Things That Make Me Smile #5

I know I haven’t posted much lately. It’s been a real rough Summer and Fall. I will post more soon because I feel like I’m the upswing from a bad period.

The good news is that in my brief blogging slow-down over the last several months there have been fantastic strides in the gay marriage arena. Gay couples can now marry in this largely conservative state and all over the country! Similar strides have been made in the LDS camp. The Mormon church has finally decided to fess up to to many embarrassing and/or difficult details in its history and doctrine by releasing essays on lds.org. These include details on  polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, The Book of Abraham, etc that got me branded as a liar and an anti-Mormon when I brought them up 10 years ago.

Anyhow, it will be another month or two before I return to regular posts. I’ll explain more then.

In the meantime, I’ve found that in my darker struggles it helps to recall moments that make me smile. Sometimes I need to purposely search for them.

Here’s my 5th installment of Things That Make Me Smile :

 Jim Carrey Makes Me Smile

I’ve not always been a huge fan, but then I saw this graduation speech he gave:

Carrey

 And most recently this. (If you want, jump to the 4:00 mark where he gives a bizarre but hilarious monologue. I find it particularly funny because my name is Dennis)

Secret Billionaire

One Hit Wonders Make Me Smile. Good For Them!

Lit

Lit

 

Pachelbel’s Canon in D

Mark Hamill

mark-hamill-146428l

Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

scout.4

I smile when Singers invite random audience members onstage to sing a duet and they totally nail it.

(Shhhh! Do NOT tell me these are staged! I get so much joy out of believing in the marvelous serendipity of it that I’m sticking to the “random” story, thank you very much!)

Kristin Chenoweth invites Sarah Horn to sing “For Good”

Kristin Chenoweth

Lea Salonga & Jared Young “A Whole New World”

Lea Solanga

Josh Groban sings “To Where You Are” with Maude

Josh Groban

Carol Burnett and Dennis Amick sing “Kiss Today Goodbye”

CArol Burnett

Michael Buble’ and 15 year old Sam “Feeling Good”

Michael Buble

I smile even more when the opposite happens!

Carole King Surprises Cast of Broadway Musical “Beautiful”

Carol King

Good Looking Men, of course!

Good Looking Men

See Also:

Things That Make Me Smile #4

Things That Make Me Smile #3

Things That Make Me Smile #2

Things That Make Me Smile

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Bishop Blog #4 – Confessions of a Liar

There’s nothing like finishing out the year on a post-repentance high! Time to confess my sins. My skill and proclivity for lying are my focus today. I’m sorry, Bishop, that I’m a lair.  The gravest of my lies were told back when I was a true believer and follower and for that I am truly sorrowful.

Lying is a tricky thing. Is it a lie if you really believe it?

Most of my actions as a believer were sincere and I grant that the same is true for most believers. I believed when I said these things. But in confessing now, I am admitting that deep, deep down some part of me knew that I wasn’t being totally upfront. Something felt off even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time. I was following a pattern and a procedure handed to me by people I trusted. It’s only in looking back now that I can see that these were indeed untruths.

Here are some of the greatest lies I’ve told:

1. Saying, “I know XXX is true”

To be able to convince myself that saying this about any faith-based topic was honest I had to buy into the concept that feelings are an indicator of the truth. It’s an odd juxtaposition because I was told in so many other ways to distrust my feelings while at the same time being cajoled into basing some very important lifelong decisions on feelings. What I ended up with is merely believing what someone else told me about my feelings. Still, the word “know” as it’s used in Mormonism is the most dishonest thing ever said.

2. Claiming, “I’ve searched and studied other religions”

Of course I didn’t. What I usually meant was, “My parents or seminary teacher told me about other religious beliefs and why they’re wrong. My friends in other religion don’t seem as righteous or as happy as I am. Therefore, I’ve stood still, looked around and determined that what everyone else has told me is correct.” That was my research and study.

3. Agreeing, “Wickedness never was happiness”

This was commonly recited to convince myself that my current bland existence would reap greater rewards at some other time. “Wickedness” is anything Mormonism forbids, but it’s an entirely insular and narrow definition. It’s not based upon a large all-encompassing moral code that can be used as guidance in any situation.

Therefore, I ended up being an extremely “righteous” Mormon who was miserable but utterly convinced that I was happier than my neighbor who may have smoked, drank coffee or, god forbid, lived with his girlfriend.

4. Blindly repeating to myself, “I’m not gay as long as I don’t DO anything gay.”

Let’s face it, I knew it. Abstinence from sexual behaviors did nothing to make me feel less gay inside.

5. Denying to my then-wife right after coming out, “No, I’ve never been attracted to one your relatives or one of your friends’ husbands.”

I was telling the truth about the relatives. But some of her friends had some pretty hot husbands.

6. Parroting, “Tithing, the Word of Wisdom and Chastity are all MY choices. We’re not obligated in the church to do any of that. I’m not just blindly following”

I guess it all depends on how one defines an “obligation.” When Mormons say this, what they really are thinking is that you can be a Mormon and not actually behave like one. That would make you a Jack Mormon or a lazy active Mormon at best. But the truth is that you ARE obligated to do all those things if you want to be a participating Mormon. For example, merely not paying 10% of your income could land you outside looking in on your own daughter’s temple wedding. If that doesn’t make it an obligation, what does?

7. Claiming “I’m not trying to convert you.”

Missionary work clouds everything one does as a Mormon. But I actually said stuff like this as a missionary too. That was a blatant lie.

8. “I love the Book of Mormon. It has changed my life.”

The truth is that most Mormons barely make it past the first few chapters. I actually read a chapter nightly for several years. I now can’t articulate one good thing that came of that. Even back then I couldn’t have articulated what was so amazing and life-changing about it.

9. “We don’t believe in polygamy anymore”

What Mormons are thinking is, “We don’t PRACTICE polygamy anymore.” But that’s not the same thing. I knew it then and they know it now. As much as they’d like to distance themselves from their polygamist past, it’s still in the scriptures and practiced everyday in Mormons temples worldwide.

10 “There’s nothing weird or bizarre about the temple. We just don’t talk about it because it’s sacred.”

 Sorry, there’s no way to spin special code names, passwords, handshakes, veiled faces, green aprons, bakers hats, death oaths (pre-1990), and  party favor underwear into something reasonable. I thought it was weird the first time I went. I just became desensitized to it. Morphing it into something marvelous and wonderful in your brain is an exercise in self-deception. I used to teach temple preparation classes and so I used this lie a lot.

Posted in Belief, Critical Thinking Skills, Guilt, Mormonism, Reality, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I Just Got 4 Shades Whiter

In honor of Mormons watching General Conference this weekend… I’m not. I’m catching peeks into what may have been said via my various Facebook groups, family and friends. I don’t miss the talks in the slightest, but I do like the choirs. So I tried to see if there were some videos on YouTube yet. Then I found this.

Mormons. Bless their hearts.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir once performed a Nigerian carol called “Betelehemu” and it’s the whitest darn thing I’ve ever seen. I just watched it four times and got whiter each time. I’m now white and delightsome.

Even the drummers are all white!

Betelehemu

My favorite part is when they start swaying back and forth, arms stiffly at their sides.

You know I love the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, right? I tend to prefer hymns as choir music. They were written specifically for that type of singing. I really can’t tolerate the Mo-Tab when they sing Broadway show tunes or pop music, so I’m already disposed to reject this sort of attempt at an African melody.

The sick thing is that after watching it a few times I kind of like it now. Bless my little white heart.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Prodigal Brother Syndrome

I apologize in advance. You’re probably not going to recognize me in this post. I’m not drunk and I’m not smoking anything.

It’s just me, raw.

I just spent all day listing to YouTube videos of Mormon hymns while working. I had a really productive day. I had a close of escrow with one of my real estate clients. It happened right when I need the money. Anyway there was a lot of e-mailing back and forth. Occasionally I’d click over and watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the MTC choir belt out one of my favorites. I know some Post-Mormons can’t stand hearing them. But for me, most LDS hymns only bring good memories.

When the women sing I can hear my Mom’s voice singing. When the men sing I long for the peaceful strength and certainty I stumbled upon every once in a while as a Mormon priesthood holder.

I also see myself.

I see myself in many of the men’s faces and expressions. I actually know two of the current male choir members. One was a home teacher of mine my first year at BYU. The other is an ex-girlfriend’s husband. He’s a BYU professor and one of the kindest, most intelligent, most accepting and most sensitive guys you’d ever meet. I like him and respect him. He’s the very attractive, expressive one who looks like he’s really into the meaning of the lyrics and not just making sounds.

And this is pure conjecture, but I’d wager that both of these men (and a significant number of their colleagues) “suffer” to some degree with “same sex attraction.” They’re married and have never given me any concrete or obvious reason to come to this conclusion, but there it is anyway.

The odd thing is that when I think that, I get a little bitter, jealous and indignant. As much as I say I respect anyone’s choice to live his life however he pleases, it makes me upset that they can do it but I couldn’t. I get sucked into the glossy, saccharine, warm and fuzzy crispness of it all.

In my recent post, Mormon Courts of Luv; My Experience, I related how some bishopric members I’d worked with in the past had seemed to harbor a “prodigal brother syndrome.” I define it as being jealous that someone else got to sin and yet have a happy ending. It’s a rather ungracious but human emotion.

I fear I have its equal emotion for  gay post-Mormons.

While I know that finally being honest and authentic were the wisest and best choices for my emotional well-being, it does honestly irk and sting to see others choosing obedience, compliance, vague faith and turning the other cheek to reason and truth… and coming out OK on the other end.

If I’m being honest, this is part of the reason for my distasteful reaction to North StarMitch MayneJohn Gustav-Wrathall, and most recently to Tom Christofferson.

I’m the one who followed church counsel. Each one of them have disregarded church counsel by being open about their homosexuality while in the church – something in direct opposition to what leaders have counseled. I’m the one who followed church counsel, who served a mission and married a woman in the temple.  I’m the one who beat myself up over every gay thought I processed in my brain dozens of times a day, every day into my late thirties. I’m the one who kept it to myself as my church leaders and counselors advised. I’m the one who believed it was just a verb and not a noun, (something one did, not something one was). I’m the one who fought to remain “temple worthy” rather than express any affection for another man. In other words, I spent 20 years of adulthood being “humble, meek and teachable” rather than listening to the still small voice in my own soul.

As a result, I’m the one who developed an inner resentment towards the church for the years of self-denial. Because following church counsel messed up my ex-wife’s life and my kids’, I’m admittedly not as willing or able to give the leaders the benefit of the doubt now.

I’m the one who brought my homosexual boyfriend to my own daughter’s baptism and was treated by family as if I’d murdered someone.

Yet now Tom Christofferson waltzes into the scene having done it his own way with an ever lovin’ homosexual partner of 20 years, a family that supposedly shows “unconditional love for each other,” and he has the balls to tell me that “as we freely offer our will to Him, as we are humble, meek and teachable, as we access the enabling power of His atonement we will find peace.”

To capture a Mormon testimony phrase, “every fiber of my being” wants to scream at him,

“FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU Tom Christofferson!”

But I won’t.

I won’t because I really don’t talk like that. It’s not who I am.

I don’t want to be the ungracious “prodigal brother” who seemingly couldn’t stand to see another person receive praise for his own mixture of wise and unwise choices.

It’s not Tom Christofferson’s fault that the LDS in my family are less than perfect in their unconditional love. It’s not Ty Mansfield‘s fault that my wife never contemplated staying married to an out, gay man.  It’s not Mitch Mayne,  or John Gustav-Wrathall‘s fault that curiosity and investigation weighed down my “testimony shelf” with more facts and more contradictions than theirs.

These days, peaceful strength and certainty still come occasionally. They indeed come when I see my imagined soul brothers in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I remember what that duplicity was like. But peaceful strength and certainty also comes at new gatherings of my gay friends, at my local gay professional get-togethers and at the occasional Ex-Mormon gatherings. Most importantly it comes in quiet moments on a campout in the wilderness when my kids offhandedly and sincerely say they love and respect me. That’s all I need.

 

Posted in Homosexuality, Honesty, Mormonism | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Only Men Are Ordained to Serve In Priesthood Offices

FP Message

That’s the answer.

I have a really good, respected LDS friend who posted the announcement on his Facebook page saying,

“I welcome clarity from the Church at the official level, as well as the reassurance that we can continue to ask questions and pray about issues and practices, seeking better understanding and being open to developments and even new revelation.”

Except I don’t get clarity from that. I got 1984 newspeak.

“Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
― George Orwell1984

Here’s some clarity that I would welcome…

Why? “The blessings of the priesthood are equally available to men and women. Only men are allowed to serve in priesthood offices.” (That’s like saying that “everyone is welcome to eat in this restaurant. Only men are allowed in the kitchen.”) Why?

1984As a side note, saying motherhood is equal to the priesthood seems to discount my fatherhood. My fatherhood is the male equivalent of female motherhood. There is no female equivalent to male priesthood in the LDS faith. All the OW ladies are saying is that some of them want to be cooks and not just patrons of your restaurant. For that matter, I would have liked to just remain a patron and not be required to work in your kitchen. I don’t get the problem.

Where exactly and in what forum can these supposedly allowed questions regarding church doctrine, history and practice be earnestly expressed? (Because every single time I tried to express a doubt or sincere question I was told to figure it out on my own or that I was being sinful and rebellious for even harboring the question. I quickly learned that I couldn’t ask my bishop, my family members, CES employees. Heaven forbid I should bring up a real question during a Sunday School or priesthood lessons! 40 years of praying clearly indicated that God wasn’t going to answer.) Where and how are these questions allowed?

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
― George Orwell1984

Do two or more people with the same questions constitute “advocacy” or “encouragement”? Where exactly is the line? (Because in my experience the line is actually at vocalization or fingers touching a keyboard no matter how confined and insignificant, whereas this statement implies it’s farther from that at mass publication or such). Can the questions only exist between my two ears?

How am I to think of the following individuals who acted in “clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the established Church or its faithful leaders” at the time? Helmuth Hubner (who went again LDS church practice and defied the Nazi party in Germany, pre WWII)? Alma the Younger (who criticized his fellow Nephite Chief Judges for their neglect of the poor)? Abinadi (who pointed out religious leaders’ sins)? Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t they all have kept their questions and observations to themselves instead of acting in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the LDS Leaders, Nephite Chief Judges, King Noah’s Priests, and the SanhedrinPharisees and Saducees?075-075-abinadi-before-king-noah-full

What are the chances that as in those past times “the Church or its faithful leaders” are themselves wrong and in apostasy to the will of God?  (The current leaders want us to believe the chances are zero, but there’s no reason to believe this is how God operates… other than the declarations of these men themselves). Its not “apostasy” if the leaders themselves aren’t “faithful,” is it?

What operational checks and balances are in place for the earthly church to account for the human nature of the current leaders? (Because I don’t recognize any that assure us that they aren’t the ones in the wrong).

Jello_11_licorice_afterHow can someone be reprimanded for teaching against church doctrine when you won’t make clear, concise declarations of church doctrine, but would rather leaving it obscure and hard to pin down, like nailing Jello to a wall?

Have the leaders asked God, which is what Ordain Women merely asked? (Because I don’t get the sense that they have).

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
― George Orwell1984

 

See Also:

Mormon Women and Their Roles in the Church

Posted in Mormonism | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Mormon Courts of Luv; My Experience

I have first hand experience with the Mormon Orwellian titled “Court of Love”, or disciplinary council, even though I’ve never participated as a defendant. Given the latest hoopla over Ordain Women Kate Kelly’s excommunication and the impending drop-kick of others I thought I’d just share my experience rather than try to weight in on those events like everyone else.

My experience comes from my perpetually serving as Ward Executive Secretary or Ward Clerk in almost every ward I lived in as an adult.

As everyone knows, men and women are treated differently by Mormon leadership. For church discipline it is no different. Courts for men who hold the priesthood (almost all of them) are held by the stake leadership consisting of 15 men (at a higher or regional level). Priesthood-less folks (all the women, and some younger or barely active men), on the other hand, are summoned to a ward or single congregation court consisting of 3 men and the male “secretary”. That was me at any given time.

I never participated in a court where the charge was apostasy. They were all sexual in nature.

I clearly remember the very first court I was asked to participate in. I was around 25 at the time attending a singles ward in the stake I’d grown up in, so I was bound to know the individuals in question really well. I did. The defendants were a young dating couple, 18-ish. She was the daughter of the bishop who had taught me all about masturbation, the bishop who interviewed me to gauge my worthiness throughout my teenage years. In other words she came from a well known family in the stake, part of the elite. He, on the other hand was someone I’d only known for a short time because he grew up one stake over. They were high school sweethearts. And they’d been having sex for most of their Junior and Senior years of high school.

To make things even more awkward for the couple, the bishop acting as judge in Israel for this particular event had  served as bishop’s councilor to the young girl’s father back in the day, maybe 10-15 years prior. These things are always embarrassing. Knowing the intertwined relationships made it even more so. It’s always embarrassing. It always felt wrong.

I can’t remember what made these two finally confess and decide to stop their frequent romps, but there they were repentant and ashamed. She was female and he hadn’t yet been ordained an Elder, so both of them were subject to the lower bishop’s court rather than the stake heavier hands.

Here’s how it went down… The bishop introduced the case and ran through the details with the other men present. One by one the girl and boy were invited in to sit in front of 4 men to repeat the details of their sordid affair and to answer specific questions. The question and answer period was always awkward. I couldn’t understand why they needed to know some of the details such as whether they orgasmed or not, birth control details, where and when they found the privacy, who initiated it, who felt the worse, who else knows and how they managed to keep guilt at bay for so long.

Finally, they were asked to leave the bishop’s office. The four men discussed. Sometimes I was asked to weigh in, sometimes I wasn’t. Sometimes they knelt and prayed about it. Sometimes they didn’t. The couple was invited back in and some form of discipline was administered. In my experience it was almost always an informal probation period or official disfellowshipment. I never saw anyone full-on excommunicated. Certain conditions were laid out for getting back into God’s good graces once again. We all shook hands or hugged and went home. I typed up a letter summarizing the proceedings and that was the end of it.

This scenario was repeated several times over the years. I recall a few more such young couples, a few married women committing adultery, several single young adult men committing various and sundry (normal) acts of a sexual nature.

Other thoughts and observations come to mind:

  • While the men in charge really do tell themselves they are being “loving” and issuing “righteous judgement” or God’s will, the degree of kindness and compassion varies depending on who’s in charge.
  • If women leaders had been the ones doing the questioning of the women, I believe the line of questioning would have been DRASTICALLY different.
  • I found it odd that prayerful questioning was really only part of that first one I participated in. For the others, I guess it was just assumed that since they had the authority of the priesthood whatever they did, if it felt right, was God’s will.
  • The lack of training and understanding of human behavior was painful to witness.
  • The longer the confessor waited, the better it seemed to be. Confessing to sex a week ago was dealt with more sternly than say a married woman confessing to pre-marital sex 15 years ago.
  • If I was asked my opinion, I almost always suggested professional counseling for the individual rather than church discipline. That was almost always met with “Oooh! I never thought of that! Interesting idea!”
  • I occasionally witnessed leaders with a “prodigal brother syndrome.” By that I mean, the idea that they’d always been the good, righteous ones and someone else couldn’t go off and sin and just waltz back into the church’s good graces without some severe consequences. If those consequences didn’t come naturally, they would indeed be the ones to assure that the consequences of sin were administered even if they had to do it themselves.
  • All of the leaders saw themselves as extensions of “the brethren.” In other words, there was very little that they felt they could do to vary from the training and details in the Church Handbook of Instructions.
  • The bishop almost invariably entered the event with a pre-determined outcome in his mind which he presented to us at the beginning. This outcome having been previously discussed with his higher up, the stake president.
  • In order to reach a unanimous decision, counselors always deferred to the pre-determined decision of the bishop even if they obviously harbored some doubt or reservations.
  • Did I mention that these are always uncomfortable to witness?
  • I’m ashamed that I had anything to do with them, ever. I apologize to those, who shall not be named, for my part in your shaming.

I changed my mind. I AM going to weigh in on the recent “Courts of Love” for Kate Kelly, John Dehlin and others. They are not being tried for sexual sin, so I don’t have much experience with the nature of their crimes in this setting. But here are a few random thoughts:

Hypocrisy – The description of Kelly’s violation reads to me to be almost an exact description of Mormon missionary work…promoting and proselyting to others in an aggressive effort to persuade persons in other religions to the Mormon point of view, thus eroding their faith in Catholicism, Buddhism, Atheism, Paganism, Hinduism, Shamanism, Scientology, etc… 

The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others. You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them.

Credibility – I believe the greatest reason for them not wanting to be excommunicated and for their actually being excommunicated is that as members they held a certain credibility with other members, doubting or not. John Dehlin was able to book several interviewees for his Mormon Stories podcast by virtue of his intact church membership. Without that it will be more difficult to convince active Mormons to participate. This is exactly what the LDS leaders are going for, I believe. Kate Kelly now becomes an angry apostate, rather than a fellow sister in Zion and that will have an impact on future participation in Ordain Women.

Internet Savvy - The LDS church lost the PR battle as soon as the Internet took hold. The vacuum created by Kate Kelly’s ouster will be filled by others and the discussion will rage on. As others have said, excommunication really is a “16th century solution to a 21st century problem.”

“What did they think would happen?” – This is an entirely irrelevant response in my opinion. The same could be said of Joseph Smith. What did he think would happen when he started marrying other men’s wives and stealing the secret ceremonies of the Masons? It still doesn’t make the actions of the mob honorable and just.

Sincerity - Like the Bishops holding those church courts I participated in, I believe Kate Kelly, John Dehlin and the others are sincere in their efforts to do what’s right for their consciences. For that matter, so are the Church leaders. Sincere yes. Not always honest or without severe cases of confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance piled on a heap of logical fallacies. Everyone involved is human.

It’s an exciting time to be an Ex-Mormon. I’m grateful I got out when I did. I’m glad I’ll be able to say I was one of the early ones who resigned before it became logical and fashionable.

Posted in Mormonism, Religion, Shame | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Marriage

I’ve decided to republish my all time top 5 most visited posts. Here’s #1…

_______________________

Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawidge, the bwessed awwangement, that dweam wiffim a dweam… … Ven wuv, twoo wuv, wiw fowwow you fowever..

-Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman in Princess Bride

Perhaps I have taken the whole Skeptic thing too far because I am a Skeptic when it comes to marriage. I don’t believe in true love and I don’t believe marriage is a universal answer for relationships. I still dream that I can find someone who is a friend, who lights my fire and with whom I compatible for a long, long time. I hope my children will one day find a life companion. Marriage just seems an unnecessary part of that to me.

My problem is that I don’t know a married couple that I can look at and say,

This is funny because it’s true.

“Oooh!  I want what they have!”

Being single is far better than having a mediocre marriage like any of the married family or friends that I am close enough to to know some of the details. Of course in my wider social network I have married friends who appear to have their acts together and their marriages seem as solid as it gets.  But then, I remember 12 years ago when my then sister-in-law was fighting with her husband, my brother, because she looked at me and my wife and said,

“Oooh!  I want what they have!”

She wanted the temple marriage and the husband who was into the kids like I was, who and who was helpful around the house. Except… all wasn’t well in my marriage at the time.  My Sister-in-law just couldn’t see it.

We were the model Mormon young couple at the time… the kind of couple where the wife is assigned to lead the youth in the Young Women’s organization because she’s the perfect example of the Mormon woman who has achieved it all … a temple marriage with a worthy priesthood holder. My Sister-in-law clearly didn’t have enough information (As a side note, this brother and sister-in-law have since divorced as well.  They are far friendlier with one another and interact far healthier than anything I ever hope to achieve with my ex-wife. Now, I wish I had the divorce that they have).

Take, for example, the elderly couple married 40 or 50+ years.  Often, the length of time is all that is said about the marriage and then it’s naturally assumed that the couple is happy and successful at working together and showing love. I usually say to myself,

“Perhaps, but we don’t have enough information to know whether they are happy and fulfilled or not.”

Society assumes that a long-lasting marriage is a successful marriage. I say that the information to determine if it is a successful marriage (As I define it) usually isn’t provided to anyone outside the marriage. Until couples make a firm commitment to separate or divorce, part of trying to make the marriage work is to keep the negatives circulating exclusively within the marriage itself. That’s why divorces often seem so shocking.  It’s because until the very end, people are trying to make their marriages work  and part of making it work is remaining loyal and closed-lipped about its failings.

That’s also why I remain skeptical when I hear public protestations of love and endearment. Who knows how much of the claim is real and how much is the person trying to convince him/herself.  Mormons often do this in Fast & Testimony meetings all the time…telling their spouse publicly how much they love them. I always wondered whether that person had ever told their spouse privately.  And if so, why wasn’t that sufficient? What did a public declaration accomplish that a private intimate moment didn’t? Since I was the bishop’s executive secretary much of the time it wasn’t difficult to connect the dots and notice that these sorts of people were the same ones for whom I was making counseling appointments with the bishop on a regular basis. But still, they’d get up and declare their deep love from the pulpit.

My thoughts?

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

I see young couples do this on their Facebook status updates all the time,

“I have the best wife in the world.”

“Thank you XXX for being such an awesome husband.”

My thoughts?

“Somebody just got some…”

or

“XXX must have just repaired something in the house.”

Am I bad?  Yes, I know.

For a related example, take a typical exchange between  some middle-aged Mormon folks,

“I have 8 children – all married in the temple.  My four sons have all served honorable missions. We have 18 grandchildren with 5 more on the way next month. We are so blessed”

To Mormon ears, this means “everyone is happy, successful and blissful.” To a Mormon this is the epitome of success in family life.  To a non-Mormon it’s probably not enough information.

Having been married in the temple and having served an honorable mission myself, I know that we clearly don’t have enough information in that statement to draw any conclusions. There are a lot of assholes, losers and mental cases, men and women, who have served honorable missions, married in the temple and started to procreate excessively.

So what does marital success look like to me and how will I even recognize it when I see it?

I suspect that by its very intimate and personal nature one can’t actually see it at all. It can only be experienced. I don’t know if a quality marriage is recognizable in others. I suppose a rewarding marriage is only something that can develop, grow, mature and flourish internally between two people.  I suspect, however, that from the outside a highly rewarding marriage and a mediocre marriage look essentially the same.

I think we can all point out characteristics of a bad relationship, but can we tell, from the outside, the difference between a mediocre one and fantastic one?

Is just a mediocre marriage worth it?

As much as I declare that I am happy being single, I’d still want my children to find life partners one day with whom they feel at home.  Hell, I want to find that for me too!  I’m just not willing to settle for what feels like mediocrity to me.

I’ll know it when I’m in it.

Oh… never mind.  I forgot.  I can’t marry in this state. Forget all that. I doesn’t matter anyway.

Another post I wrote on this topic HERE

Gay Marriage, an example

 

Posted in Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Happiness, Honesty, Marriage, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

So You Are Getting A Divorce…26 Suggestions

divorce_decree“There’s no manual for parenthood,” new mothers and fathers are constantly reminded.

Well, there’s much less information on divorced parenthood, much less for divorced gay parenthood. I certainly didn’t know what to expect or how to proceed eight years ago.

I just knew I loved my kids and that I wasn’t scared of taking care of them alone.

Of course, I knew there were numerous guys like me out there, but I didn’t know a single one in person. There are online groups for every subset of any culture and I connected with as many as I could: gay fathers, gay Mormons, ex-Mormons and Utah gay fathers but each one seemed not to quite meet something unique about my situation. I didn’t live in Utah, or the gay fathers were the kind that adopted as a gay couple – they didn’t have to share custody with an ex-wife, etc.

Taking one giant leap into the abyss…I did my best. Here are some things I learned. Some are trivial and some are more profound. I’m sure they will not fit your situation exactly either but you can modify accordingly. At the time of my divorce I had four kids ages 1, 3, 6 and 8 so my comments are geared to those with younger children:

  1. Get a lawyer! I didn’t. We used a church acquaintance who was a paralegal and she was going to save us money because we had mostly agreed on everything already. She just wrote up the papers that we both signed. It was all fine for about a year, until my ex wanted to move out of state with the kids. Then, I got screwed and it all comes back to that initial divorce, custody and child support agreement. I don’t care how friendly things are now, get a lawyer to help preserve your rights as a father at this initial step.
  2. Fight for 50/50 legal and 50/50 physical custody. If you settle for anything less right now it will be very unlikely that you can get it back. A vagina gets the default advantage in even the most progressive courthouses. Don’t enable that by crippling yourself.
    This is what it feels like to walk into a courthouse in any family law situation.

    This is what it feels like to walk into a courthouse in any family law situation.

    This small matter is the one mistake I made that later allowed her to fairly easily leave the state with my kids. I initially settled for a 70/30 physical arrangement because it made the most sense. I had a full-time job. She didn’t. I was earning all the money and, in spite of the high child support payments, she was cheaper than daycare. What I didn’t understand was that this gave her the almost exclusive right to coordinate their physical location. Laws vary by state, but this was in liberal California so I imagine it’s worse elsewhere.

  3. Put it in writing. Write into the divorce or child custody agreement that neither parent can move more than 50 miles from the other. The same thing goes for anything else that’s important to you. Put it in writing.
  4. Keep it away from the kids. Don’t let them see you arranging all of the divorce details with your ex. Don’t discuss it with them especially if they are young.
  5. Get all your things on the first try. When you move out, take ALL of your stuff even if it doesn’t seem important to you now. I’ve gone back to my ex-wife’s home and seen items of mine that I didn’t take initially and it was just weird that she was using them. At that point we were getting along and so I couldn’t just take stuff without talking about it and they weren’t important enough things to argue over at that point… so I just let it go. For example, almost all the church books on her religious sanctuary of a bookshelf were MY books that I read. She rarely reads and I doubt that she’s read them. Strangely enough I wish I’d taken stuff like that and my temple clothes and other miscellaneous things I didn’t think I cared about. You’ll calm down many years later and want your stuff even if it’s to just throw it out yourself.
  6. Be the bigger person. I unintentionally left with items I knew she’d probably want so I willingly returned her stuff – such as pictures with her family or friends in them. I never got the same courtesy, but it helps to know I’m not being petty. I also gave up having to have the last word and so I didn’t always respond to her irrational lashings.
  7. Never say no to a chance to be with your kids more. Oddly enough, from her perspective custody time with me is seen as her doing me a favor and yet she somehow believes that when she has the kids she’s still doing me a favor. She has asked me to take the kids at times when I knew she either just wanted a break or she wanted to travel or had some church thing to attend to. Of course it’s always presented as a favor to me. Early on I set aside caring. If it offered me more time with my kids I said yes, inconvenient or not.
  8. Don’t badmouth the other parent to the kids.This is really hard not to do sometimes because it’s natural to want to argue your case. Just don’t. And don’t let them overhear you doing it either. As horrible and nasty as your ex seems right now, she’s still that child’s mother and an insult to her feels like an insult to the child.
  9. child-custodyDon’t put the kids in the middle. At one point my ex tried to use the kids to relay information and gather information. I didn’t allow it. As much as you don’t want to talk to the ex, it’s worse if you use the kids as telegraphs. Now that texting is so prevalent, it’s a great alternative to having to call or meet while still being communicative. Don’t allow your ex to set things up as her and the kids against you. It’s her and the kids and it’s you and the kids too.
  10. Take new family pictures with just you and the kids and display them around your home. Once a year we take one of those old-time western photos where you dress up and get an 8  x 10 in sepia tones. It’s a small gesture but one that has helped all of us establish ourselves as a family unit. And they are fun to look back on as shared memories. Also, let them see that you have pictures of them on your desk, in your phone so that they know you are thinking about them when they’re not there.
  11. Give the kids personal space at your new home/apartment. Even the youngest of mine staked out her personal space in each of my new living spaces and I’ve tried to arrange as much of it as I could for them. Even if it’s just their own night stand, a bed or wall that they can decorate to their taste, it will feel much more like home if they’ve had a hand in decorating it.
  12. Allow the kids to benefit from the pluses of divorce if you can find them in your situation. I don’t mean that you should indulge them freely because you feel guilty, but there are obviously costs to divorce that they bear the brunt of more often than not. Allow them to have some bonuses in there too. For example, because my ex isn’t the kind that would ever share holidays, my kids get 2 sets of birthday gifts and cakes, and they enjoy 2 sets of holiday traditions. The kids learned early on that I didn’t know the last time they ate at McDonalds. I bought my kids cell phones earlier than their peers got one because I wanted to be within their reach at all times on a daily basis.
  13. Be consistent when you can. In spite of what I said in #11, there are times when kids need and appreciate consistency. Try to honor bed-times and general house rules. Don’t forego being a Dad for the position of fun uncle. At least not all the time. If rules in your home are dramatically different it can just be frustrating. Now, that being said, I don’t allow my ex to dictate everything that happens in my home either. You must set boundaries but you can talk about how at Dad’s house we follow Dad’s rules and at Mom’s house we follow Mom’s rules.
  14. Stay close to the kids. If it is in your control, don’t move too far away from the kids. If you can’t see them daily, call or Skype every day … Most of these calls are stilted and awkward especially with the younger ones but it’s the regularity that you want to establish whether it’s to say goodnight every night or a quick call when they get home from school.
  15. Have fun! Once my ex moved out of state and I only had the kids on weekends it erased any hesitation I had about being the fun one. Yes, she had to monitor the homework and daily discipline but that was her doing by virtue of her move. Take advantage of the hand you are dealt.
  16. Do nothing sometimes.  Don’t feel like you always have to be the entertainer. Let them just be in your shared space sometimes. Just hang.
  17. Let them come out at their own pace. Once you come out to the kids, understand that they too will have their own coming out to their friends and family. Let them do it when/how they are comfortable. As my children have grown, I’ve seen how my laid-back approach to this has helped. I never forced conversations about my being gay, but I never shied away from them either. My teenagers now discuss it freely with their friends and it’s just a matter of everyday life. I was a little worried about this because for the most part I haven’t had boyfriends that they were exposed to. Nothing about my life screams “GAY!” Very little of our time together has been about me being gay… and yet they’re comfortable with it.
  18. Be prepared. Make sure you have the following stored in your car: bottled water, baby wipes, baby powder, spare jackets, hats for everyone, and a blanket. Every single one of these items have saved me numerous times. You will have a crying child asking for water at some point. If you’ve ever had to take a toddler daughter into a public restroom by yourself you’ll understand the baby wipes. There are a gazillion more times you’ll thank me for suggesting them. Baby powder miraculously assists you in wiping off sand and dirt from kids’ feet before they get in the car. A blanket has provided us a place to sit in many a last-minute picnic situation…or when someone got cold.
  19. Stop when they need to pee. I never understood why my ex gets upset with my kids if she’s driving and one of them have to go to the bathroom. Yes, I’ve been there when we just pulled away from home and one of them announced that he/she needed to pee. It was my fault that I didn’t ask before I piled them in the car. Go back or stop at a fast food spot if they need to pee for crying out loud!
  20. Cook for them. Make sure they get good meals and eat decently when they are with you. I have an easily accessible repertoire of meals that I prepare. They’re not with me long enough to tire of them even if I repeat something. A slow cooker (a crockpot) is awesome on days you have to work and then pick up the kids for dinner. Maybe I’ll add a separate blog post on meal suggestions and ideas. I’m no top chef but my kids compliment my cooking and appreciate our sit down dinners.
  21. Make dining out a treat. Taking them out has been my way of exposing them to new cultures and tastes. This works especially well the younger they are. Most restaurants have a kid friendly menu and it enables them to experience foreign tastes. My kids claim they’re the only ones in their school classes who have eaten sushi. Make trying new things a family adventure.
  22. Establish routines and traditions, however trivial. I make the same exact breakfast the first morning the kids are with me. We go camping in June for Father’s Day. All calls end with “I love you.”
  23. moving-onResist the urge to compete with their Mom. Appreciate the love and the fun the kids have with their Mom.  My kids honestly have a hard time remembering which parent took them to which movie, or who took them to Disneyland in which year, or who played at the beach with him. As much as you want to believe you are creating a special moment just with you and your child, all the kid really cares about is that she got to go to Disneyland.  My kids’ Mom is taking them to Mexico this summer and I needed to go wait in line with them so she could get them passports. Early on I would have scoffed at doing this and felt jealous that I wasn’t the one taking them. Now, I’m glad they’ll have the experience and I’m certain in 10 years they’ll have to think hard to remember which parent took them.
  24. They cannot have too much love. Never prevent your ex-in-laws or new step-parents or anyone from having the chance to love your kids. Even if you can’t stand them and even if you believe they are dissing you to your kids. They cannot have too many adults who love them. Say yes when they want to see your kids or when there’s a special family dinner during YOUR time. It will help when you want some unscheduled time. That said, don’t hesitate to protect them from an individual causing them true harm.
  25. Arrange alone time with each child.  I would say this even if you weren’t getting divorced, but kids need to feel that a parent wants to spend time with them alone away from the family group. This can be as simple as going to get an ice cream one afternoon, or as complex as a weekend trip away with just you. These days, my kids will call me and ask me for these alone times. I hope they continue throughout their lives.
  26. Don’t let pride get in the way of reason.  There will be times when someone, probably your ex or her family, has treated you so unfairly and unjustly that you can’t stomach seeing them. Do it anyway. Go to kids school plays and sports games even if you are going to run into these people. Make THEM avoid YOU if they must. As the kids grow and mature they’ll notice the difference without you ever saying a word. I always try to get to these things early so that it’s them choosing not to sit near us, rather than vice versa. If I arrive late and my ex and kids are already there I go sit by my kids. In another instance I let my stubbornness and pride cost me 3 months of extra alimony. She had been trying to arrange her second wedding during MY holiday week with the kids, I was incensed and shortsightedly resisted. How could she steal MY time when she already had them 70% of the time?!!? As soon as we got off the phone arguing it dawned on me that a delay in her wedding was more money out of my pocket in alimony! That one foolish, impulsive argument cost me almost $1,000 in total alimony. Needless to say when the wedding did happen I bent over backwards to help. I even traveled to her home and spent a week in her house with the kids so that she could go on her honeymoon with husband #2.

OK

Posted in Divorce, Fatherhood | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Loneliness

I’ve decided to republish my all time top 5 most visited posts. Here’s #2…

 

At first sight, one would think that living as a straight, temple-worthy Mormon married man would involve much less loneliness than being a divorced, single, gay apostate. Not true in my case.

Personally, my almost 11 years of marriage and 38 years of LDS faithfulness involved far more loneliness  than I’ve experienced in the last 5 years all by myself in the wilderness.

I am alone right now writing this blog but I’m not lonely.  It’s not my weekend with my 4 kids.  I’d much rather be with them but I had my favorite brother come visit on Friday and then I met a good friend and her husband last night over drinks.  These are genuine, fun people who know, appreciate and love the real me.  I feel the same about them.  This morning I went on a bike ride by myself and right now it’s raining and I’m listening to my favorite Pandora quick mix on the stereo as I type.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m a lucky man.

Loneliness is often compared to feeling empty, unwanted, and unimportant. I’ve had several periods of time in my life when I’ve felt lonely and not all of them coincide with actually being alone.  I’d say the most empty and unimportant times for me have been immediately after significant milestones in my life:  when I returned home from my mission; just after I graduated from college; when I returned to the U.S. from Japan; after I got married; when I left the LDS church.

Probably the only surprising time period of loneliness was after getting married.  Why would I have been so lonely?  Don’t people get married in part to NOT be lonely? Without trying to rehash marital details or criticize my ex-wife (who I am expecting will never read this and therefore never have a chance to defend herself), I refer back to that definition of loneliness and say that I felt empty, unwanted and unimportant.

The emptiness was my fault.  Deep, deep down I knew inside that I was attracted to men.  Being gay, however, was taught to be a choice and I fought hard against choosing it.  I was encouraged to get married and so I did.  I married someone who, all other things considered, I got along with and who was likely even more clueless than I was regarding homosexuality.  I don’t care how fantastic of a woman I could have found, I still would have felt empty alongside her as a spouse. You can’t fill the emptiness until you’re living on the outside in a manner consistent with how you live on the inside.

The feelings of being unwanted were more of a two-way street.  Like me, rather than being in love with me, I believe my wife was in love with being married.  We were both really just placeholders in each others’ dream of a family and celestial glory.  She was no more interested or attracted (on any level…sexual, intellectual, social, emotional) to me than I was to her.  We both wanted spouses, we just didn’t really want the person we had as a spouse.

I felt important in my marriage to the extent that I made money… other than that, no so much.  Mostly I felt like a placeholder.  Any warm body would have done. Joint decisions like moving, large purchases and such were really just her making the decision and waiting for me to agree.  If I didn’t agree it merely dragged on and on until I did. I guess that’s the stuff of most family situation comedies, but I hated it.  We moved  six times in the almost 11 years we were married and four of those moves were situations that I said, “no, no no” for weeks or months.  I didn’t believe they were all best for our family… but like many other things, my opinion was irrelevant.  As an individual in a marriage I was unimportant.

As a father, I felt very fulfilled, wanted and important.  I loved my kids but once I became an unbeliever I was irrelevant in my wife’s eyes.  I stopped accepting church callings and spent more time with the family than I ever had before.  My wife acknowledged at one point that I had become a better father since losing faith in the LDS church so I asked her, “What would you rather have?  A husband who is a good father or a husband who spends all his time at the church because he’s the bishop or stake president?”  There wasn’t even a pause or blink as she replied, “A bishop or stake president.”

Yeah, that will make a guy feel wanted.

It was a very lonely time when I felt invisible as I attempted to jump through the proper hoops by gong to church until I realized in the end that selling myself out like that caused her to have no respect for me.  I recall at one point taking stock of my life and realizing that I had set up a good life for myself… but it was someone else’s life.  I felt like a guest in my own life and THAT is the most lonely feeling I’ve ever had.

You can feel fulfilled, wanted and important but be single.  Being true to yourself and being authentic is far more satisfying than having a person to eat dinner with or on the other side of the bed.

Posted in Divorce, Loneliness | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Masturbation Talk for Mormon Boys and Girls

I’ve decided to republish my all time top 5 most visited posts. Here’s #3…

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Who would have thunk it?… One of the most common searches that brings people to my blog is some variation on the words “masturbation” and “mormons.”  Seriously.  It happens almost every day and it is totally unintentional on my part. But I think I know why my blog ends up in those search results.

There’s a page under my “Rants” in the menu above that discusses masturbation from the perspective of an LDS physician.  I found it on some former Mormon forum a long time ago and have long since lost the reference to give the credit due.  I don’t even know for sure if it’s legit or just made up.  It sounds legit though.

I expect that if the following discussion offends or makes folks uncomfortable they wouldn’t have clicked here or made it this far into the post, right? So, I’m not going to tiptoe around the topic…but this won’t be a vulgar description or anything like that, just a point of view.

Since I get so many visitors looking for this, I thought it was time that I add my own two cents on the topic… you’ve got to give the people what they want! And maybe I’ll get more traffic here as a result.

I believe that the current LDS teaching on masturbation is a violation of an individual’s personal boundaries.  The LDS position is not scriptural and it’s not moral.  It’s damaging to the  young LDS boys and young LDS girls on whom the non-doctrinal teaching is imposed. It is abusive.

As a Boy

I was taught  about masturbation by my Mormon bishop at the age of 11.  He was interviewing me in his home office just prior to my 12th birthday to make sure that I was “worthy” to be ordained as a deacon in the church.  Up to that point I’d never heard the word before and I’d never done it.  So, when the bishop asked me if I masturbated and I replied that I didn’t know what that was, a VERY uncomfortable conversation ensued.

The bishop in essence taught me how to masturbate; that wasn’t his intention but that was the outcome.

At the time I was completely  at the mercy of this HUGE authority figure in my life.  Of course I didn’t question the appropriateness of this conversation because this was the Lord’s representative and could do no wrong.  And within the context of Mormonism it was an entirely appropriate event.

That’s messed up.

As a father I find it completely inappropriate for an older man to even be asking a 12 year old boy about masturbation.  Period. The Mormon church seems to be begging for a lawsuit by keeping this practice in place.

As a Dad

25 years later and my little girl, a toddler, was really enjoying her child car seat.  That strap with the latch that goes between her legs was getting a lot of attention while the family drove around town.  This really irritated my ex-wife.  She freaked out every time she saw it.  I was still a true blue believer at this point but I tried to get my ex-wife to calm down and stop bugging our little girl about it.  Finally our pediatrician came to our rescue and told my wife that toddler masturbation was completely normal and that her freaking out about it was going to cause more damage than the act itself.

The overreacting stopped…in front of me at least. Funny thing is, though, the masturbating in the car also stopped soon after.  I don’t know if it was a naturally tapering off, or if my ex-wife somehow managed to get my daughter to stop it covertly.  I’m guessing the latter.

Clarification

I don’t know if we need a definition here, but I’m assuming that we can all agree what masturbation is…or can we? Is the line really that clear? A Mormon female I was once close to  told me that a certain exercise routine would “accidentally” induce orgasm for her as a teen. Well then, if you repeat that very same exercise technique… and know that the pleasure is going to follow, that’s masturbation, right? (And then I’d also assume that you’d be more understanding of your own children when similar events occur years later, ahem.)

For a boy that sort of hands-off approach doesn’t work as well, but I know from experience that a young 14, 15, 16 year old boy doesn’t need a whole lot  manual help to make it happen either.  Just washing in the shower, for example can get results.  But that only highlights how normal and natural it is.

Morality

In the Mormon world “morality” refers almost exclusively to sex. If you follow the LDS code for sexual behavior then you are living a “moral” life.  My definition of morality is more comprehensive. In brief, my moral compass guides me to evaluate my life situations based on respect and “doing no harm to others”, or the old “treat others the way you want to be treated.” In no way does masturbation do harm to yourself or to anyone else.  To the contrary, obsessing over it the way the Mormon religion does brings it to the forefront of  a young person’s life and creates a guilt and a compulsion that is harmful and immoral.

My Plea

If you are a young boy or girl reading this post, or perhaps you are a young adult preoccupied with “sinful” thoughts that do or could lead to masturbation, or maybe you are just a concerned LDS parent trying to help your “addicted” child, please know that the LDS church is wrong on this one issue.

My father once related to me  the adage, “95% of boys masturbate… and the other 5% are liars.” Unfortunately it was a dozen years too late to help me much.  I actually managed to not masturbate from my 2 year LDS mission and all the way through my 10 year marriage. With a couple of slip ups in between, which I felt incredibly guilty and worthless about, I spent an unnecessary enormous amounts of energy on the Mormon obsession over masturbation. I’m no longer proud of abstaining.  It’s like patting yourself of the back for a long run of not brushing your teeth.

Like anything, too much of a good thing can become obsessive. So, if it interferes with the person’s ability to have intimate relationships,  function productively in life, or if there are inappropriate times and places where it occurs then it can become an immoral behavior because of how it affects others.  But in and of itself there is nothing immoral or wrong about it. And those negative outcomes are anomalies of the behavior not givens or consequences.

There is an appropriate time (when alone), there is an appropriate place (in private) and the benefits for men and for women far outweigh any possible negative affects.

Trying to NOT do something  normal and natural creates an obsession that is unhealthy. Mormons think about masturbation far more than the rest of the world who just do it and get on with their lives.

UPDATE: Re-Thinking Porn; The Internet Factor

Update: Here’s another article that confirms my suspicions and another HERE

The little known benefits of masturbation

Other things I’ve posted on the topic:

Sexual Unhappiness is a Religiously Transmitted Disease

Porn for Mormons

LDS Physician – Masturbation

Posted in Masturbation, Mormonism | Tagged , , | 30 Comments