I told my Dad I am an Atheist

That was interesting and not entirely how I expected it to go either.

First some background.

As a Christian, I was always unembarrassed by my Christianity and in my family I was among the most committed. Of my siblings, if there was one who was not going to die a Christian, it was me. As it is I was the last to leave the faith, however, if you asked them, no one in the family would have predicted I would turn away from my childhood faith.

My father, on the other hand, is what I would have described as a nominal Christian with a very liberal faith. As a child we would always have meal time prayers and he played the piano in church for many years, however, I don’t recall him ever expounding the gospel or leading studies. As a young adult I actively involved in various parts of the church organisation including study groups and youth groups. These are areas I never recall my father being involved in, and certainly not with the enthusiasm that I displayed.

I remember one discussion we had many years ago where he described me as a zealot. I’d say that was a pretty accurate description of my Christianity.

I hadn’t told my father about my move from faith mainly because the subject hadn’t come up, and to be honest, I’ve not been sure of his level of faith. He’s effectively not lived a Christian life for several years. I imagined that he’d done what one of my brothers has done, which was to quietly quit living a Christian life, while not making a formal rejection of faith.

It turns out I was wrong and he still holds onto the basic concepts of a Christian god. I don’t know how strong they are, but they are clearly stronger than I realised. Our relationship has been a bit shaky for most of the past thirty years, though in the last five years, since my Mum’s death, it is the best it has been in all that time. However, there are still subjects that we are cautious about and it seems that this is now one of them.

He’s spoken about my atheism with my youngest brother, with whom I have a very close relationship, and through that I know that at some point he wants to bring me back round again. Not at all what I wanted or expected to hear. I know from past experience that this would be a conversation that runs a very high risk of us falling out again. Thankfully we’re both at a stage where neither of us really wants to risk that and so sensitive conversations are now avoided, whereas in the past we would both have gone in guns blazing and stubbornly blamed the other for the resulting fallout. He didn’t see his young granddaughter for three years the last time that happened; the cost isn’t worth it.

The wider context is that there is more to the conversation that we had. He suggested I might wish to seek advice from the church minister. I explained that he was also a close friend and I wasn’t sure I wanted to cross the friend boundary, so dad suggested another minister. I was very surprised that his port of call for advice was a man of the cloth, so I killed the idea by saying I wasn’t interested in doing that because I was an atheist. The conversation was already emotionally charged and for one of very few times in my life I managed to utterly stump him. To be honest I think I sent him reeling. It was the last thing he expected me to say and when he spoke to my brother a short time later he expressed how shocked he was.

This was six weeks ago and we’ve still not returned to the subject. I think he’s scared of raising the subject with me. To be fair, my brother did warn him that he already knew and that it had been a long journey for me and turning me back wasn’t going to happen. It is nice to know that he has paid attention to direct advice from one of his sons.

On my part, I’m surprised by how strong his commitment still is, we’ve not conversed about Christianity for so mnay years I just assumed he’d be cool about my deconversion, as he appears to be about my brother’s. Why should my faith be more special?

For the first time since Mum died and we tentatively reconnected and started building a new father-son relationship, I am finding myself a little concerned. It would be a great shame this causes a rift between us, there have been too many of those in the past. On the other hand I have hope because we both clearly have different agendas and motivations now and the neither wishes to repeat the past.

 

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