This week my girlfriend and I took a spur of the moment trip up to Michigan binge listening This American Life. Episode #580 That's One Way to Do It, is where I met you, Alex, and I had so many things I wished I could tell you. I grew up in a super conservative family, was homeschooled and am different from them. No, I'm not gay or adopted but I never quite fit in with my family because something inside me wouldn't completely break and conform. Somewhere in my brain it felt like I was trying to make a recipe with the wrong ingredients. The trial runs weren't looking good and I couldn't deny the unhappiness. Even though I've felt very timid most of my life, I valued bravery and honesty because that was the kind of person I wanted and hoped I could be. My honesty was prone to cause more trouble for myself as Mother tried to mold me into her perfect little Christian boy. I never doubted that my parents loved me but it wasn't unconditional, instead precipitated by a foremost concern of the appearance of their ego.
As my teenage years progressed, I tried my best to stick to my parents wishes while dreaming about escaping prison - all the while terrified about what I would do on the outside. I wasn't allowed to date, be friends with girls (or much of anybody for that matter) and was told I shouldn't be spending energy "thinking about relationships". It's pretty hard when you're a teenager not to think about that stuff but I did my best. My mom had a "conservative christian romance novel" she loved and compelled me to read that promoted ideas like betrothal and absolutely no physical contact of any kind before the marriage ceremony. I could go on for a while with my life story but I won't bore you. Straddling the fence of your parents wishes and your heart doesn't go well and I ended up with a 9 year marriage and 4 children because of it. The trip to Michigan happened because I'm 32 and still trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing. My girlfriend and I drove 700 miles just so I could knock on the door of a company I was interested in hoping maybe to get a job. I certainly don't have it all together but I've learned a lot along the way.
I want to ask you Alex, "why do you believe the things you believe?" Have you logically looked at all of the sides? Or do you throw things out because you are trying to hold onto something that defines you? I hated democrats most of my life because I was told how evil they were by my parents and Rush Limbaugh. You don't want people to get handouts because they should work for things right? I would generally agree with that but did you know that in the Old Testament, "God" instituted many social programs. They had debt forgiveness, food left unharvested in the corners of the fields for those willing to work and a few other things. Christians were instructed to help the "poor, fatherless and widows". There is a balance just like anything else but the bible leans more communal / socialist than not.
You went to public school so you must have received some education on evolution. Do you believe that the earth is 10,000 years old or many millions? Religion and science are generally irreconcilable. Up till last year every time I heard something like "14 billion years ago" in a science program, a voice scoffed inside my head saying "that's not true". For the longest time I parroted that sentiment because it was part of my identity. Evolution, liberalism, homosexuality, unmarried heterosexuality, etc were beliefs and life styles associated with "sinners" so to even contemplate one of the alternate perspectives felt like leaning over the cliff to look down - you might fall over really easily and die. In the world of our minds when you fall off the cliff what dies is the ego and that will only kill your body if you let it.
Most people believe that some thing will make you whole - parents (a family), mentors, money - power. It turns out that many times the things that we believe we need are what turn out to hurt us the most. Feeling completely lost in life, married doing whatever jobs I could find, I hoped for a mentor. I had given up on asking for advice from my parents a long time ago because my dad never gave advice just theoretical outcomes of the various scenarios he could imagine. My mom on the other hand, would tell me what I shouldn't do, and then declare my only option (which usually sounded awful). By the time someone arrived in my life as a formal mentor, years had passed and I had learned that if my actions don't involve you or someone unconsenting, you have no business telling me what to do. I can't think of a time where I've ever done something to be vindictive. For instance when I got my ear pierced at 21, my mother told me that I needed to take it out to respect her accusing me of "wearing it to be rebellious". I acquired an earring because I liked it, not to piss off or impress anyone. Eventually it happened, I disappointed my mentor by something I did and he distanced himself. It hurt but I was going through losing a lot of things at the time and figured it was par for the course. I took the good, left the bad behind and moved on.
If I could give you one piece of advice it would be to be you just for you. Don't let anyone tell you who you should be and don't ever be something other than you for someone else. When you become something you're not, you're being used. Last year I let go of a lot of hurt and anger as I understood myself, life and my parents way more. I forgave them but at the same time didn't have much use for a relationship because they were still locked in their ideas of me - unwilling to let go of their dreams and egos. The last five months of 2015 passed without conversing outside of a couple brief emails. I didn't hate them but I am not going to let them keep pretending that I am our ever should have been their puppet.
The trip up to Michigan wasn't as profitable on the job end as I had hoped but was amazing in many other ways. I had a short conversation with my mother on the ride back in between podcast episodes which was very pleasant. When we pulled in after 15 hours of traveling through bad weather I wasn't in the mood to look through the mail. This morning as I was contemplating what to write to you, I looked through the post and asked my girlfriend to read a letter that had arrived while we were away. It was from my mother. I was extremely guarded because some of what she wrote in the beginning I had heard before but as an explanation / excuse / half-assed apology for her behavior. This time she didn't evade blame but finally admitted what I felt all along. Even though I had already forgiven her, I cried and it felt good. It was nice to know this long battle I've fought to be me has been worth it and justified. I always doubted if I was just colossally screwing up but as I began finding more peace it laid some of the fear to rest. Vindication takes a weight off and I hope that one day your parents will be able to give that to you. But don't look for it because it will just hold you both back. Be exactly who you would be if everyone that knew you and had an idea of who Alex is died. Imagine you have no one to impress or be beholden to. You don't even need a lover right now, just accept that you are fine just as you and compromising that for anyone isn't worth it. You don't seem like an asshole so this probably goes without saying but don't lash out or do things to prove points. You'll only cause yourself more pain and trouble.
A truck stop in Kentucky had a rack of stickers with things like a picture of President Obama and Secretary Clinton the caption reading "dumb and dumber", or Calvin pissing on the word "republicans", "Keep honking, I'm reloading." I turned to my girlfriend and said "this is what's wrong with America. They are all fueled by anger and hatred." Putting a sticker on your vehicle is a great way of pissing off others without having to stare them in the eye. It's cowardly and that's why I believe many American's like Donald Trump. He says what's on his mind while staring you in the eye and doesn't care. That's why people like him. The man is tapping into a vein of fear and hate like a hungry vampire - he's an asshole so you don't have to be. But some people once bitten turn and the barn can go up in a flash from just one match. You said you like power and Donald projects power but he's a bully. I'm sure you've felt powerless in your life, I know I have, and seeing someone who isn't can be inspiring. Is it worth it to "gain the whole world and lose your own soul?" I don't believe in a literal Heaven or Hell but what I think Jesus was trying to say is that you trade your soul in little pieces for the things you believe will make you whole (power, money, relationships) in the end really having nothing but a shell. There is nothing wrong with pulling away from a situation where you feel disrespected, but always keep being what you want to receive. Boundaries are necessary for any of life to work otherwise nothing would exist.
You seem like a bright, determined young man and I wish you all the best in life.