Over the last couple of days, I’ve been watching “One Punk Under God”, a six-part documentary about Jay Bakker. If you’re thinking “Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? Of the PTL Club/Heritage USA Bakkers?” you’re absolutely correct. If you’re interested in more info about Jay and the documentary, click the links (“One Punk Under God” is available on Netflix Instant-watch). Watching this series, there were a few scenes that made me squirm. The first dealt with Jay’s mom, Tammy, and her battle with cancer, which got to me for two reasons. First, she was initially diagnosed with colon cancer, a little gem that I dealt with back in 2007. Whenever I hear about someone with the same condition not doing well, it reminds me of my mortality and that freaks me out a little. The second involved the fact that he was watching his mother’s condition deteriorate because of cancer and my father was diagnosed with lymphoma several years ago. It’s not like he’s on his deathbed or anything, but it’s definitely taken a toll. Understand that I’m only aware of him taking sick leave from work (for himself) once in over 30 years. We don’t call him the Iron Man for nothing. Unfortunately, the iron is beginning to rust and no man wants to confront his father’s mortality anymore than his own.
The other disturbing scenes involved his relationship with his dad. When Jay was growing up, his dad was always busy with his ministry and never available. Not only that, but his own admission, Jim was rather distant when he was there, the result of his relationship with his own father. In later years, if they had a relationship at all, it was strained. My own relationships with my family have had their moments, too. When I was a teenager, my parents were involved in a charismatic Christian group that caused me quite a bit of pain. Probably the worst part the wedge it drove between my father and I. For years, I carried a great deal of resentment that, instead of protecting us from an evil, controlling individual, he put us at that person’s mercy. It festered for years because the way the entire family dealt with it was not to deal with it. I was married with a family of my own before we finally worked things out. Our relationship is pretty good these days. Heck, I’m even turning into him on some levels and I’m okay with that.
It’s not just my dad, either. I’m the youngest in my family, with an brother four and a half years older. Older siblings look at that and say “So what?”, while those who are “the baby of the family” (I hate that term) automatically get what I mean. If you’ve never lived in someone’s shadow, it’s hard to understand the issues. Throughout my high school career, I wasn’t Joel, I was Jeff’s brother and I was expected to be a virtual clone by teachers and classmates alike. I wasn’t. That’s where I learned that being your own person has a cost. You’d think that would be the end of it, that adulthood would be free of such foolishness. Not really. There are still places and times in my life where I’m over-shadowed by my larger-than-life big brother, usually involving family. Not that anyone expects me to be like him anymore; if they ever did, they gave that up as a lost cause long ago (being stubborn has it’s rewards). No, it’s more that he takes up all the space in the room. Some of it’s personality and some of it’s subject matter. He’s a county agriculture extension agent and he’s a very good one. Everyone wants his advice on plants and such. I’m no shrinking violet, but, as a firefighter, most people can’t relate to what I do for living. Besides, stories about vomit, blood and excrement don’t really lend themselves to polite conversation. Life as a younger brother can really suck sometimes.
For someone who practices a religion based on relationships, you’d think I’d be better at them. But, do you see a pattern in the two examples I just talked about? A common denominator, maybe? I’ll give you a hint, the trouble is spelled M-E. That’s right, I’m the problem. Not because of any low self-esteem crap or any of that stuff. No, I’m the problem because of my brokenness. You see, both instances are all about me. I was pissed at my dad for years and was too scared to get out in the open. I’ve secretly resented my brother practically my whole life because he’s friendly, outgoing and knowledgeable, instead of being proud of him for all that. Even though I have absolutely reason to be, I’m still amazed whenever my arrogance smacks me in the face. That’s probably a good thing, though.