Patriarchy in Action: Caleigh’s Story
Thanks from all of us, Caleigh, for so graciously sharing your story. Caleigh’s blog is The Profligate Truth [Internet Archive link]
In January of 2011, my dad kicked me out and told me that he didn’t have time for me anymore and didn’t want to deal with me anymore. I moved out two weeks later, even though my soon to be father in law, and my mom, came to me and said that pleas were welcomed. I wasn’t going to beg to stay when I could no longer do what my dad demanded of me. It broke my heart to leave my siblings, but it was definitely the time to get out. I got married three months later, and am still happily married two years later.
Let me back up, and give some more definition and background to my story. I am the oldest of nine, 4 girls and 5 boys. My family has moved around a lot, my dad used to be in the military, and in doing so, we have been in a lot of different churches. I don’t know when exactly my parents/dad started sipping the patriarchy kool-aid, but now that I am aware of the effect it’s had on my family, I can trace it back to long before I can remember. We started going to a small house church when I was somewhere around the age of 5 or 6, and that was the first time I remember being around other families doing the same things my family was, and all of the dads were the authorities in the church.
I grew up with fear, and was taught that whatever my dad said was what I absolutely had to do, say, or believe. I knew no other way of living, nor did I understand what was wrong, even though I constantly felt like something was wrong with my family. It wasn’t until I was 14 or 15 that I really began to understand just why my family was the way they were, and still are to some degrees.
Growing up, we had “family devotions” but we never really enjoyed them, and by the time I was in my mid teens, they were more of a joke than anything else. There was never any discussion about what we, as a family believed, or what my parents believed. We were told, not asked what we thought, and I can see how that really messed me up, especially when I realized that my dad was a hypocrite and someone who did not “follow” what he preached.
When I was 7 ½ years old, I got baptized, and that is the only time I ever remember my dad specifically talking to me about what it means to be saved. I do remember not being able to give the definition on my own, but when my dad started talking, I was able to fill in the words. I don’t think I really understood what it meant to be a Christian at that age, but I definitely can remember my heart really changed after that.
I mainly was excited to be able to take communion with all of the rest of the adults and to give my dad the thumb’s up that meant that I didn’t have anything to confess. I have never been able to take communion without remembering that I had to give my dad a thumbs up or else I couldn’t take communion. The thumbs up was supposed to signify that I didn’t have anything to confess, and also that I didn’t have anything against my dad, or anyone else.
My dad controlled my siblings and I when it came to communion, and many other areas. Having to give him a thumbs up was like showing to the world that he was in control of our faith. I hated having to do it especially because rarely was I not angry or frustrated with him. I just didn’t want to have to be approached by my dad and given a talk about how I’m holding things against him, or not forgiving him, and forget that I was hurt by him, or angry with him for abusing my siblings.
Patriarchy is a sneaky beast, and it definitely has some good aspects, but more so it gives abusive men the perfect cover up for continuing to abuse their families. Patriarchy is very much of an outward picture belief system where a lot of pressure is put on everyone doing the same thing, “looking” the same way, or believing the same thing. Home schooling, women being baby making machines, and practically being chained to the stove, daughters never going to college, quiverfull mindset of having as many children as possible, sons carrying on their father’s business, or never going to college as well, and fathers being in supreme authority over their families are very common things among patriarchal / quiverfull families. The fathers having absolute authority over their families with no one they are accountable to is what enables the abusers.
This sort of mindset creates an environment where scriptures that talk about submission, authority, women, and children are all taken out of context and made to mean that the men are in absolute authority over the women and children. These verses are then twisted to mean that men are the only ones who can hear from God, and fathers rule their families with this mentality meaning that the children and their wife can never hear from God. This closes the box pretty tightly around any child who might have questions, or who begins to think on their own, and begins to realize that maybe daddy isn’t always right.
This started happening to me when I was about 17. We had started attending a church that had been a flagship for Sovereign Grace Ministries and I was really struggling with respecting and listening to my dad. It seemed that every command or “teaching” that came out of his mouth was obviously hypocritical and I can’t respect someone who says do one thing, and then they go and do the very opposite.
My dad broke my trust when I was 14, and I mean severely trampled and crushed. I couldn’t look at him for 6 months at least. That is when I began seeing him for who he really is. An abusive, manipulative, hypocritical man who rules over his family with absolute authority and who has no compassion or grace for any of his children whom he has hurt. I also began to see and understand how he had made it that far without being held accountable at any of churches we had ever been in. He is one heck of a smooth talker, and can really convince and cover up anything he wants to. That is, until the dirt gets too big to be constantly swept under the rug.
It frustrated me to no end that I would keep asking people for help as I watched my family slowly start to fall apart, but no one listened to me because my dad still held the perfect family screen really firmly in place for the outside world to see. My siblings didn’t believe me, my friends didn’t believe, and the pastors didn’t believe me, but that didn’t keep me from calling out.
Just over 4 ½ years ago, we became members at this church, and that’s when I started really fighting for the right to be heard. I also met my now husband Phil within the first few weeks we were there. I remember my mom was really relieved to be members at church because I think she maybe though that we would finally get help. I remember meeting with the pastor I had been assigned to as a single person, and crying while I told him about life at home. He didn’t react or respond other than to say he was sorry as I sat there and described the physical, emotional, and mental abuse that was pretty constant in my family’s house. I remember walking out of that meeting and feeling like maybe, just maybe, someone here would listen to me.
At the same time as I was trying to get someone to hear me and help rescue my siblings, my relationship with Phil started moving towards something more serious than friends, or just being slightly interested. I was 18 and Phil was 19. As soon as my dad became aware that there was something more there, he really put a stop to it, and made it extremely difficult for me to trust him at all. When Phil and I had to cut off our friendship due to his parents saying they didn’t want us to talk, or interact, my dad’s response was that if my heart was hurting then I did something wrong. I knew then and there that I would not be able to trust my dad or expect him to really hear me no matter what happened.
Sure enough, things went downhill fast, and for two years, we fought to be allowed to be friends, and to have a relationship as my dad sabotaged, and tore us apart time and time again. I personally believe it’s because I didn’t give him any control in the relationship, and the more that I saw him for who he is, the more I refused to simply lie down and let him walk all over me. He still had quite a lot of control emotionally and spiritually over me, but I was slowly starting to find my footing, and wasn’t giving in to his manipulative behavior.
Phil and I separately and individually met with the pastors at our church over 40 times, asking for help, and asking for mediation between us and our parents. The pastors not only didn’t help us, they kept telling us that we weren’t honoring our parents, and especially that my dad wasn’t being honored through our actions. I also met with the pastors asking for help in how my dad continued to treat me, and I got nothing but blank stares, I’m sorry’s, and reminders to not hold anything against my dad, or that I needed to forgive him because it sounded like I was bitter towards him.
The climax came that day in January when my dad decided that it was more worth it to kick me out than try to reconcile our mangled relationship. Instead of trying to work through our differences, and instead of my dad letting my relationship with Phil be a chance for him to let go of me a little bit, he saw Phil as being extremely disrespectful because he hadn’t honored my dad in the way my dad expected to my honored. My dad felt like he should be in complete control of my relationship with Phil, and he didn’t believe that Phil and I should get married because Phil didn’t fit his criteria of the man he wanted me to marry. And simply because I didn’t bow down and worship my dad’s wishes, he kicked me out.
I almost didn’t let my dad walk me down the aisle when I got married (I was 20 and Phil was 21), but I did and spent the entire day anxiously waiting to get away from him and married to the love of my life that day. I am frustrated that just in the past few months has my dad finally been held accountable for some of things he’s done, and he is now on church discipline. But that doesn’t even deal with half of how he’s treated my family for all of my life. I know ultimate judgment is in God’s hands, but I will continue fighting for the sake of my siblings to be moved away from his influence so that they can have a chance to think on their own and to be healed from his manipulation and emotional abuse.