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Dearest Daughter Emily

An atheist father’s love letter to the daughter who wants to pray with him.

Dearest Daughter Emily,

I write you this letter in July of 2014, a month shy of your fifth ellipse around this pale blue dot's sun, knowing full well that you cannot yet read it.  Indeed, I know not when or where you will eventually encounter this. I simply know that whenever you do and wherever you are, you are the Love of my life.

Saturday Daddy Day

As usual, you slept over my apartment last night. “Saturday Daddy Day” has been our routine since Daddy and Mommy agreed to divorce and I moved out of our home six months ago. But this past Saturday was anything but routine.

When you couldn't fall asleep, you asked that I play with you...or so I thought. Mishearing you, I quickly replied that play time was over, but that we could play in the morning.

“No, Daddy; I want to pray with you. To god. Like Mommy does during my bedtime routine.”

My stomach sank. Heart froze. Eyes widened. I was taken aback because, when Mommy and Daddy wed, we agreed to raise our future children to know right from wrong without recourse to supernatural beings or organized religion. But alas, Mommy changed…

Although stunned and staggered, I managed to tell you that I didn't believe in god, but that I believed in Love, and that when I can't fall asleep because my mind is racing, I think about the two things I Love most in life, you and your brother. I told you that the thought of that Love quiets my mind, and might help quiet yours, too. I then made some inane poop jokes to make you laugh. :)

It was the best I could do, but you deserved better. You deserved to know why I wouldn’t pray with you. You deserved to know what I would do to provide you with unconditional understanding, comfort, and Love. Here’s what I couldn’t tell you then, my Love.

Religion and Me

Ya see, honey, religion was always an uninvited traveler on my 10 year journey with Mommy. In the beginning, after I proposed to Mommy, she asked me to tell her Catholic mother—your wonderful Grandma—that I believed in god...and I betrayed myself and lied to my future mother-in-law. It felt awful to do that to Grandma.  And to myself.  

A few months later, my mother and father, who are Jewish, refused to attend my wedding to Mommy because we were considering having both a rabbi and priest officiate. That was the last straw. With them and with religion. I refused to betray myself any longer.

Mommy and I opted for a Justice of the Peace as a secular officiant and to exclude my family from attending. They opted to clandestinely book a hall at the same venue under an assumed name to wreak havoc, which the venue and I thwarted mere hours before our wedding. Their "party" cancelled, they then opted to crash our wedding, mid-ceremony, such that from the altar I had to interrupt our officiant, stop the proceedings, and tell them to leave. The Suffolk County Police were called, and stayed outside the venue the entire night. Until the day I moved out of our house, that was the single worst day of my life, due in no small part to religion's insidious ability to turn family against kin who don't toe the family's religious line. The way my family treated me then, and in the years that led to that painful day, was evil. And it forever soured me on god. For as the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus reasoned:

Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. 
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? 
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?

Me and You

So to be true to myself and what I believe in, I had to refrain from praying with you, dearest Emily.

But more importantly, I had to ensure that the sins of the father and mother were not my sins; that I didn’t let religion and god come between me and you. So I made five promises to myself. 

  1. I would inform, but not instruct, in matters of faith. I would model my beliefs but not muzzle your mental meanderings into mythology
  2. I would expose you to past and present belief systems so that you could make an informed formation of your own mindset, and to inoculate you from blindly and fanatically adhering to any given faith, or lack thereof.
  3. I would teach you scientifically grounded ways of quieting your mind when it needed soothing.
  4. I would develop with you our own mollifying bedtime routine.
  5. And most importantly, I would never, ever put my belief system before my Love of you.

In short, I concluded that it was less important that you believe what I believe and more important that you find out what you believe. I hope I’ve helped you navigate that journey of self-discovery, my Love. 

May you now understand why I never prayed with you but how I always Loved you, unconditionally. And how that is something to truly believe in. 

With Love,

Daddy (AKA Papa Poopy Head)

 

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Psychology Today and the University of Scranton, or me, and certainly not the views of my friends, family, probation officer, gut bacteria, darkest thoughts, and personal mohel.

Copyright © 2014 Barry X. Kuhle. All rights reserved.

Barry X. Kuhle, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Scranton.

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