Today, we come to the third chapter of the saga that is My Story. Monday, I started with the tale of my Leave It To Beaver-ish early years. Wednesday, I laid bare the time I spent as a member of a crazy-ass cult (though exactly a willing one). Today, the story spans a much longer time; almost 30 years . I know that sounds like a lot, but for a lot of that time, not much of note was happening. But, enough wasting time.

So, as I said at the end of Wednesday’s post, I spent a good while drifting spiritually. There were a couple of brief flirtations with New Age stuff, but other than that, I stayed away from spiritual things; especially things that smacked of organized religion. That was a rabbit hole I wasn’t going down again. Throughout my sojourn from all things spiritual, however, I never stopped believing in God. We might have been on the outs, God and I, but I still believed. For the longest time, that seemed odd to me. I couldn’t understand why I could reject religion, but not God. To be honest, I’m still not really sure, but I don’t let it bother me.

Somewhere in the midst of my family’s relationship with Williford crumbling, I found my (first) calling: at age 17, I became a junior volunteer firefighter. It was the first thing I had excelled at in a long time and, believe me, that felt good. I farted around with getting a fire protection degree at the local community college, but school and I were not a good match at that point. So, when I was 19, I joined the U. S. Air Force. My plan was to spend 4 years as a firefighter, get some education on Uncle Sam’s dime, come home and go to work for one of the local departments. I finally got there, just not the way I thought I would. While I was in basic training, I did go to church every Sunday; not because of any religious cravings, though. The chapel grounds were the only place the DI’s couldn’t mess with you. After you’ve been yelled at for everything you do for 7 straight days, you’ll do anything for a couple of hours peace.

I suppose this is a good spot to tell you a bit about those two excursions into New Age thought. Both were influenced by my dad, who was still searching for that elusive meaning in his life. The first one involved a Unity Church group. They were a very nice group of people and I enjoyed my association with them. Their beliefs were another story. While my current beliefs about God, Jesus and all that other stuff fits nicely with those of the Unity Church, I did not feel that way at the time. I think part of the problem was the language they used to describe them. I am a very pragmatic person and they were a little too hippy-dippy, touchy-feely for me. The second came about because of my father’s embrace of the “law of attraction“. Basically, this is a “belief is based upon the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from “pure energy”, and the belief that like energy attracts like energy.” Sounds good, huh? Well, in my experience,it’s really just a New Age version of prosperity gospel. It didn’t work for either one of us. He also messed around with Science of Mind, reincarnation, past-life regression, guided meditation, and tons of other stuff like that, but not me. It all seemed rather wooley-headed to me and, other than those two flirtations, I didn’t fool with it.

As for our years under Williford’s sway, that wasn’t something we talked about. Whenever the subject came up, the response was generally along the lines of “Yeah, that sucked. Let’s talk about something else”. I tried to get answers about that time on multiple occasions, but always hit a brick wall. Finally, in the summer of 1994, my father apologized for all that happened. He didn’t qualify, he didn’t make excuses and he didn’t hedge. He accepted full responsibility for everything. He didn’t say why it happened, though. I don’t think he knew himself.

Our relationship finally began heal after that. Not all at once, of course. It takes a lot of time to unpack that much baggage and, like I said in Part I, my dad wasn’t good with emotions. But, little by little, we stopped fencing with each other and began to build the kind of relationship I think we always wanted. Sadly, it took both us dealing with cancer at the same time to really bring us together. In 2003, Dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. At first, it was the indolent (slow-growing) variety. In 2006, it morphed into the fast-moving type and required some pretty harsh chemotherapy. In 2007, a few months after he’d finished that, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a near thing (I almost died) and, during my chemotherapy, I required a lot of help. He was there, all the way though. Which was a good thing, because I don’t know that I could have made it without him. During that 6 months, I learned more about him that I had the entire 46 years of my life. I will always be grateful to him for opening up that way. I know it was hard.

About 3 years before the big “C” came into my life, I had returned to church. To be honest, it caught me by surprise. I was a pretty low point in my life: divorced, lonely and still working out a lot of issues from my childhood. I was not doing all that well. Looking back, I think was depressed. At the time, my oldest daughter was attending a Southern Baptist church with her mother and became very worried about my soul. To appease her (i .e., to shut her up), I decided to go to church one Sunday. I chose the local Methodist church, Knightdale UMC, thinking it be would familiar, safe and easy. Boy, was I wrong.

To be continued.

I’ll finish this tomorrow, I promise.