You need some history to understand what I have to tell. Here it is:
I have two grown sons. Son1 is single and a staunch JW whose goal for years has been to go to Bethel and to become a missionary. Son2 is married and disfellowshipped. I am disassociated.
When I left the org in 1988, it was because I had a 12-year backlog of cognitive dissonance built up in me and I couldn't stand the pressure any more. I still hadn't made the connection between all that was wrong, and the fact that they aren't what they claim to be. I just believed that there was something wrong with me personally that caused Jehovah not to help me, not to answer my prayers for understanding, strength and support. As a result, after I left I started on a downhill slide of heavy drinking that eventually turned into daily dependence on alcohol to anesthetize me enough to cope with the fact that I was a man who had ben rejected by God and had rejected him in return and was just waiting for inevitable annihilation.
In the last couple of years that Son1 lived with me, a lot of things happened that distanced us. A married sister in the hall, raised a JW and having raised her kids as JWs, left her husband of 17 years and we eventually moved in together, she bringing her kids with her and me mine. It was a bad matchup fueled solely by strong sexual attraction, and everybody was miserable. Son1 was trying to be a good witness, and you can imagine how he must have felt while attending meetings in that small community. When he graduated he immediately moved out of the house and to another town, and we lost contact for about four years.
Son2 got disfellowshipped at age 15 for smoking. He and I managed to maintain a better rapport than I did with Son1, because the morality thing wasn't as big an issue between us.
In January of 1996 I got into a substance abuse recovery program and started putting myself and my life back together. Shortly after that I found H2O online and gradually realized the truth about the organization. At that point I began trying to reestablish a relationship with Son1. I found him coolly receptive, wary but willing to talk and visit with me. He explained to me that the policy on shunning applies in spiritual matters, but doesn't mean that we can't associate as family. I didn't argue. :)
For the past four years I have maintained contact with him and occasionally we have gotten together. A couple of years ago He flew up with me to Washington for Son2's wedding, and a good time was had by all. That visit laid a foundation that we have been building on since, and we all have gotten together a couple of times since then. Although he visits and associates with us, Son1 has always put the JW aspect first, as you would expect any diehard JW to do. For example, here we have flown up to spend three days visiting his brother, with none of us having seen the others in about three years, and yet he goes to great lengths to spend half a day at a kingdom hall meeting.
Philosophical discussions of any length are generally unpleasant and tough on us all, because he carries the traditional JW views which make it hard for him to understand the importance of things that matter to us, and exasperates us as we try to cope with his tunnel vision. For example, when girlfriend Nickie's daughter got her masters degree in virology and started on toward her doctorate, I told him about it and commented proudly, "She's going to be the one who finds us a cure for AIDS." His reaction was, "Oh, well, whatever she thinks is important, I guess." This of course reflecting the JW view that God's kingdom will shortly rid the earth of AIDS and all other diseases and we should be spending our time telling others that good news instead of wasting in in such futility. So you can imagine that it's hard to cope, for all of us; I'm sure it's as tough on him trying to maintain connections with us as it is on us trying to maintain them with him.
I've learned not to argue with him about things. At the first reunion of the three of us I got irritated at some bit of JW idiocy he parroted about the last days, and I snapped irritably at him, "Son1, we are not living in the last days. You are going to grow old and die here in this system just as I am." He didn't say anything, but he looked at me with a look that spoke of how far I had fallen from true knowledge now that I didn't have Jehovah's spirit any more.
I realized then that I couldn't argue with him about his beliefs for fear of him withdrawing from us, so ever since I have taken a passive attitude. For example, on this last visit I took along pictures of their childhood and we went through them all with me telling stories of our lives back then, when they were too young to remember clearly. One picture showed me spoonfeeding Son1 in his high chair, and on a buffet beside us is an Indian sand painting from a reservation in Colorado. I commented that we burned the sand painting when we became witnesses. Son1 asked why, and I said, "It supposedly had religious significance, Son1. It's a Jehovah's Witness thing. If it's associated with 'false religion', you burn it."
He answered back, "Sounds like a personal thing to me." Denying the atmosphere in which I came into the organization, rejecting my firsthand experience, reflexively protecting the organization from the truth about itself. My reaction was simply, "Have it your way, son." Nothing more was said about it. This is the stance I have to take with him whenever he starts espousing his views. And believe, me, I have had some stressful moments biting my tongue and feeling my face flush red, fighting to keep quiet at some of the things he has said.
So! With all that background, now here's the story!
Last weekend he flew to Washington with me to observe and celebrate my daughter-in-law's (DIL's) graduation from college with a bachelors degree in the double majors of Humanities and English. He's 26 now, and Son2 is 24; DIL is 25. They're all well into their adulthood, and for the first time I really saw evidence of their maturity, both in their speech and attitudes, and in their behavior. But what encouraged me the most in this whole trip, were the occasional things I saw and heard from Son1 that gave evidence that he has been doing some (shudder) independent thinking. Check this out:
On the first day we were together he told Son2 and I that he did not intend to go to a meeting Sunday. He figured he could easily make up for it some other time. This wasn't just missing the meeting due to inconvenience; he planned it that way.
At the university graduation, he became quiet and contemplative. I believe he was reflecting on the fact that DIL, one year his junior, had now completed a four-year course of study and was equipped to earn a substantial salary in the working world, while he had spent the same four years working low-pay, dead-end jobs in order to free himself to go in field service in the belief that for his sacrifice Jehovah would "open the floodgates of the Heavens until there was no more want." His struggles with finances, uninsured junk cars, unprincipled JW employers and rathole rented accomodations testify to the fallacy of that idea.
Also at the university, he kept noticing the goodlooking women. In fact, he also did this at the airport, at restaurants, and every public place we went to. He was so vocal about it that I finally asked him, "Son, are you having a major problem with your self-control, there?" To which he replied, "Dad, you guys get to do something about it. I just have to deal with the pressure."
Graduation day was also DIL's birthday. Son2 had rented a place for a combination graduation and birthday party. He explained this to Son1, stating there would be cake and presents, and said he would understand if Son1 didn't want to be there. Son1's choice was to attend anyway. We went in before starting time and arranged tables, set up the food and drinks, decorated with crepe paper and balloons, and helped a DJ set up his stuff on a stage at one end of the room. Son1 joined right in with all of this.
At this party, Son1 sat with me at a table with some of DIL's college professors, and engaged in a long conversation with one of them, a man who is from South Africa and teaches African Literature. I sat with my hands fisted up, tense and holding my breath, hoping he wouldn't bring up the supposed plight of JW's in African countries. Although the conversation went on for almost an hour, he never did bring it up. I was so relieved.
As a single brother, he gets around to a lot of witness gatherings, and over the years has become an excellent and versatile dancer. On into the night after a little wine had loosened the partygoers up a bit, he got out on the floor with a "worldly" chick and cut a rug, dancing salsa, swing, and other hotshot steps with her.
And perhaps the greatest thing of all: toward the end of our visit, when I guess the impact of DIL's academic accomplishement had had time to sink in with him, he and I eased our way into a discussion of higher education. He mumbled his way uncomfortably around the topic for a while, and finally acknowledged that he needed an education to prepare him for a serious profession. I said, "Well, if you're going to work an eight-hour day anyway, son, you might as well get paid a good salary for it."
He answered, "Yeah, that's right." At that point I repeated an offer I had made four or five times before, to give him financial assistance if he would go to college or a trade school. As before, he neither accepted nor rejected the offer. But he said, "I'm not sure about the information technology field... what does it take to become a programmer like you?" So we talked about that, and we talked about Cisco certification, and because he's good artistically and once had an interest in art, I brought up the possiblility of doing computer graphics, and also of doing something in the audio field. He listened quietly as I outlined some of the possibilities.
Well, there it is folks... the latest thing in my life that's giving me hope. It may come about that my entire family manages to escape safely from the horrible mistake I made 25 years ago when I plunged all of us into that unholy mess.
Millions now living may see it happen!