The Thanks Series #8: Right From Wrong

Life in the Foundation Faith of God was, like life for other people, a mix of ups and downs. Full of good and bad examples. Here, I’d like to share what I learned from some of the people in this cult. I’m not talking about positive lessons they taught me from goodness or being a good example; I’m talking about extrapolating lessons from bad examples or behavior.

I won’t be disclosing names. This is because I’ve forgiven all of these people and I really don’t want any bitterness or recriminations to come from this post.

1. Dallas Branch Director

I am still good friends with this lady’s daughters, so I want to make clear at the outset that my intent is not to cast aspersions, but to share my experience. I think their experience was much different than mine and that of the other children in Dallas; they got to live in the same house as their mother and father for most of their formative years. They even got their own Christmas morning, with a separate tree, apart from that of the other kids.

There was always something off about the Dallas Branch Director. She had a cat named Waffen. We were taught to march in step; we even have photographic evidence of at least one of us saluting like the Nazis did. Truth be told, the mandates and directives that were handed down seemed less like bids to teach us important life lessons and more like attempts at maintaining control and dramatically expressing disapproval.

So the first lesson I learned from her is one I still need to get better at, and that is to make sure consequences and disciplinary action with my kids are not about me or my feelings, but are about helping my kids learn important lessons.

Another powerful lesson I learned had more to do with character and courage. I learned to face my fears head on from her. She used volume and angry tone, along with sarcastic language and mocking facial expressions, to beat us down. Sadly, she was a master at being emotionally abusive. (Even as I write this, I’m thinking about the way I interact with my kids and finding things I need to be careful of.)

We visited the headquarters of the Foundation, which they called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at the time, pretty much every summer, usually for a few weeks, during which we would scoop a phenomenal amount of dog crap and do other sundry jobs. We weren’t slave labor- we were child labor. But it wasn’t awful, except for the dog crap scooping. (I kid you not; I’ve scooped more than an actual ton of dog crap in my life.) I learned to use tools, install dry wall, mud, texture, and work with plumbing, paint, and tile, and much more during those times.

We made this trip from Dallas to Kanab and back in a large passenger van with most of the seats removed so that we could pile blankets and pillows and play card games. It was a long journey.

One early evening, we pulled into the driveway of the main house on Swiss Avenue, relieved to be done with the long journey and dropping off the girls before we boys were driven to our home on Dickason. We sat and waited for some time while Jonathan, our caretaker, was inside. One of the girls came out and told us there was some berating over the state of the house on Dickason– it was alleged we had left the place a mess. Isaac and I unwisely said that was ridiculous; we had left the place spotless, like always.

Apparently that girl felt it necessary to pass on our comments, because Isaac and I were called in to stand before the director of the Dallas branch. She verbally abused us at length, waxing angry about respect and the like. We, as usual, kept our heads down, looking at the floor and periodically nodding and glancing at her face to show we were listening.

But I was royally peeved off. We HAD left the house spotless. Why were Isaac and I being berated? The room we shared with 4 other boys was tidy as tidy could be. I was maybe 15 at the time and I decided enough was enough. This woman was being unreasonable and it was time for me to assert myself.

I looked up and met her gaze. I looked directly into her eyes, keeping my face totally expressionless, ‘flat’ as Mark took to calling it. I used the meditation I’d been practicing to breathe smoothly and just let her harangue wash over me. I stared at her eyes, studying them, feeling totally free from her and her abuse and tyrannical tendencies.

She stuttered to a stop after about a minute of my meeting her gaze directly. She made a goofy face, frowned at me, then sent us on our way.

Peaceful defiance, my friends. I learned that I had an inner strength and calm that would serve me well. I used it a lot more through the next two years of cult-life.

It served me well another time when she sat me down, about 1.5 years later, in the new house on Chattington. She was ‘concerned’ about my defiance of the adults and my clear decision to live as much on my terms as I could, given my cult surroundings. I didn’t make it to the morning and evening devotionals and usually slept through Sunday “Celebrations.” I did my school work very fast and then read during the rest of class. I went to bed when I wanted and got up when I wanted. I determined the meals that the boys’ house would eat and did all of the shopping, running the budget of the groceries without a problem.

In short, I was being very independent and I never took any kind of verbal, emotional, or physical abuse of me or anyone I happened to be near. She sat me down and talked at me for a time while I sent my mind elsewhere, my eyes fixed on hers. After a couple of minutes, she stopped and said, “You’re not even listening, are you?”

“Nope.”

“What I’m saying is going in one ear and out the other.”

“Nope. It’s not going in.”

She sat back, stupefied and, honestly, apparently bemused. Then she sent me on my way.

I learned that being an adult has a lot to do with honesty, respect, and courage.

She also taught me to make Red Flannel, a mighty fine pasta dish, and taught me some cool Irish Republican Army songs.

I thank her for her tyrannical need for control and her attempts at emotional abuse. I was made stronger and more self-aware because of this.

2. Her Husband

This man is now dead, sadly, of some kind of cancer. I hear he mellowed a lot later in life. Honestly, he provided a huge amount of fun times and variety in our lives. He was a phenomenal artist, trained at some major school in England. He had us making movies, doing major sculpture projects, learning to screen print, and a lot more. Great guy, overall.

But he was a bear of a man and he used physicality and volume to intimidate kids, many of them little. I learned that little kids need defending and that I am the guy to do that if I’m aware of abuse. I learned that I didn’t have to be a victim if I had the courage to do what was necessary, which was confront the abuser and leave the situation posthaste as needed. It helped that I lifted weights daily, pounded a heavy training bag for hours at a time (building shoulder and chest muscle like mad) and thus could also be physically intimidating.

I learned not to take any crap at all and that I should help the innocent stay free of abuse.

3. My mother and father

I love both my mom and dad. My mom has passed on, and my dad lives on. I love them both very much and forgive them for the decisions that they made which I don’t think I can ever understand. I no longer have any bitterness or anger.

What I have is an increased appreciation for being together with family and for being called Dad. I cherish hugs, love my kids’ sense of humor, and depend very much on the bond I feel between us. My days are filled with a richness that I don’t think my mother and father could have possibly experienced, given their decision to essentially orphan me into the care of the Foundation.

My family is the absolute heart of my existence, the center of my soul. I don’t think there are words in any language I am familiar with that describe just how much I value them. They are my primary value, the one that determines everything else that I do.

I have no doubt that the depth with which my life centers on my family is in part a reaction to the way I grew up. I wouldn’t change a thing, sadly, but I still want to change things today. I wonder if my mother ever regretted her decisions regarding her three sons. I know my dad regrets his choices regarding me.

Dad, I forgave you a long time ago. I love you for who you are and for being my father.

If you haven’t yet, let it go.

4. That guy

I have to be careful with this one. If I describe this man at all, it will be clear who he is. He is still alive and what he taught me by beating me silly is that giving into anger is never okay, but also that when you give into anger, there is more going on behind the scenes than we understand and those moments of anger do not define us.

He beat me up pretty badly. I was so shocked and scared of this adult man attacking me that I wet myself. I was 9.

It took me a long time to get past this and forgive him. Of course there was and is no excuse for his behavior, but the time for recrimination or ‘justice’ is long past.

I learned that physical force and child-rearing just don’t go together, in general. I think unemotional squeezes, and perhaps the occasional rational spank might be okay, but any force done while anger is felt is bad, dangerous, and bad. I also learned that I didn’t want to be a victim.

And sharing this here, I think I’m learning that either I’m a narcissist or I really care about honesty.

He’s a good guy. His heart is good and he does good things. I wonder if he even remembers this event; I bet he does. I wouldn’t mind an apology, but that’s more about him than me.

5. Me

I screwed up a lot growing up. I still do, but not quite as royally.

I gave into urges and desires I shouldn’t have. I was mean, rude, dishonest, cruel, and much more to the people around me. I cut myself off from honest connection with my pseudo-siblings, deliberately embracing the idiotic idea of being a loner.

The kids I grew up with are remarkable people and my biggest regret from my childhood is that I didn’t get closer to all of them. I never really opened myself up for real friendship and closeness.

That was wrong. I’ve learned that being a friend starts with me and I need to push myself to be open, generous, and kind.

I also did a lot of wrong things and ended up carrying a load of guilt and memories that stayed with me for… well for two decades. The memories hurt a lot.

I have learned a lot from me, and I hope to continue learning from myself. If I ever stop, then I’m either dead or suddenly monumentally stupid.

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If you have any questions or comments, let me know. I don’t mind you sharing this post. If someone else gains value from it, tremendous.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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