God exists, I believe that statement.  At least when it comes to talking to four year olds about how the world works.

This post is part of the Parenthood linkup on

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