For the past year or two I’ve been struggling to reconcile a lot of the tenets I was raised on with how the people who taught them to me have followed, or rather failed to follow them. I know that, when it comes down to it, I should continue to lead my life in the best way possible, but it’s hard to get this to quit nagging at me.
I’ve discussed this with my wife several times because I know she’s struggled with the same thing, but with her the discrepancies have always seemed a bit more cut & dry, which makes them a little easier to deal with (in a way, at least). Her parents raised her with a strict religious morality, telling her to respect all others, to remain chaste at all costs & to always respect life. Their bold & blatant racism kind of shot the first one out of the water. The presence of her half-siblings in her life, her parents providing her with birth control pills, condoms & a free reign to use them & several episodes of various forms of abuse kind of shattered the second. Them rushing her to get an abortion the first time she got pregnant then literally terrorizing her over the fact that they were too late to get one the second time she wound up pregnant took care of the third. She saw the hypocrisy early on & has had a lot longer to come to terms with it.
For me, although there were always issues just at or below the surface, it was only in recent years that I’ve seen a lot of the basic rules I was raised with get completely tossed to the side. Admittedly, I caught a pretty big vibe along these lines when my wife & I were dating. Growing up, if my priest or religion teachers told me something, it usually came with a dose of the fear of God & I really took it to heart. As much as I may have been tempted, the thought of my wife & I having premarital sex just wasn’t an option to me. She felt the same way, both because of my convictions & because it reassured her that I wasn’t going to use & then leave her. Unfortunately, everyone from friends to family & even a couple priests told us they didn’t believe that we weren’t having sex. It took me a while to get over those accusations.
One of the main rules I heard all the time growing up was that, if I didn’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all. I’m still not the best at this, but I’ve worked hard at it & I always look to one great-aunt of mine as an inspiration. She was the stereotypical saintly matron who never swore, never seemed to sin & never had a cross thing to say about another human. I always admired that & after she died I redoubled my efforts to try to come close to her standards. She did have a few harsh things to say about my one cousin’s husband, but he beat her, cheated on her then left her with four kids & quit his job so she couldn’t collect child support, so I’d always given her a pass on him. As the months went on, though, I started hearing about others she’d looked down on. These were all family members to one degree or another, & with one or two exceptions weren’t people who’d abused anyone or lost their jobs due to substance abuse, committed major crimes, etc. A couple of these were people who’d just had the misfortune of being in a difficult, loveless marriage, or had worn their hair wrong. It was kind of crushing as seemingly every time I turned around I heard a new, cruel pet name she had for this person or another.
Even bigger than that, though, was the notion that you should always stick by your family, regardless of the circumstances. This included forgiving them any time they sought forgiveness & coming to their aid whenever asked. This was always a big one for me as it’d been taught to me by my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles & in particular the aforementioned great aunt. While I was dealing with my wife’s family, the stuff they’d done to her, the dislike to hatred they had for me, & all the other assorted troubles they brought us, I heard more times than I can count that they’re my family now, too; they’re going to be my family for a long time, & I need to accept them. This & the occasional prayer (I’d drifted a bit from the Church during this time) were about all that got me through. Something else that helped was the thought that, by forgiving & turning the other cheek (I lost count of just how many thousands of cheeks I turned), I was honoring my upbringing. I’d had some serious fallings out with family members of my own & had always reconciled with them, & I figured if I could do that for them, then certainly I could do this for my wife.
I thought we’d put the worst things behind us several years ago, but then kept running into disagreements, arguments & animosity with my wife’s family. As I struggled to stick to my upbringing & do the most charitable things I could do I started seeing the chinks in the armor of my family’s teachings. A couple summers ago I ran into an estranged uncle who, over the last few decades, had done nothing more heinous than ignore about half the family. I knew there were a couple people he’d always tried to stay in touch with & he was more than happy to see me so I treated him as cordially as I would any casual acquaintance. We didn’t talk about his status with the family. I simply treated him decently & passed on a couple greetings for him. I was verbally assaulted by half a dozen family members over this & one continues to bring up my betrayal to this day. All because I didn’t spit in his face & call him names.
(continued in next post)