I was 14 years old before I had my first encounter with Jesus Christ. Up to that point, I had heard enough about the basic story to get around in the world—born on Christmas, raised from the dead on Easter, and the whole “Born of a Virgin” thing. But I never had to deal with JC directly until my father “found him” after his second failed marriage.
Up until then, I had been raised by my agnostic mother and militant atheist grandmother, who believed that the very notion of a make-believe man in the sky was for the weak-minded. We celebrated Christmas—by celebrate, I mean we exchanged gifts—but I never stepped foot into a church as a child. I think the first time I was ever actually in a church with my mother was on my wedding day.
I had also never been baptized. My parents agreed that it was best for me to find my own way, in terms of religion. As a kid, I remember being asked by friends, “What are you?” My reply was almost always, “I am nothing.” Which, looking back, is kind of sad; but still, nobody got it—silly children. They could not comprehend that religion was indoctrination, not law. That being said, sometimes I did feel left out, like when my friend Heather got to pick her confirmation name. My mom laughed when I told her that if I had to pick a name, it would be “Roxanne.” Apparently, that name was not on the “acceptable” list—there was no Saint Roxanne. I decided that if I could not be Roxanne, it was not worth my time pursuing the Catholic religion. It seemed to me that they were already trying to stifle my creativity, so instead I named my bike Roxanne and moved on.
I don’t like to compare myself to my father but if forced to, I would say we both have the same “extreme” gene. For me, it’s my moods, my drinking and, at times, my drug taking; but for my dad it was, and always has been, Jesus. My father did not just dabble in Jesus—after his second failed marriage, he jumped in full throttle and expected all to follow. On summer vacations I went to faith healings, was forced to speak in tongues and even had hands laid on me when I felt ill. Slowly, all onus of my well-being was being shifted from my father, right into the hands of someone I did not know, had never seen and had absolutely no interest in: Jesus.
My father would even talk to Jesus in front of people. I will never forget the time my friend Susan was riding upstate with us and my dad began speaking to Jesus, thanking him for pretty much everything under the sun. “Thank you Jesus for this car, thank you Jesus for this road, thank you Jesus for my bowel movement this morning.” I was mortified. This Jesus was really beginning to cramp my style, and becoming quite an embarrassment to me. I would soon learn, however, that the best from Jesus was yet to come.
I will never forget the day my dad changed his name. He showed up at our apartment unexpectedly, as he often did, but this time with a shaved head. My mom opened the door and immediately burst into laughter. Apparently, while my dad was in the shower—probably thanking Jesus for everything from the water to the soap—Jesus had decided it was a good time for him to shave his head. Jesus also decided he needed a name change, so from that day on, my father would be known as “Israel Shomer.” My mom thought it was hysterical that Jesus had nothing better to do than worry about my father’s hairstyle, and wondered aloud if we all had to take the last name of “Shomer.”
It’s hard to figure out why some people turn outward when hard times hit, and some choose to look inward during challenging situations; but looking back, I really believe my dad used Jesus as a way of not taking responsibility for his own actions. If there is a puppet master with a master plan over which you have no control, you never really have to take responsibility for your life. You can rely fully on Jesus to make everything okay. I will never forget being a 15 year old and wanting to go see Motley Crue. My dad told me to go pray in my room and ask Jesus for permission. When I came out five minutes later I told him, “Jesus said it was totally cool.” He looked at me and said, “Well, Cynthia, Jesus told me it was not a good idea.” It was at that point I knew I would never get along with or trust this Two Faced Jesus. What kind of person or god dashes the hopes of a 15 year old girl who just wanted to see one of her favorite bands play live?
I am now 40 years old, and my father is still using the same “Jesus” approach in his parenting. We don’t speak and haven’t in over a year, mostly because of my outspokenness when it comes to my own belief system, and partially because my stepmother does not like Bill Maher or gay marriage and has no sense of humor. But that’s a whole ‘nother story. It’s not that I believe my father is an evil person; I would not even say he is a bad person, just misguided. I don’t think it’s wrong for him to believe what he does—who am I to judge that? But I do think it’s wrong for him to pin his actions on someone else, even if it is Jesus. I am sure that right now, somewhere down in Georgia, my father is praying for Jesus to turn this whole situation around and one day deliver me back to him, screaming repentance for all of my horrible ways. You know—wanting equality for all, gay or straight; sympathizing with all people, even Palestinians; and finding Bill Maher amusing.
My father and I have a huge difference in philosophy that I have finally come to accept. I am no longer interested in his approval, but I’m not saying our lack of a relationship doesn’t bother me. After Hurricane Sandy, I really expected that he would email to see if we were okay, especially since I had mailed him months back to say I was sorry for the way things were between us. When the days bled into weeks with no word, I realized that was not going to happen.
I started thinking about every event he missed in my life—my sixteenth birthday, my high school graduation, my two week hospital stay, the day I was sentenced to two years in prison, etc. I had made it through all of the major events, and some of the worst ones in my life, without my father. It’s hard when someone you love, particularly a parent, can’t give you what you need—unconditional love, patience, understanding, support. And sometimes I wonder—which one of us, again, believes in Jesus?
About the Author: Cynthia Cone is an Ex Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She is currently living in Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes and likes to drink.