I was baptized Catholic, my parents converted to Born-Again Christian when I was in 6th grade, and for quite a while after that I tried very hard to believe what they taught me and be a good little Christian girl. I’m now 26, and for the last few years, though I absolutely do not believe anything born-again, it’s been a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of situation with my parents.
Until this past September. I outed myself when my father asked about my boyfriend’s beliefs because “there may be grandchildren” and he’s “concerned for their eternal destiny.” During this 2 hour hellish discussion everything came out including that for years I tried to believe and sincerely wanted to believe but I felt like I was praying to the ceiling and it just didn’t make sense to me logically. He quoted just about every main idea from “One Heartbeat Away” by Mark Cahill in which the author attempts to prove the bible is true. My mother was very upset but said “We’ve trained you up in the way that you should go, and I believe you will come back to it one day.” My dad wasn’t so understanding. He kept going and going and quoting and quoting. He finally just gave me the book and made me promise to read it. (Which was basically 3 Chapters of illogical “proofs” the Bible is absolute truth and 7 Chapters that assume you believe it and tell you how to live your life as a newly saved Christian) I told him if I feel like he’s going to bring the subject up every time I come over, I’ll stop coming over. He agreed to drop it.
Since then, he hasn’t directly brought the subject up. However, he’ll bring up Christian subjects to me as if I still do believe what he does. He’ll discuss the situation in Israel and how that may play into the prophesies from Revelation or other prophesies from the old testament. I’m not sure if he wants my non-Christian view of it, or he wants me to go along and agree with it, or is using it as an excuse to bring up the “great debate” again. I’m not sure what to say to him when he brings this stuff up. Mostly I smile and nod or say, “Interesting.” What happens when I do have kids and he wants to preach to them and “save” them and bring them to church? He’s a very hard-headed, stern, “I’m-right-you’re-wrong-you’re-going-to-hell” kind of Christian. It’s incredibly stressful to anticipate these conversations or be a part of them.
How do I handle him?
Handle him in the only way he understands. Forcefully.
Tell him that he made an agreement and that you expect him to keep it, or you’re going to keep your part of that agreement. Remember this part of your conversation?
I told him if I feel like he’s going to bring the subject up every time I come over, I’ll stop coming over. He agreed to drop it.
He’s been breaking his agreement in sneaky ways, and you’re letting him get away with it. Call him on it, and be prepared to follow through with your part of the agreement by temporarily stopping the visits.
Your dad is a strong, forceful, even domineering kind of guy. People like that are not always bad. They can be very useful in the right situations, such as a sergeant commanding his men in a firefight.
But they generally only relate well to other strong, forceful, domineering people. They don’t respond well to polite, reasoned argument or gentle persuasion. They don’t really know how to do that. They don’t persuade, they dominate and overwhelm by interrupting, being loud, being critical, or by repeating what they think is their strongest point over and over, even though it may not have anything to do with what the other person is asserting. If dominators do try to use argument, they often rely heavily on sources that they think are authorities, such as scripture or the books of others. They tend to not use much original thought of their own. This is not necessarily because they are not bright enough. It’s because books have an aura of authority, and the authors are usually conveniently unavailable for direct challenge.
So when you tried to have a reasoned conversation with him, he just kept quoting and quoting from his authority source, trying to maintain control of the debate through barrage. You were sincere and candid, and for your pains you were bullied.
But when you gave him an either/or demand, essentially “drop the topic or see me no more,” that was something he could understand. You were speaking his language. You apparently have something he wants, your company, and he doesn’t want that withdrawn. So he agreed to stop.
But force-oriented people usually keep testing the enforcement of the agreements they make. They won’t keep agreements on principle alone, but more on the strength of force behind it. So if you let him get away with little incursions and little violations, he’ll keep going and escalating. I don’t think he really gives a damn (if you’ll excuse the expression) about your non-Christian viewpoint about an issue. Shining him on with a smile, a nod and “Interesting” is just asking for more, and is the source of your calling yourself “Frustrated.” You need to give your agreement a booster shot:
”Dad, you agreed that you would not bring up all this religious stuff when I come over, or I would just not come over. I keep my agreements. Please drop it now, or I’m out of here, as I promised. I’d really like to enjoy my time with you. Let’s talk about…” (have two or three subjects previously selected.)
Just in case, be ready for him to call your bluff. That’s the thing about either/or demands with dominators. Never, ever bluff. If you don’t follow through, you can kiss any semblance of respect or even civil treatment goodbye. If he forces your hand, tell him you’ll be staying away for (x amount of time) to give him time to think about it, and then you’ll call him and you’ll ask him if he’s willing to keep his agreement. Your either/or demand never said anything about not trying again, and your making the gesture toward reconciliation is not a concession. Just restate your demands and stick to them.
If and when the time comes for grandchildren and his “concern for their eternal destiny,” remember that grandparents really want to see the little ones. Use your same bargaining power, which will be considerably stronger:
“Dad, keep the religious stuff to yourself when I bring the kids over, or I just won’t bring them over. They’re my kids, not yours. Your kid is grown up and is making her own decisions.”
You might consider adding, “If you really believe that God is almighty, then your grandchildren’s ‘eternal destiny’ is in his hands, not yours. So don’t go pretending that he needs you to do the work for him. Be their grandad, not their savior.”
Frustrated, I said in my previous post that we should not sacrifice love over these trifles of belief or disbelief in The Great Invisible. But love cannot abide without respect. I suspect that your dad respects you when you are strong and firm with him, and you stand your ground. You don’t have to make that show of strength by playing his game, and ending up in another futile and obnoxious squabble. There’s no winning such a quarrel, there’s just you losing time, patience, and a chance to have a pleasant and loving time with your dad, chatting about some topic the two of you share in common. Being firm with him every time is much easier than repeatedly giving in until you have to seriously fight to retake your territory. So make your boundaries clear and solid, and offer alternative things to enjoy together.
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