Wednesday, May 21, 2008


As I prepared to enter the mission field one of my biggest concerns was getting along with companions. I've always been a bit of a loner and for whatever reason I never really felt comfortable socially and had a problem making friends (a problem that continues to this day).

You'd never know it from looking at me today, but I was always on the small side. My birthday was one day before the school cutoff so I started kindergarten when I was 4 going on 5 and was always the youngest kid in my class with some kids nearly a year older than me. The problem became worse in high school when my body matured late and slowly leaving me probably the last pre-pubescent boy in the locker room. I also graduated a year early from high school so for my last two years I was going to classes with the class ahead of me and was sometimes two years younger than my classmates.

For some reason, when I was in kindergarten the public school decided I was "too motivated" and eager to learn and decided to put me in a slowed down class in first grade so I wouldn't become bored and drop out in high school. It doesn't make sense to me, but that is apparently what they told my parents who pulled me and my siblings out of public schools and enrolled us in a small private Christian school that was initially run by a Baptist church and later by a large evangelical church. I didn't go to public schools again until junior high school so I received six years of education that included daily prayer, Bible study, and scripture memorization.

I grew up in Iowa where Mormons were a rarity. My father was a member of the John Birch Society so I was raised with a "unique" political perspective full of patriotism, nationalism, and international conspiracy theories. My parents were also strong believers in fringe medical practices such as chiropractic, mega-vitamin therapy, and laetrile. My father's convictions were strong and he wanted to share them so my siblings and I could often be seen going through the neighborhood on weekends distributing hundreds of JBS political pamphlets. We attended church every Sunday for up to 5 hours, during the week, and at other special church occasions. I wasn't allowed to play with friends or watch TV on Sunday in order to keep the Sabbath holy. All of my parents friends were either members of the church or JBS members. We barely knew or associated with our neighbors and since I didn't attend public school I didn't know any kids in the neighborhood except for my best friends who lived in a duplex behind our house.

At home things I was raised by parents who were conscientious and caring but demanding, emotionally detached, often harsh, and sometimes violent. Hugs, kisses, and expressions of affection or love were rare, but discipline was omnipresent. My father's skinny dress belt was feared, but hair brushes and wooden spoons were also favorite instruments of punishment. At one school ball they had little paddle balls that have a bouncy ball connected by a rubber ball. We made the mistake of bringing them home only to have them turned into spanking paddles. We never made that mistake again. One spanking ended in the emergency room when my sister stuck her hand behind to protect her butt and wound up with a broken finger. My spankings ended on the day I tried an experiment. I figured it would only work if I cried or showed pain. So, as my mother laid into me with the belt I started laughing. The harder she spanked the harder I laughed and the more I laughed the angrier I got until I was laying face down on the bed laughing until tears streamed down my face while she hit me as hard and as fast as she could. After she tired I got up much sorer, but with the satisfaction of having beaten her by not giving her what she wanted. I never got spanked again.

One of my earliest memories, when I was four or five, was being in bed and hearing my father yelling angrily at my mother. The yelling got louder and louder as my mother retreated from the living room, through the kitchen, and neared the back of the house where I shared a bedroom with my brother. My father hit or pushed my mother and I saw her fall on the ground cowering outside my bedroom as he towered over her yelling and holding his fist up.

My father claims he had a wonderful upbringing. I guess that is his perception. But his parents separated and divorced shortly after he was born. His father joined the Navy and his mother didn't want him and his brother so he spent his childhood being raised by his aunts and uncles and later by his alcoholic mother and step father and itinerant father and step mother. As a teenager his mother tried to get custody of his older brother, but didn't want him if my father came as part of the package. Both my uncle and my father boxed in high school and my father was actually a golden gloves boxer. I don't know what that says about their upbringing, but it seems strange that both would choose such a violent sport. My parents married when my dad was 18 and my mother 17. Soon his older brother joined the Mormon church and my father and mother soon followed him. Then he joined the Air Force and served his entire career in the military. Despite their young marriage and the problems in the house, they have remained together for more than 50 years.

I always believed that religion had a rehabilitative effect on my father. He could be a monster when he lost his temper, but the discipline of religious observance made him aspire to constantly improve himself. Unfortunately, I don't think he had any role models for normal family life growing up and so his ideals were formed based on church talks, church lessons, and church media that presented a highly idealized, but hardly realistic representation of the challenges of real life and solutions that worked. I think this resulted in him becoming extremely frustrated that despite his efforts his family was never like what he thought it should be. Those frustrations only seemed to grow and I grew older.

I had what I guess could be best described as a disciplined, hard working childhood. We worked hard around the house and in additional to normal chores also did major tasks such as reroofing and painting the house and doing all of our own auto maintenance and repairs. My father could be extremely tolerant and patient, but when his he finally lost his temper it was a terrible thing to witness. I never saw him lose his temper in public, but it became increasingly frequent as I got older and the challenges me and my siblings presented to him became harder for him to deal with. Remember that he was 6 foot 4 inches and 175 very solid pounds, a former golden gloves boxer, and a fighter pilot who had to stay fit by regularly running and working out at the YMCA.

Two episodes stand out. He started yelling at my mother and doing who knows what, but she ran to their bedroom and locked the door. He chased her and when confronted with the locked door he simply kicked it open and followed her in. I don't know what happened after that; I was hiding with my sisters in the farthest room in the house until he calmed down.

Everyone in the house lived in fear of my father and tried to avoid angering him. I learned by watching the abuse of my older brother that you really couldn't win a direct confrontation with my father so I learned avoidance. But I didn't like the feeling of helplessness I felt both at home and at school. I was brainy, but wanted the popularity of the jocks so I always went out for sports despite my small size and rather conspicuous absence of athletic talent. When everyone else grew and I didn't I finally got tired of getting pummeled and quit football. After the season I signed up for wrestling. Part of it was a desire to get an athletic letter and I figured I had a chance against people my own size. But part of it was also to be able to defend myself both against bullies at school, but especially from my father's anger and abuse.

During my last year of high school my sister did something to upset my dad. I think she was sleeping in on a Saturday and he wanted her to get up and do chores. He finally resorted to trying to drag her out of her bed and a fight ensued. She ran to the bathroom and locked the door. He stood pounding on the door and yelling for her to unlock the door. His anger built into a roaring fury and when she didn't come out he simply kicked the door open and shattered the door and jamb. By now I'd grown some, although I was still dwarfed by my father, but more importantly I'd gathered a hard won physical confidence on the wrestling mats and was quite strong for my size and able to use my leverage effectively. I steeled myself and walked into the bathroom to find my sister cowering and screaming hysterically in the bathtub and my father with both hands around her throat trying to drag her out. I walked up behind him, grabbed him around the waist, and carried him out into the kitchen. When I set him down he started yelling at me and I stood inches from his lightning eyes and yelled up into his face. I wondered if I was next, but he stormed off and eventually calmed down. He knew he was in the wrong, but this was also the first time I'd ever seen anyone stand up to him.

I don't remember him ever apologizing for such episodes. In fact, after the bathroom incident I remember piecing the door and door jamb back together with wood glue and clamps since it was the only bathroom in the house and it was a little difficult to use when you couldn't close and fasten the door. Locks in our house only seemed to result in broken doors, not safety, so to prevent future lockins and breakage I disabled the lock on the handle when I put everything back together. He never offered to help and in fact his bedroom door was still broken and without a door knob when we moved from that house.

I was a brainy, skinny, small, afraid kid who wanted to be athletic, respected, and sure of myself. So I participated in sports and for my whole life I lifted weights to try to remodel my naturally slim frame. When I graduated from high school I was 6'1" and 145 pounds. Two years later when I left on my mission I was still lean, but I weighed 165. At 43 I am 6'2" and my lean body weight is up to 185 meaning that if I wasn't such a fat ass I'd still weigh a lean 200+ pounds instead of 225.

While I was a freshman at BYU I made an interesting discovery. Someone said something mean to me and not having a sharp wit for comebacks I gave him a dirty look. I was surprised when he looked a little afraid at my angry look and apologized. Hmmm. I started perfecting my glare. Soon my motto became, "A smile is much more disarming when preceded by a scowl." With no friends to lose I got a perverse pleasure out of trying to be intimidating. Not really very cool, I guess, but it did have its moments.

One day I came into the Morris Center cafeteria. My friends and brother were sitting at a table and I greeted them with my nastiest look. One of my buddies said, "Here comes the president of ACBAC." Huh? Apparently I'd been appointed in absentia as the found and president of the A. C. Bad Ass Club. I found it uproariously funny that someone had noticed.

Anyway, what does this have to do with my mission? In many ways my life was ideal preparation for a mission. I was used to hard work and discipline. My social isolation made me need to belong to something. The church was my comfort zone and my support structure and made up for deficiencies at home. I was used to rules and discipline. I was physically fit. I was well educated.

However, I knew my social limitations and problems with roomates at BYU meant that I was concerned with being able to get along with companions. In fact, my biggest concern when I entered the MTC was whether or not I'd be able to keep from killing a comp during my mission.

Finally, this might explain some episodes later in my mission where without trying I apparently became feared as something of an intimidating enforcer by some of the missionaries. I'll save that for another tale.

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