The family at the end of the world

Dear Hannah,

I was raised to believe it was the end of the world.  We weren't told exactly how it was going to end but we knew it would be ugly; and that if the whole world wasn't bathed in fire immediately it would end with a lot of doors getting kicked down.  If it wasn't the Russians or the Chinese it would be a one-world government, with all-encompassing authority, telling us what to do and think and beheading us when we didn't.

This was told to us in comics, made for children, featuring flatbed trucks with smiley faces on the sides and guillotines on the back -- a morbid reminder that the end wouldn't be an act of nature but be of the insane, by the insane, and for the insane; and that what for us would be an incomparable tragedy would be, to these psychos and ostensible do-gooders, an inestimable triumph.  They would believe they were doing good while bathing themselves in our blood and laughing about it.

It's difficult to say exactly what effect this upbringing had on me, but the idea that the world was teetering towards Armageddon has stuck.  As a kid this idea was never challenged by anyone I can remember, at home or at church, in any way whatsoever; and the idea that the ugliest future possible was right around the corner was only softened by the idea that the Second Coming was behind it.  We were conservative in the truest sense possible.  We believed we were holding on to the last beautiful things humanity had left to offer.  It was believed there was a time, before someone came along and messed everything up, when men were strong and virtuous and Godly and the women were feminine and fertile and chaste.  We were to be the last of these people, if need be.  We were trained to expect the worst because of it, because the future was to belong to the worst of us.

But despite the idea that the world was going to end soon my mom was too much of a fighter to simply let everything go to hell.  I don't think heaven is enough for most people; and despite Paul's warnings about the anti-Christ and the last days and the imminent Second Coming, and despite his complaining that he'd rather be dead, he still put on his sandals, ironed his robe, and put up his fists.  If he'd been a Muslim he would have put up a black flag and started stabbing infidels.  My parents were no strangers to Paul's spirit; and I believe that what they decided was to not only raise children to get through the times in tolerable honor, but do what they could to forestall them.

As such I was raised as a weapon.  We feinted and led a measured retreat.  The home was bolstered as a citadel.  Learning supplies were sought out and purchased at great expense for a single income working-class family.  "The world" was kept out.  The pledge of allegiance was sworn daily.  Trust and Obey was sung loudly, the Bible was the sole authority, and if anyone, pastor or president, sought to say otherwise, well, we knew what to think of him.

The sheer level of organization she accomplished was incredible.  We were taught manners and etiquette to dine with elites.  We were taught Shakespeare and painting to keep us from philistinism.  Our friends were carefully selected; magazines were procured with an acceptable worldview; the great arguers of our day, the Chuck Colsons and Ravi Zachariases and Lee Strobels were compiled in our library; apologetics taught us to defend the faith; ridicule was heaped upon libertines and liberals; and the words of the holy men were sung to us, almost daily, from the sweet voice of an adoring mother.

If I can describe this as anything it was clean.  The whole house was free from ugliness except when we made mom mad.  The soul was free from pollutants until you yourself polluted it.  And I did.  It's remarkable to note how quickly things crept in that she designed to keep out; and that beneath this structure and facade of Godliness there was a lurking sense of the things we all feared; that the desire to fit in, to be admired, to be romantically loved by the world lies within those designed to keep out of it.  There's also the rise of self-will, and the hatred of anything standing in the way of fun.  These two forces, combined with a huge and irrefutable "flaw" -- a deeply sexual and irrepressible imagination --  were there regardless of what a parent does to avert them.  Humanity can't be scrubbed with singing and structure.  But we can certainly try.  And mom tried.

Unfortunately for her I turned out to be a fuck-up.  Not in the sense that I never got a job or went to school or stayed sober; but in a far worse sense for a deeply religious and vigilant mother -- in the universal sense.  In the sense that the one thing you want for your kids more than anything else is to have them know God and stay out of hell.  For a while I had come back from the pig-trough and stayed.  My spectacular return to Christianity led to a spectacular apostasy.  I don't dine with world leaders, or run a church, or go out evangelizing, or even act saintly.  After I got through the drugs and the women I was the closest we got to a saint (at one point, anyway), and as far as the elect are concerned I might as well be an evangelist for Satan. 

This whole failure has weighed on me heavily.  It seems like such a waste of dedication and a failure of dreams, this education; and now, as I raise you, it has left me with the feeling not only that I'm neglecting to raise you properly, but that trying too hard to raise you will lead to your failure.  It's noted that periods of excess order lead to periods of extreme looseness; and my fear is that I'm too loose.  There is little of the cleanliness I was raised in.  Your home is cleaner, physically, than mine was.  But the sweetness and beauty of Christianity is gone from it; the purpose and the hope are drained along with it*; and the feeling of the end of the world has remained.  You are raised to believe there were heroes, but I can't find anyone living to show you**.  But you know about the psychos.  The psychos are gaining ground, and they are uglier and stupider and more violent than before.  We're going to put up a fight before they burn this place down, but it won't be the fight that my parents put up.  I don't have it in me, and I find that sad.  But we're going to fight nonetheless, and if I can transfer this fight into you without making you run the opposite direction I'll consider myself a success.

My mother tried with structure.  I don't believe a good parent and a child can be "friends," but I want to try something closer to friendship.  I want to be a certain kind of person, and I want to make you fall in love with the things I'm in love with.

Your father,

PS: Beside the many failures of my upbringing two things stand out as a success -- the fact that I'm born for a fight and I cherish a lady.   Someone who isn't ready to fight himself and the world isn't really going to enjoy being a human; and if he marries a pig he's in for it worse.  I thank my mom for a lot of things; but regarding these two I'm immeasurably in her debt.  A prejudice against slobs and sluts saves a man from more trouble than good hygiene, or moderation in drinking.  This is the main reason I take you to church -- to get used to the sight of Christian and well put-together men.

*When I say the purpose and the hope are gone with it I mean in the sense that everything ends, if we live rightly, in heaven.  We may live rightly.  We may turn the whole world around for the better.  But so far as I can tell we will never have heaven.  There is more laughter in this family.  There is also immeasurably less future.  I'm never quite sure which one is more preferable.

**We will have heroes today -- tomorrow.  At the moment all the men who are doing good things are too visible; and if we love the things they're doing we don't really appreciate the men in themselves.  They simply have too many warts.  These days we have to forget who our heroes are before we can really remember the things that they've done.  We don't really have a Ben Franklin -- or maybe we do, and we have only forgotten the real Ben Franklin.

To have a hero or a role model while you're alive, someone you generally appreciate not only for a particular cause but in themselves, makes you a lucky bastard.  The rest of us scavenge on the remains of our ancestors' heroes -- who in turn scavenged upon theirs.   General Mattis is a man I deeply respect -- who has yet to get himself into a war.  Donald Trump is a man I've grown to be thankful for -- who is incapable of getting my respect. 

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