My strongest memory of my parents’ relationship with each other when I was little is that they argued constantly. I doubt the precision of most childhood memories but I have a memory that I would sit on the stairs out of view eavesdropping on them and essentially keeping score of who seemed to make the best points. Now that I argue for a living, I always assume that they have something to do with my considerable skills. I also emultated their contentious tempers for years before interpersonal arguments became rarer and rarer in my life as I matured.
I can barely remember them yelling at me though. They spoiled me, for the most part. When I was very young I clung to my mother to the exclusion of almost everyone else and I idolized my dad. I still love them both to death and am close with them both. Fortunately, by eleven years old, I was smart enough to start working on keeping my mother from smothering me and gained a healthily independent mindset. My dad, who was a bit of an introvert, could be a bit blunt and cantankerous at times and I developed an unpleasant awareness that not everyone loved him quite like I did.
When I was about 9 years old my parents started talking about moving from Long Island (and the house I’d lived my whole life in) to Florida and I balked at the prospect of this really hard. My mom was leaning against the idea and cited my objection as an important point against my dad. I felt used when she changed her mind and suddenly I lost my veto power. But the plans never fully materialized and we stayed put.
My dad and I bonded a great deal around baseball. About when I was 7 he bought me a cards and dice game called Strat-o-Matic baseball with which you could simulate baseball games using cards reflecting the players’ real probabilities for different outcomes of each at bat or attempted stolen base or throw from the outfield, etc., all based on the players’ statistics. The set had 4 teams. The 1984 Reds, Indians, White Sox, and Blue Jays. Being a kid, I promptly picked a favorite team and always played as them. Probably because blue was my favorite color, I chose the Blue Jays. I became a devoted fan. That year the Blue Jays made it to the playoffs and the next year I had a book with colorful pictures all about that playoff series.
Since my dad was a Mets fan, in 1986 I got passionately swept up in the Mets’ legendary season that culminated in one of the most celebrated World Series’ victories in baseball history. I followed almost the entire season and vividly remember countless famous moments from the season and the postseason like they were yesterday. When Mookie Wilson rolled his historic dribbler through Bill Buckner’s legs to win game 6 of the World Series, just moments after the Mets staved off elimination with two runs scored all with players who had gotten on base only after there were 2 outs, I remember running around my house reenacting the play over and over again, utterly ecstatic.
The next year I would follow both the Mets and the Jays, listening to Blue Jays games from a distant Toronto radio station, feeling like I was following some far off adventures–like getting reports from overseas during World War II or something. Both bitterly missed the playoffs, with the Jays in particular suffering a historic collapse, wherein they blew a 3.5 game lead with just 7 games left and were swept by the Tigers (who overtook them) the last weekend of the season to finish 2 games out of first.
I spent the next 5 years still obsessed with baseball. I was New York’s most ardent and devoted Blue Jays fan. I saw them every year when they came to the Bronx (I still remember my dad sneaking us to the front row behind the Jays’ on-deck circle and hearing Willie Upshaw clink his cleats with his bat at Yankee Stadium) and they usually won as in those days they were world beaters and the Yankees were in one of the few real funks in their history, the nadir being their last place finish in 1991. (They made up for that though since it gave them an early, sixth round, draft pick the next year–which they used on Derek Jeter. That worked out well for them. I hear he is even still on the team.)
During those years, many putative Yankees fans in New York were all pulling for the splashy dominant Oakland A’s, who were my Blue Jays’ biggest rivals for supremacy in the American League. I honed my arguing skills through countless debates with friends about the superiority of the Blue Jays to all comers, especially the A’s and the Yankees. I developed and often deployed an elaborate argument about how the Yankees stunk their first 20 years, but the Jays, after a few bad years to start had never fallen under .500 again, so they were on pace much better than the Yankees were in their early days. I wore Blue Jays shirts and taped every Blue Jays game ESPN would show and edit together highlight reels set to music like Weird Al Yankovic’s “Fun Zone”. I basically ate, slept, and breathed Blue Jays, and did so all the more at the expense of the Mets as I became disgusted with the Mets’ management systematically destroying everything I loved about the team.
Three distinct times my parents threatened divorce. The first time I was about ten or eleven. We were in the car at night and they were arguing. I remember being absolutely terrified. I was desperate for someone who could stop it from happening and remember distinctly wanting to reach out to our minister for help. The next time I remember my mom threatening to leave just before Christmas, as we were wrapping presents, and I angrily and incredulously asked her, “Are you seriously going to ruin Christmas?” She didn’t go anywhere. The third time, was in 1992. My mom, who had been married before she met my dad, came home from work and told me she was divorcing my father and all I just made a callous, disdainful dig about her having two failed marriages now.
My dad had retired from 20 years in the New York City fire department earlier that year. His dream, he insisted, was to move to Florida. As he would tell it, my mom had promised him they would move there when he retired years before. He had put in a couple of grueling decades of difficult commutes to the city and braved fires as a firefighter and worked apprehending criminals as a fire marshall and he had earned the opportunity to finally go pursue his dreams of going back to school and going into medicine, all down in Florida. But my mother, after initially being on board, found herself loathe to leave her life in New York, especially her home and her church community which was like a family to her. In the spring of 1992, when I was fourteen, they had an acrimonious fight over the phone while he was on a fact finding visit in Florida. I only heard her side of the call and it was vicious and memorable.
That same year the Blue Jays got serious about finally pushing over the top after near misses in 1989 and 1991. They became the highest spending team in baseball and brought in exciting stars like Devon White, Joe Carter, and Roberto Alomar. My dad and I trekked up to the SkyDome to see them live in Toronto for the first time. During our visit though, we lost our camera, so had no pictures to show for our weekend. On the way home, I said, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to take some when we come back next year.” And my dad answered cryptically that he didn’t think we’d be able to go back the next year. He said it in a way that implied something was up. There was a reason we wouldn’t be able to go to baseball games next year.
That baseball season I followed the Blue Jays meticulously. Starting in April I was saving every single box score from the newspaper, game by game. Then I would type up a brief 5 line report on each game. The score, winning and losing pitcher, and the performances of my two favorite players: the superstar power hitter Joe Carter and the catcher hardly anyone else cared about, Pat Borders. 5 recaps would fit on each page of lined looseleaf and I would scotch tape the newspaper box scores to the backs of each page.
In July, I went away for a couple weeks to the sleep away Christian camp I regularly attended. Before leaving, I begged my parents not to forget to save the newspapers for when I got back so I could save every Blue Jays box score and do all the write ups. They forgot and threw out the papers. So, I asked my dad if he could at least take me to the library so I could make photocopies of their copies of the papers. He said there was no point, I could just get all that information from a book after the season was over. I abandoned the collection and threw it out.
By September my dad had moved out and got another place on the Island. I spent a lot of weekends with him. I stopped following baseball altogether before the season was over. The Blue Jays finished their dominant season with their first world series championship. Pat Borders, the unsung catcher, whose season I had initially cared enough to chronicle game by game was voted most valuable player. I didn’t see so much as a game of any of those playoff or World Series games.
That New Year’s Eve my dad called me from Florida. The following January, after one of the happiest weekends of my life up at our Christian camp in the Catskills with my church group sledding, I came home and my mom told me my dad was in a relationship with one of her old friends, the one he stayed with when he went to investigate the move to Florida.
A couple months later my dad was back in New York. They were contemplating getting back together. My mom was now willing to go to Florida. My mom later told me my dad was saying he couldn’t force me to move because then I’d hate him. He opted against reconciliation and the divorce finalized. My dad married my mom’s former friend in 1996.
I had already been a kid prone to deep painful, long lasting, unrequited crushes on girls. Now I had a worse anxiety. The next time I fell hard for a girl, the following summer at camp, I didn’t want to fall out of love because that might mean I was too fickle to ever endure in a marriage. And in my mind, even just having premarital sex made you an adulterer who had cheated on your future wife in God’s eyes. That was how absolute and committed to one person I felt you needed to be. You needed to be monogamously devoted even before knowing your spouse. I cleaved instead to the image of my brother and his wife, who had married in May of 1992 as virgins with a relationship deeply rooted in their common faith. They represented in my mind the ideal of pure Christian marriage. And by the fall of 1992, my brother’s best friend Mike, who graduated Bible College with him the day before my brother’s wedding, came home to our church to be our youth minister and took me under his wing by discipling me.
In 1993, the Blue Jays became only the second team in baseball history to win a World Series with a series ending, walk off homerun. Joe Carter hit it. I wasn’t watching. I didn’t catch a single game of that postseason. I learned about their win while I was sitting in a guest room at a Christian home for troubled teenagers. I was staying there by myself for the weekend to give the Gospel to these teenagers because the people who ran the home had become enamored of my speaking and teaching talents when my church group visited earlier in the year. The next month I delivered a Sunday morning sermon in church. In my mind, I was on my way to becoming a minister, like my brother and Mike.
This post was written as part of a blogathon I am doing 8am-8pm both Saturday and Sunday of this weekend in order to squeeze a lot of belated writing into a small window of time I have available to blog uninterruptedly. If you are a grateful fan of the blog and want to see me able to post more regularly, please consider donating to support my efforts. I work numerous jobs. The more money that I can make from blogging, the less other jobs I need, and the more I can write for you. Donations can be made via paypal to dfincke at aol dot com. All amounts are deeply appreciated. $100 earns you the right to pick a blog post topic for me (one that I could reasonably be expected to have something halfway intelligent to say about).
Before becoming an atheist I was a devout Evangelical Christian. I am slowly telling the story of my former life as a believer, how I came to deconvert and become an atheist, what it all meant and where I went from there personally and intellectually. Below are links to all the pieces I have written so far. While they all contribute to an overall narrative, each installment is self-contained and can valuably be read on its own without the others. So feel free to read starting anywhere, according to your interest.
Before I Deconverted:
How I Deconverted:
When I Deconverted:
The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion:
After I Deconverted:
The Philosophical Key To My Deconversion: