When I was a kid, we started every school day with the Pledge of Allegiance. Not so strange, right? Except where I went to school in the second grade, we followed it with the Lord’s Prayer. I honestly thought it was all one spiel.
Imagine, if you will, a shorter, rounder version of me randomly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at home (for no particular reason, I’m sure). I linked the pledge and the prayer with no fore- or afterthought; “…with liberty and justice for all. Our Father, which art in heaven…”
You don’t need to imagine what happened next, because I’m fixin’ to tell you, and here it is. My Dad, a man with zero social conscience (you’ll have to trust me on this one, I could fill pages with supporting evidence), a rebel without a cause, a sometimes-employed ad salesman, instantly transformed into a man so incensed by the mixture of church and state that he began a great debate with my school. But let me be clear, he did this by sending written notes through me (arguably the shyest child on the planet) to my school administrators. How’s that for backbone? He demanded they stop the practice which violated my constitutional rights – he was incorrect, by the way, as it is not specifically addressed in the Constitution, it is instead a philosophic and jurisprudential concept – but even that isn’t as important as the fact that I didn’t care about this supposed violation of my rights as much as I cared about the unbelievable position I was in as a terrified new kid forced to fight my dad’s battles. I think that even as a little girl I understood it had nothing to do with the man’s core beliefs and I like to think that if it had, I would have sensed it and been a little less humiliated, and that, of course, if he really believed it all, he would have wielded his own sword and not handed it to an unwitting, stupefied kid. I think I knew it had less to do with principles than audacity as he had few of the former and lots of the latter. What? Oh, the story, the story. Sorry. So, here’s what happened next.
The compromise between him and the school was that every morning, I had to step outside the classroom (which in that particular school was OUTSIDE) while the rest of the class droned out the pledge-prayer, probably not getting the meaning of either any more than I had, but they and I “got” the fact that I had been singled out. And not in a good way. I realized much later that if Dad truly believed his assertions, that this “solution” did not solve anything and that it created a very real problem for his bashful daughter, but that somehow never factored into his short-lived need to make the world a better place. He never followed up, never sought to see if my later schools did the same thing, never asked me how I felt about it.
Of course, I survived the incident which, in the big scheme of things of Seley-life under a microscope, was really very, very minor. But wait! There’s more! Of course, there is. He was nothing if not predictable.
Fast forward to me in seventh grade (another town, another state, of course) and I had signed up for wood shop. I had already started class and was getting into it when Dad slithered from beneath the rock he’d frequented more and more over the years, long enough to suggest that it was grossly irresponsible of the school to put me at the helm of potentially life threatening wood-working equipment; I guess I missed out on the news reports of hundreds of children being maimed and killed in the time-honored junior high wood shops of America. Anyway, yes, you guessed it, with me as a deeply humiliated carrier of his ranting notes, he challenged the practice, insisting that they guarantee my safety or a fat check to cover the medical bills if they failed to do so (he had his priorities, after all). If they didn’t agree, I was to be transferred immediately from the class. I’ll never forget the look in the eyes of my very respected, very experienced shop teacher, Mr. Staack, as he signed off on my transfer and I fought back tears of embarrassment. I later realized that, as before, if my father was genuinely concerned about the school policy, my removal from the class would have only been the beginning. But, as before, it was the end. I was ashamed, didn’t understand the fight, and Dad could beat his chest in victory from the safety of home.
In retrospect, considering the scope of his other actions, these incidents were so small, they hardly mattered. I wasn’t hurt, I was safe (as always) from his most vile behaviors, and no one really cared but me. And, I assure you, I got over it. But as I looked over my list of much crazier ideas to share in this blog, these events stood out because I suddenly asked myself why he did this stuff. And the answer was swift. He did it because he could. It was low hanging fruit for a control freak whose self-interest trumped all else, and these things must have popped up when he was feeling otherwise impotent.
He did it because he could. And that’s why I’m telling this story. Because I can. And now I have. Neener, neener, neener! Immature, perhaps, but soooo gratifying!
If you’ll excuse me, now I’m going to go recite the good ol’ Pledge of Allegiance and tack on the dang Lord’s Prayer. And I’m going to do it as I use a table saw — unsupervised! Why? Because I can!