Monday, December 15, 2014

Open letter to my brother-in-law upon the birth of his daughter

October 27, 2014

Dear Brandon,

On the afternoon of Eliza’s birthday, as I visited you and your girls in the delivery room, you made a request. You said, “Remind us in six weeks how excited we are right now.” I’m writing this for December 1st, when Eliza will be six weeks old.

I suspect that the six week mark won’t be as trying for you and Olivia as it was with Clive. Way back then, you were brand new parents, blindsided by exhaustion and adjustment. But I’d be happy to remind you of what I observed on October 20th; just a little dose of that happiness will make up for sleep loss.  
  • Eliza’s tiny head, topped with dark, feather-like hair, fit in your hand. You cradled her carefully as she stuck out her strawberry-red tongue and made hungry noises. Her face was completely round: chubby cheeks and barely a chin to be seen. She pursed her lips as if she was expecting all her kisses. The blond fur on her cheeks made her look like a ripe peach. You announced, “She’s so much cuter than Clive when he was born!”
  • You sang Edelweiss to her in the delivery room, completely uninhibited in front of the hospital staff. It seemed especially fitting to hear you sing “blossom of snow may you bloom and grow” as you gently held her in a little blanket-bundle. Olivia and I wiped away tears, but you didn’t even notice. You couldn’t take your eyes off Eliza. Nurse Monica said, “I sang that to all my kids, too! That’s my favorite song.”
  • You cooed “Daughter” with amazement and called her “My baby girl.”
  • You continued to interact with Eliza while the doctor examined her. When he checked her heart beat with a stethoscope you tickled her feet. When he removed her diaper you touched her nose with your nose. I caught myself wanting to look away, a little embarrassed by the public display of affection. It was like seeing teenagers in love, flaunting their mutual fascination. No one else existed but the two of you.
  • The doctor commented, “Her fingers are so long!” You silently held up a hand to show him your fingers. He said, “Well that explains it!” To Eliza he said, “You’re going to be good at baseball or piano.” As if he needed an answer right then you replied wistfully, “Whichever she wants.” You were already defending her individuality at only an hour old.
  • Olivia asked for your help with swaddling; she was out of practice and said you were the pro. She commented to me (out of your earshot) what a difference there was between your reaction to baby #1 and baby #2. “I don’t know if it’s because number two is a girl, or because he knows what he’s doing this time around, but it has been insta-bond!” She grinned.
I know you’ll see photos of yourself holding Eliza that afternoon, but you might not notice what everyone else can see. You are totally smitten. Your posture in every picture reveals that she has your full attention. Your face glows in every shot. The fact that you are clearly exhausted just betrays your happiness – the simultaneous tired eyes and cheek-cramping smile are a dead giveaway.

Fatherhood suits you.

As you learned with Clive, the novelty of a newborn wears off. But after that you have the privilege of getting acquainted with this tiny person every day. In the same way that you loved Eliza before you could see her, the way you were enamored before knowing her temperament, it just gets better as time goes on.

Enjoy your girl, fatigue and all.


Auntie Em

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fellow first borns, relax

I found this note to self dated 9/17/2012. A good reminder; glad I wrote it down.

You’ll always be first born among your siblings, but you are no longer responsible for their welfare. There was a time when you were responsible: when you babysat your brothers and sister you locked all the doors and windows. On family outings, you periodically counted heads just like your parents did. You were afraid of being separated in elevators (seven people is a lot to cross the threshold of automatic sliding doors, especially when four of them are younger than you and might not be paying attention). You come by your hyper vigilance honestly.

But those days are long gone. You get to relax. When family members are in the same room, you don’t have to direct traffic, conduct the orchestra, rally the troops, or rouse the sports fans. You’re all adults now. Nobody’s well-being depends on you except your own. Don’t have hurt feelings about it, enjoy it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Encouraging Words for the Hoodwinked

My dad recently posted the following essay to an online forum for parents involved in the same fundamentalist group we were a part of. With his permission, I'm happy to share it with you.  

With recent revelations that fundamentalist homeschooling guru Bill Gothard has resigned from the Institute in Basic Life Principles over allegations of sexual abuse I ask myself, "How in the world did I ever become one of his biggest fans?" I attended his seminars every year from 1973 to 1996, my wife and I used Gothard curriculum to home educate our kids, and as a pastor I clung to every word this man said regarding running a church.  I feel like those husbands and wives I talk to in counseling who discover their partner has been cheating on them--stupid, deceived, and hoodwinked. While my upset is minuscule compared to the women who've been damaged, here are the messages I give to myself to weather this scandal.
1. I don't feel guilty for not being omniscient. The reason charlatans, magicians, and liars get away with deception is because they're good at what they do. With a variety of tricks--seductive grooming, sleight of hand, misdirection--audience members get snookered. Yes, gullibility and naiveté often play a part, but not 100%. I don't feel guilty for trusting Gothard. He was convincing.

2. I don't regret our decision to home school, read IBLP materials, or attend those seminars. Yes, we embraced some of the wonkier aspects of his ministry--dresses on our daughters, vetoing pop culture for our sons, thinking public schools were like the cantina on Mos Eisely in Star Wars, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." At the same time we found much of Gothard's teachings helpful. What I do regret is not being more curious in 1980 when Gothard resigned from his leadership role amid what then was to me a vague and unimportant news item in Christianity Today. I regret not listening to my friends who warned me about this guy. I regret the sense of superiority I felt following a guy who fasted, meditated, and got answers to prayer. I regret the years of conflict I created in several churches for mentioning my black and white (Gothardish) aversion to divorce, rock, debt, birth control, television, dating, youth groups, and borrowing money. I regret waking my kids up at 5 AM to teach them Greek (although my 32 year old daughter did recently tell me that training helped her answer a clue in a crossword puzzle). 

3. I hope to learn from membership in my new group, "Those who've been hoodwinked."  The next time some guy who doodles on an overhead projector with outlines and flip charts, who does chalk talks, and who with few whistles and bells speaks with authority to packed stadiums on zillions of topics with Bible verse proof texts I will be wary. I hope to ransack my psyche to see what possible weakness would incline me to fall for such a guy. In 1973 I was a newly converted hippie with no moral compass, no clan to call my own, and no life purpose. Forty-one years later I trust I'm no longer easy pickings for charismatic gurus. But I'm not letting my guard down.
4. I hope to include in my life message a new chapter on spiritual discernment. Spiritual abuse is not only fodder for atheists and grievous to Christ. It's damaging to the preyed upon. My heart goes out to the young men and women entangled in what appears to be a movement rife with systemic dysfunction, a DNA of authoritarian control, and psychological abuse. Even if IBLP vanishes it is likely other groups will spring up which puts vulnerable young people at risk. I hope I and others who are recovering grace can stem the tide.

Me and my dad March 2014 - rule breakers

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"My name is Emily and I'm a Fundamentalist"

Last week I learned that the founder of a fundamentalist Christian organization that my family belonged to in the 90's resigned from his position as president, following allegations of sexual misconduct. You may be wondering, "So, what else is new?" A prominent religious leader slinking out of the lime light because of scandal shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. But it surprised me.

Depending on your exposure to the religious right over the last 50 years, you may not recognize the name Bill Gothard. He created a training program for troubled youth in the early 60's which grew into an annual 6-day seminar presented around the world and attended by millions. The "Basic Life Principles" taught at these seminars were eventually incorporated into a home school curriculum that my family used from 1989 to 1994 (we also belonged to a strong sub-culture in my community of families who all adhered to the same highly prescriptive rules. "Sheltered" doesn't really do justice in describing my childhood). Gothard, now 79 years old, (famously) never married and has continued to preach the importance of moral purity for the last 30 years

When I saw online that he was put on administrative leave and resigned a week later, I was surprised that it made the news. I didn't realize his influence is still so far-reaching or that his closest followers are still so devout. I was surprised at how many former "alumni" have formed an online community focused on recovery. While the behavior itself that Gothard is accused of isn't that shocking, what struck me was the realization of his hypocrisy ("strictest" equaled "holiest" in his organization). I concluded a long time ago that the basic principles he set as standards were impossible to live up to. Turns out he believed the same. 


I've been thinking a lot lately about the impact this fundamentalist organization had on me during the five years we were involved and beyond. To be fair, I can't claim to be embroiled in the culture anymore, or even directly affected by the recent revelation of scandal. I've had no contact with any members of the program in well over a decade. I still have many of the training materials I was given while attending the seminars, stored out of sight and out of mind in my garage. I kept the literature for anthropological reasons rather than sentiment - it's documentation of a significant era in my life. But I shudder when I think about those years of involvement, not because I was a victim of abuse, but because I was so self-conscious. I didn't fit in with the tiny and exclusive group of peers I was allowed to interact with, but wanted desperately to be accepted by the older girls that I admired. All of a sudden, it seems safe to admit I felt out of place.

A lot of time has passed since I associated myself with that group. I'd like to think I've completely outgrown the cult-mentality. But remembering the rules I was expected to follow during adolescence makes me realize how deeply ingrained and unsettling the teaching really is.

Here are a few of the things I was taught.

Rock music is inherently evil. Even contemporary Christian music should be shunned because of the beat, which is bound to lead listeners to "rebellion and witchcraft." Rock and roll perpetuates a message of disrespect and influences young people subliminally to be destructive. Steer clear.

In order to avoid temptation, you must be "under authority" at all times. This concept was illustrated with an umbrella that provided "protection." As a girl, this meant I was to remain under my father's authority until I got married (live at home, follow Dad's rules, apply myself to the well-being of my family, and get Dad's approval for all decisions). This would only change if I got married at which point I'd be under my husband's authority. Independence was dangerous at best, and at worst, downright sinful.

Dating is morally risky and basically just "practice for divorce." The approved method for finding a spouse was courtship. It was up to the guy to get a dad's permission to pursue a relationship with his daughter, and only with the intention of marriage. It was expected that both families would be involved in the relationship, and any time that the prospective couple spent together was closely supervised. Sex was out of the question (literally: it wasn't discussed).

As a woman, your highest calling is to submit to a husband’s leadership and have as many babies as possible. Someday, I was told, my future husband would have the final word in all areas (financial, spiritual, sexual, etc.). Birth control was unnecessary before marriage (no need to prevent pregnancy while abstinent - see previous lesson), and it was frowned upon for married women: the more offspring the better. Based on a Psalm that compares children to “arrows in the hand of a warrior” big families were believed to be more blessed because of “a full quiver.”

Personal appearance is crucial. Clothing, poise, attitude, and expression should always demonstrate respect for God. Men must keep their hair short and shave daily - no beards allowed. Women and girls should wear dresses and skirts instead of pants (the longer the skirt, the better. Bonus points for yards of unflattering denim). Avoid "eye traps," defined as anything that draws attention away from the eyes. Hair should be worn long, to frame the face. Low-cut tops, slits in skirts, anything form-fitting, big jewelry, and too much makeup were all forbidden. A smile and "bright countenance" were a girl’s best assets. I was warned that dressing provocatively, or even attractively, could cause a man to lust. The unspoken expectation was that I better stick to frumpy outfits just to be on the safe side.

Whole grain fiber is necessary for optimal healthBecause of Jesus' teaching in the Lord's Prayer ("Give us this day our daily bread"), we regularly ground whole wheat kernels into flour and made our own bread, rolls, and pizza crust with the help of a Bosch kneading machine. Even dense, dry baked goods could increase our spiritual standing.

College is unnecessary for successful adulthood. In fact, higher education was discouraged for both young men and women. No need to go into debt just to expose your impressionable children to alternate views and "worldly teaching." Home businesses and practical experience were encouraged, such as learning a trade as an apprentice. Godly character would make me more employable than any degree ever could (assuming I wasn't raising a family by my early twenties).

To avoid personal disaster and spiritual ruin, keep a clear conscience. This meant regularly confessing ALL sin to God and never offending others without seeking restitution. Numerous examples were readily available, demonstrating that an unrepentant heart was sure to experience financial, emotional, professional and moral failure. My fear of saying or doing the wrong thing or making the wrong decision stemmed from a hypersensitive conscience. There was no such thing as a neutral option; every fork in the road would either lead me toward blessing for aligning myself with God's Will or toward destruction for missing God's best and allowing a "foothold for Satan." The stakes were high no matter how trivial the sin or the available options.

To avoid irritation and anger (dangerous emotions to be sure), "yield your rights." In other words, focus your energy on what you are responsible for instead of what you expect from someone else (God owns everything anyway). Instead of expecting things to work out the way I wanted them to, or believing I deserved any particular set of circumstances, I would resign myself to the worst-case-scenario. If anything good happened, it was seen as a serendipitous and undeserved pleasure. If I got angry, I was asked to consider what "right" I hadn't yielded to God.

When praying, use the words “hedge of thorns” or “hedge of protection.” When I was fearful or anxious, I was taught to ask God to protect my loved ones (and myself) by surrounding them with an impenetrable boundary of sticker bushes, which would surely repel Satan. The exact choice of words was important.

Reviewing this list of beliefs evokes two reactions in me. 1) Amusement. “Oh, how naïve we were. The things we got hung up on are so silly in retrospect. If only life were so formulaic." 2) Fear. “Is this too disrespectful? Is my sarcasm crossing a line?" I feel like my twelve year old self again, worried I'm missing some vague ideal due to misguided application. Good intentions were never good enough to tip the scale from sin to obedience. My hesitancy to publish this blog post illustrates to me how ingrained my self-doubt is. 

Reviewing these "absolute truths" I believed as a very young person gives me clarity about myself. No wonder I still struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and trust. I was carefully trained to be suspicious of everything outside my small bubble of approved influence. I was groomed to be dependent. The idea that I was ill-equipped to make decisions for myself was reinforced over and over again. The fear of consequences for disobeying my parents or God was paralyzing as a kid. My conclusion was that I was imperfect and incapable so I zeroed-in on ways I could out-perform my flaws or divert attention to someone else. 

I’m a people-pleaser, but I come by it honestly. Who wouldn't be, with all those rules?


Questions I intend to answer in future posts:

"Your parents sound like jerks! Didn't they love you?"

"How did your family get suckered into this craziness? Were you all raving lunatics?"

"Do you hate God and all Christians?"

"How did you leave a cult?"

"What other fundie rules have you broken?"

"Did you have any friends as a kid?"

"Do you have any good whole-wheat bread recipes?"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mom, Mystery, and Metaphor: My Search for a Spiritual Practice

A women's leadership group I am a part of is discussing "spiritual practice," ways we as women, as leaders, and as individuals can connect with spirit in order to realize greater perspective and deeper meaning in life.

I've got to be honest. The phrase gives me the heebie jeebies.

The spiritual practices I am familiar with come from my young adulthood, steeped in evangelical tradition: attend church, participate in corporate worship, memorize scripture, fast, tithe, serve, and do "devotions" (private Bible reading and prayer). Those prescribed activities still reek of homework (at best) and prerequisites for salvation (at worst).

Another reason I struggle to place value on spiritual practice is the life and death of my mom. Her faith was the most compelling I know of. Mom was one of those rare individuals who lived her beliefs in a tangible way. She didn't talk about patience, compassion, unconditional love, or believing the best about people, she personified those traits daily. She treated others the way she wanted to be treated. She credited God for the blessings in her life. She lived humbly and sacrificially.

But despite being BFF's with Jesus, Mom's life ended due to an incurable and debilitating disease. In December 2006, a month before her 54th birthday, Mom was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's disease. For nearly seven years, my dad and siblings and I watched her deteriorate. Her earliest symptoms (sudden inability to balance her checkbook, getting lost while running routine errands, lack of simple recall) quickly morphed into more serious concerns (inability to read or write, requiring help to dress herself, constant fog of confusion). She disappeared one day while taking a walk through our neighborhood and didn't turn up until hours later, 13 miles from home. She was tired, disoriented and dehydrated, but unaware she had caused panic for the whole family that resulted in a missing persons report with the Sheriff's office.

In 2011, we moved Mom into a nursing home. She continued to lose motor skills, language, and resemblance to her former self. In the two years she was there, she aged an equivalent twenty years, her body seemingly on a fast track to total dependence. She died September 1, 2013, bedridden and infirm.

I hate what happened to my mom. I hate the fact that she was stolen from us - not only the morning of her death, but in all the losses along the way. She, of all people, never deserved to have her mind and body slowly turn against her. She was robbed of the chance to attend her firstborn son's wedding, to see him blissfully in love with his bride. She lost the opportunity to cradle and play with her first grandchild. She'll never be able to celebrate retirement, travel, or enjoy an empty nest with my dad, her adoring, devoted husband of 36 years.

I'd like a few words with the God she worshiped. I want an explanation for the humiliating, slow-motion death of a woman who was a powerhouse of kindness and creativity, who made every person she came in contact with feel valuable and worthwhile. Why was that light extinguished? What's the use of being faithful if there's no dispensation from suffering?

The years between her diagnosis and death were like an ongoing storm. As a family, we were constantly covered by dark clouds, continually in a state of emergency. I didn't know whether to board up the windows and hunker down, make an escape to higher ground and run for the hills, or give up and be swept away in the rising flood waters. It was a seven year natural disaster.

And yet.

In the midst of those stormy years, despite the fear, sadness, confusion, anger and profound loss, there were periodic sun breaks. There were rainbows. Every visit with my mom in the nursing home was a gift. Her sweet spirit buoyed us, even when we were trying our best to be strong for her. Her sense of humor lasted longer than her ability to tell funny stories. Her smile still lit up the room. She hummed and harmonized long after she forgot the words to her favorite hymns. My family rallied around her and our love was solidified. The storm of grief raged on, but we were anchored to one another.

We had the opportunity to practice the qualities we'd seen in her: it took unconditional love to carry on one sided-conversations. It required patience when she moved slowly. We drew on compassion in order to sit with her in unfamiliar surroundings, in rooms filled with ancient strangers. We borrowed her joy when all we wanted to do was collapse in tears. Those holy moments of connection to her were beams of light shining down between shifting rain clouds.

My simplistic, cause-and-effect understanding of Christianity has been shattered. My happy-go-lucky faith in a god who "works all things together for good for those who love him" has been called into question. I used to think that any reference to spirituality was an hommage to The Holy Spirit, whether theologically correct or incorrect. To say "I'm not a religious person, but I am very spiritual" was just a cop-out for those unwilling to claim a specific dogma.

But now, I believe Spirituality refers to something much, much bigger. It is somehow contained in those indescribable interruptions of love and light, the sunbeams and stillness during the storm. Maybe it comes from heaven, or eternity, or God, or the universe. Maybe it's generated between people whose love for one another transcends words of explanation. Maybe it simply resides in human souls. I don't know. My 16 year-old Christian self is screaming "heretic! Stop with the New Age mumbo jumbo!" but her pat answers don't satisfy me anymore. I'm no longer threatened by uncertainty. In fact, I'm allured by mystery; by the paradox of loss and love and how fully I experienced both simultaneously.

I'm going to keep an open mind. However I end up defining it in this stage of my life, spiritual practice will be the place where I explore these mysteries. Maybe meditation will become my metaphorical surfboard on life's tidal waves, or mindfulness a hot air balloon ride during a lightening storm. Maybe it will all come back to fasting and kneeling in prayer. I'm going to allow myself some time to ponder.

And I'm pretty sure Mom and the trinity are OK with that.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Football Follow-Up

After reading Dad's Superbowl experience as well as all the positive feedback on Facebook where I shared a link to his guest post, I feel the need to elaborate on a few details for maximum comedic impact.

It gets better, people.

First, a bit of history. My family is not a sports-fan family. We didn't own a TV until I was in my teens, and neither Mom nor Dad were particularly interested in anything competitive (except Scrabble). Our family time involved literature, humor, imagination, and creativity. Athleticism came last in our educational priorities. I carry no resentment for this; I have little to contribute on the topic of sports and I'm OK with that.

Because Dad was a pastor until I was 17, the only time I heard him refer to sports was to lament low attendance on Sunday mornings during football season. I felt sorry for my friends in Sunday School whose dads were home in front of the TV instead of spending the morning with their families in church (such is the plight of the dutiful PK: pity for one's peers).

As I described last month in an open letter to my mom, I've warmed up to football. But it's taken concentrated effort. My siblings are surprised when I mention the NFL in casual conversation. 

Imagine my surprise on Superbowl Sunday when I got the following series of texts from Dad:

I'd purposefully left my phone in another room so I wouldn't be distracted by Facebook or Twitter. I wanted to be in the moment with Hubbins, my youngest brother, and our friends who hosted the Superbowl party we attended (and not miss a minute of game time). As we celebrated Seattle's victory, I retrieved my phone and was shocked to see I had missed his monologue.

In a single text, my father informed me that he was a) patronizing an adult-beverage establishment, b) participating in (and winning) a game of chance, and c) watching the Seahawks beat the Broncos. Any one of these announcements was enough to make me gasp, but three at once?! My first reaction was worry (such is the plight of the dutiful firstborn: vigilant concern).

I quickly replied, and didn't have to wait long for his answer (thankfully).


The Feed and Seed? He was watching the game next door to the store that supplied my childhood pets with rabbit food, fencing materials to keep the goats in the yard, and an annual chili feed that Mom brought us kids to every spring. NOT the location I would have guessed (I'd forgotten a restaurant had been built there). I wondered what he had gotten himself into.

I showed the texts to my sister the next day. She said, "That makes it sound like he had fun! He told me the whole story and it did not sound like he enjoyed himself." My curiosity was piqued.

Dad sent me his guest post a few days later, after a family friend encouraged him to write it down(presumably after hearing the same harrowing tale my sister heard. Thank you BP). Evidently, the writing process was therapeutic for him. As a bonus, it provided entertainment for all of us! I laughed out loud when I read it and shared it with Hubbins.

Several questions came to mind when I read his report, so when Dad and I had coffee the following Sunday I asked a few clarifying questions.

  • Why didn't he call us to find out where we were watching the Super Bowl? He said he didn't ask to watch the game with us because he didn't want to interrupt by asking questions. Pshaw. I reassured him he was welcome to join us. But I like my friend Wendy's suggestion, too:

  • All Dad's texts referred to being in a tavern. Who says tavern? In my mind, that's synonymous to an old timey saloon with swinging louvered doors. My hometown is quaint but not that countrified. Why didn't he go to a sports bar? (Hubbins commented, "He should stick to a crowd he knows."  I reminded him that Dad doesn't have a crowd). Turns out Dad's assumption was all business that serve alcohol are created equal. So we discussed the difference between sports bars, biker bars, dive bars, and truck stops (we didn't even get to pubs). That was a vocabulary lesson I didn't anticipate having with my dad.

  • Who were these women begging for drinks? Dad confided in private that many of them were missing teeth (and I quote), "but it seemed too mean to put in a blog." Hm. A coworker said, "your dad looks like a really nice guy - those tacky ladies could tell he's not a creeper!" [Shudder.]

I also learned that dad ate his jello shots with a fork. I informed him this was not the proper method, but told him not to ask me how I knew.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Superbowled Over - Guest Post from Dad


My daughter Emily’s recent blog post about the joys of pro football inspired me to watch my first game of the season, of the decade actually. Last Sunday I cheered as the Seahawks demolished the Denver Broncos in Superbowl XLVIII! I can now converse knowledgably with one hundred and eleven million people on the planet.

Watching this game will also help me relate to my clients who came to therapy last week with “12” inked on their cheeks, with nails painted blue and green, and wearing all kinds of Seahawk accessories: hats, hoodies, and green and blue tennis shoes. The gals got decked out too!

As a novice 12th man who doesn’t own a television I had to figure out where to watch the game. I tuned in to FOX SPORTS on my lap top but the screen was too dinky. I made a bee line to the nearest big screen I knew of, the El Nopal Mexican Restaurant two miles south of my house. The sign out front said it all, “Superbowl Party Here.” I rarely hang out in taverns but this game was a priority!

I arrived an hour early, ordered a Corona and veggie burrito ($11.00), and staked my claim to a front row seat. The images on the high def television were mesmerizing. Flat screen TVs always make this sixty-one year old feel like throwing his glasses away.

As time for the coin toss drew closer the place filled with all manner of enthusiastic fans. They wore tiny footballs with flashing LED lights, festooned their hair with blue and green streamers spiked with goop, and to honor Washington and Colorado’s lax dope laws, a dozen guys toked up a storm in the parking lot. I have an aversion to all things flashy, goopy, and frenetic, so I ignored the building hysteria behind me and focused on the sixty inch screen before me.

Apparently the waitresses did not think this pregame fervor was enough. They whipped the crowd into a frenzy by cranking up the music—I had to lip-read Kurt Russell introducing the teams. They popped balloons with prize tokens inside—I won a football key chain and a whistle. And they invited the crowd to write our name on a dollar bill and put it in a brown paper bag. At the end of each quarter they’d remove a dollar and the winner would collect all the money. I purposely misspelled my name on my dollar bill to throw off the feds in their pursuit of citizens who deface money.

Those earnest waitresses were like Youth Pastors with ADHD and I was the hapless high school freshman. Pandemonium reigned.

At three-thirty sharp the owners thankfully turned down the music and turned up the volume on the television. After Joe Namath flipped the coin a second time—he misfired the first time—the game was afoot.

In 2008 Seattle Sonics moved to Oklahoma, the Seahawks lost the Superbowl in 2005, and the Mariners have never played in a World Series. Sports fans in the Pacific Northwest suffer not only from vitamin D deficiency; they suffer from sports angst. I was rooting for the Hawks as a matter of public mental health.

I’m no expert but I thought we were off to a pretty good start when the Broncos gave us two points with a poorly timed hike. I then ordered a large Margarita ($7.00) and settled in to watch the game of a life time.  

Post game commentators have dissected this game in detail but what they can’t tell you is was what went on inside the El Nopal Mexican Restaurant. By the end of the first quarter we were ahead 5 to 0 and a perky waitress pulled a random dollar out of the brown paper bag and shouted my name. I was stunned. She walked to my table and dumped a bag of ones on me like Gatorade on a winning coach. Easiest thirty dollars I ever received. I found my dollar with Erik spelled “Eric” and put it back in the bag for the next drawing.

During the second quarter Bronco fumbles grew and so did Seahawk points. While I innocently nursed my Margarita everybody else’s bar tab grew. The Sangria flowed like, well, it flowed like wine. The eager beaver waitresses made their rounds taking orders and offering each of us Jell-o shots. I’d never had a Jell-o shot before and after three I acquired a taste for green and blue Jell-o I never knew I had.

By the end of the second quarter I was ready to see my very first Superbowl half time show. I thought the Pepsi preliminary warm up clip with giant hands plunking the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, maneuvering subway trains like sound board knobs, and twisting the stadium like a volume control was totally awesome!

But before Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers even started I was interrupted when the perky waitress called my name a second time. I was speechless when she dumped a bag of ones on me again. This time I counted twenty dollars. My front pocket was filling up! I found my dollar with the misspelled name and put it back in the bag again. Fifty dollars minus the eleven dollar beer and burrito and seven dollar Margarita put me thirty-two dollars in the black. The Hawks were hot and so was I!

Before I could figure out which singer was Bruno and which was a Chili Pepper a woman I’d never met before squeezed into my booth, sat on my lap, put her arms around me, kissed my cheek, and asked, “Where’s your flashing football?”

I adopted a deer in the headlights look and stammered, “Uh…….”

She unpinned one of those footballs with the LED lights from her jersey, pinned it on my shirt, and said, “I’ve just flashed you! Buy me a drink!”

You know how people say their life flashes before their eyes before a near death experience? What flashed through my mind in that moment was the words of Howie Mandel whom I just watched that morning as he explained the OCD revulsion he felt as a kid when his shoe laces touched the contaminated floor. I’m sure that woman meant no harm but for one brief second I felt a connection with all my OCD clients horrified at imaginary impurities.

In my most eloquent voice I stammered again, “Uh.…….”

She realized I wasn’t going to buy her a drink and so she hugged me and wandered off.

I still don’t know what Bruno Mars looks like.

The third quarter began and, I am not making this up, a second woman wobbled toward my table and said, “Hey, you’re rich! Buy me a drink.”

I don’t get out much. My world is defined by second hand book stores, churches, and hanging out with sober men. I have no way of knowing if this kind of behavior is normal. In disbelief I stammered a third time, “Uh……..”

She staggered off leaving me utterly stupefied.

As the Seahawks kept racking up points the frenetic crowd went wild. Interestingly, the loudest audience members were the women. They shouted smack at Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, danced in the aisles—a movement I’ve since learned is called twerking, and kept the waitresses busy ordering all manner of exotic drinks. I suspect the guys were quiet because they were stoned.

 When Percy Harvin ran the length of the field for a touch down I got out of my seat and cheered. I was careful, however, not to make eye contact with anyone and quickly returned to my seat and put my head down hoping to be left alone.

When it became evident the Lombari trophy was ours the little El Nopal Mexican Restaurant went berserk. Women, two of whom I clearly recognized, took the offense and rushed, ran, and dashed down the narrow aisles high fiving everyone, hugging and kissing all the men. I hunkered down hoping to avoid bodily contact with anyone.

Sadly, with no ref to call off sides a woman I hadn’t met yet got past my defense, bent over my table, grabbed my neck, put her mouth in my right ear, and let out a blood curdling scream. I am as happy as anyone for this win but felt that scream was entirely unnecessary.

Mercifully, I did not win the bag of dollars after the third or fourth quarters. Who knows what kind of trouble I’d have gotten into if I had.

Final score: Seahawks, 43. Broncos, 8. Erik, 32, three pieces of Seahawk bling, and a ringing in his ears that hasn’t quit.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A letter to my mother. About football.

Sunday, January 19, 2014
Dear Mom,
Guess what? I have news to share with you. I’ve become a football fan. Specifically, a Seattle Seahawks fan. I’m not the fanatical paint-your-mailbox-in-team-colors fan, nor do I drink Bud Light in the garage and shout at my TV during the game (like some neighbors we know). Much to my surprise, I have become emotionally invested in my home team’s success. I didn’t really understand how marrying a sports fan would impact me; I expected to host a lot of super bowl parties and get really good at homemade nachos. Instead, I spent all of last weekend worrying about Percy Harvin, who was evaluated twice for a concussion. It was only his second game as a Seahawk; he hasn’t played most of this season due to injury and hip surgery. Within 1 minute of being on the field last Saturday, he was hit hard enough to be pulled to the sidelines. This kid is younger than Alex, and he was hurling his body around like he was a superhero, unaffected by the law of gravity. I never expected football to evoke a mothering instinct in me.
Today we play the San Francisco 49ers. Their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is a baby-faced punk who looks like he could have used Wisdom Search and Sunday night Popcorn and Books as a kid, if you catch my drift. I get the feeling that his personal appearance is more valuable than character development (harsh criticism coming from a recovering fundamentalist). You’d love the Hawk’s quarterback, Russell Wilson. He’s loaded with character and has proven all the naysayers wrong with his success and leadership of the team (he was a rookie last year and was thought to be too short to be quarterback). He quotes Bible verses on Twitter. During interviews he gives credit to God, his coach and mentor, and his teammates for a winning season.
Plus, the Seahawks have been underdogs for a long time, so being in another playoff game today is really exciting. The last time they were this successful was when they went to the super bowl in 2006. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember, even though I had zero interest in football at the time, because I was in Uganda.
The day before the super bowl, I white water rafted down the Nile with a guided group in Jinja (I didn’t tell you about it until afterward so you wouldn’t worry). After the last grade-5 rapid sucked me out of the raft and plunged me underwater for what seemed like a lifetime, I emerged and found my way to the bank of the river. Stunned and dizzy, I had a soda and a snack with the rest of the tour group. A local boy was hanging around the mzungus (white people). I noticed him right away because he had on an oversize T shirt that said SEATTLE across it. I complimented him and told him that was the city I was born in. Another tourist heard me and commented on the upcoming game, announcing he was a Steelers fan.
I look back at that now and marvel at the coincidence: opposing fans half the globe away from home shared a life-threatening adventure but were still segregated by their teams of choice. Teams who would face off within the next 24 hours. At the time, I think I shrugged him off, wondering how this fellow American could think of football of all things. We just rafted the Nile! In AFRICA! Clearly, his priorities were all bungled up.
I wish I had gotten a picture with that boy in the Seattle shirt. Of course my camera was someplace else, safe and dry. If I could relive that particular moment, now that I understand how being a football fan isn’t about priorities so much as it is about identity, I would banter with the Steelers fan and say disparaging things about their coach and quarterback. I would make the boy my personal mascot. I would hold his hand high like a prizefighter and shout “Seattle is the best!! We’re number 1!” I would combine cultural sensitivity and team loyalty all in one.
Now I get the camaraderie of fans. Last weekend on game day, we went to the grocery store for some last minute snacks. Practically everyone there was in a Seahawks’ jersey, 12th man shirt, or blue and green stocking cap. There was a buzz. There was anticipation. There was an unspoken bond among us. As a teenager when I saw strangers commiserating over a team’s loss or celebrating a victory, I thought it was all nonsense. I was convinced it was just posturing among social outcasts (as you’ll recall, I was a tightly wound, judgmental adolescent). Now I know that I was the outcast, unaffiliated with a team and disconnected from other fans.
I miss you, Mom. The best thing about you is that I know exactly how you would react to this story: interest, enthusiasm, laughter. I can see your face smiling.
I love you, Mommy dearest. I think of you often, usually with joy and gratitude, sometimes with sadness. Your mark on me is permanent. I want to make you proud.
Love you so,