Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Own Gilead, Part 1

Almost two years ago now, I read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If you aren't familiar with this book, it is a novel told from the point of view of an old pastor, John Ames. John is reaching the end of his life, yet with a younger wife and 7-year-old son, and the book is meant to be a series of thoughts that John is writing for his son to read when he is older. They are thoughts that range from his own experiences growing up to some theological musings to his love for the church to his jealousy of another man he perceives moving in on his wife to regret that he feels caring for his church at the expense of his family.

I'd originally wanted to make it a point to reread this book every year as a sort of testament to how much I enjoyed it the first time and as a way to pick up on things that I'd missed. I never did get around to doing this in 2007, although I did remember to take it with me to General Synod so that I could get Robinson to sign it.

Just today, in between bidding farewell to visiting in-laws, diaper changes, and other errands, I finally began my second journey through Gilead. I can think of no better time to have done this than during my paternity leave, even at times with my own son cradled in one arm while flipping pages with the other.

I've given much thought to this whole business of fatherhood over the past nine months. There's been the standard, "What will I teach him/how will I discipline him/etc." sort of stuff, but moreso I've been thinking about my own experiences growing up as a preacher's kid and what I may be able to do for Coffeeson to help avoid some of the rougher features of this dubious distinction. That's what this post and maybe one or two more are going to be...talking out some of those rougher features, not necessarily to solve anything, but at least to put them out there for my and others' reactions.

One thing that I've wondered about is how PKs are received in different communities. Is there a difference, for instance, between how a preacher's kid is seen in a smaller town or rural area as opposed to a larger area? I recently asked Coffeewife, who graduated high school with over 800 people, whether she knew who the PKs were in her school. She answered that she was aware of them, but it seemed to have little bearing on how they were treated or viewed by their peers. When your high school is the size of a small college, anonymity can be a perk in that regard.

For me in my rural elementary school, I wasn't a preacher's kid. I was THE preacher's kid. My classmates knew it. My teachers knew it. And while it only elicited an occasional comment from schoolmates (and one from my art teacher--who was an ass, anyway--in front of the whole class), there was a certain stigma that seemed to follow me around. It may have been easier to escape in a larger school, but I was the anomaly in a building full of kids whose parents were farmers, dentists, and any other number of "normal" profession. But a kid whose father is a pastor...that's just weird, man. Are you, like, really nice or something?

By the time I'd entered high school, we'd moved to another district and my father had become a librarian. We moved out of a rural area into a small town, the basic difference being the community's more rabid Varsity Blues-ish dedication to school sports. I did know of one or two PKs, but they didn't seem to endure any grief. Maybe it was the crowd they ran with or that this particular community didn't care as much.

Anyway, all this is to wonder how Coffeeson will be received by his peers, and maybe even where we'll be by the time he begins to interact with them. I pastor a church in a close-knit, small town/rural community. I leave the future open as to where we'll be by the time he's ready to begin school, but certainly he'll be THE preacher's kid in his class in this place. Whatever I can do to help him avoid experiencing all the "aren't you supposed to be really nice?" stuff without him having to resort to overt rebellion as a felt need to prove a point, I want to do it.

Of course, I don't really worry about how he'll be received just on any kind of level where he's judged by what his dad does...I just worry about it in general. For some, being a PK is a sticky point...for others, not so much. Maybe he won't have to deal with that. Maybe he'll click with a good circle of buddies right away and this won't even be a factor. I hope that it isn't.

And that whole "leaving the future open as to where we'll be" thing? Yeah, I'll get to that one next time.