book reviews, religion

Reviewing Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult by Fleur Beale

Alright… so I’ve had my nap and finally finished Fleur Beale’s fascinating book, Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult. Neville Cooper, who died of cancer at age 92 in 2018, was the founder of the Gloriavale Christian Community currently located on the West Coast of New Zealand. Many people regard the Gloriavale Christian Community as a religious cult. I had not heard of it until recently, when I got a message from a lawyer in New Zealand who invited me to write about it. This book, originally published in 2009, is about Phil Cooper, one of the sons of Neville Cooper, and his first wife, Gloria.

I recently reviewed Daughter of Gloriavale, which was written by Lilia Tarawa, one of Neville Cooper’s granddaughters and one of Phil Cooper’s nieces. Before I get going too far into this review, I have to explain something. Due to a revelation Neville Cooper got from God, he later went by the name “Hopeful Christian”. Many of his followers have also changed their original names, mostly to adjectives that describe a “Christlike” quality. For instance, Neville has children named Hope, Faith, Miracle, and Charity. Lilia Tarawa is one of Miracle’s daughters. Sins of the Father is about Phil Cooper, who is Lilia’s uncle, and six of the children he had with his first wife, Sandy, who was later renamed Prayer. Sandy/Prayer also has another daughter by Phil. Her name is Cherish, and at the time the book was published, Phil had never met her in person. Phil also has a daughter named Jess by his second wife.

Phil Cooper was born in Australia in 1962. His parents moved him and his then ten siblings to New Zealand in 1967, when he was five years old. At the time, Neville Cooper was a traveling preacher who had developed a following and was invited to speak around the country. However, his teachings were at odds with mainstream Christianity. He was considered a fundamentalist. So Cooper decided to start his own community at Haupiri, located on New Zealand’s West Coast. He eventually named the community Gloriavale, in honor of his first wife, Gloria, who had predeceased him by many years. At this writing, several hundred people still live in Gloriavale. The women wear long blue dresses with white headdresses. The men wear blue shirts and blue trousers. The women of the community do what’s commonly considered traditional women’s work– cooking, cleaning, childcare, teaching, and the like. The men work in Gloriavale’s businesses or do manual labor such as farming or construction.

As he got older, Phil Cooper decided he wanted to leave Gloriavale. He chafed under his father’s oppressive rules, as well as his narcissistic and controlling behaviors. When he was sixteen years old, Phil ran away from Gloriavale, eventually landing in Australia. He had nothing, but managed with help from kind strangers. At one point, having landed in Brisband, he met Mormon missionaries who helped him out by giving him a ride. He ended up converting to the LDS religion, knowing that his father would disown him if he knew. Neville Cooper considered Mormonism as “false religion”. But as a sixteen year old, free from the compound, Neville wasn’t that worried about temporarily being Mormon. He bought himself a tape player, something that was forbidden in Gloriavale, and became familiar with the contemporary music of the late 1970s. Eventually, he was tracked down by his sister, Charity, who tried to talk him into coming home. Although he didn’t want to go home, he realized he missed his family, and he returned to Gloriavale to face his father.

When he first arrived home, Phil’s father welcomed him and he was allowed to return to his apprenticeship. But being on his own had given Phil a bit of an attitude that Neville didn’t like. Phil wore a watch, which Neville considered “worldly”, and he didn’t like that the young man had a tape player and listened to worldly music. So Phil was subjected to his father’s discipline. There he sat in Neville’s room, where 25 to 30 of the community’s men were also gathered. Neville severely chastised his son, demanding that he change his name because he didn’t want to be associated with him. Neville took Phil’s beloved watch and smashed it. Phil didn’t react, so his father got his mother and sisters to lay on the guilt, pressuring Phil to give in to his father’s demands for compliance and obedience.

Neville tried to threaten Phil with stories about how terrifying and dangerous the world was, but Phil had just come from the world, so he knew it wasn’t true. Then Neville told him that God would do terrible things to him and he would die a gruesome death if he didn’t repent. Finally, after hours of berating and extreme pressure, Phil cracked because he was exhausted. And then he took that precious tape player that he bought in Australia and threw it on the floor, breaking it. Meanwhile, Phil’s older sister, Faith, and her husband, Alan, had decided to leave Gloriavale with their five children. Like Phil, they found the community’s rules stifling. Moreover, Neville Cooper was a sexual deviant, who dictated just about everything in his followers’ lives, from who they were allowed to marry, to what they named their children, to what they wore and ate. Unlike Phil, Faith and Alan were successful in leaving permanently the first time they left.

For awhile, after he ran away, Phil became an obedient, model son, working very hard to win his father’s approval. In 1981, he decided he wanted to marry a young woman named Sandy, so he asked his father’s permission and Neville agreed. Phil was 18 and Sandy was 21 when they got married. They had plenty of time to make many children, so that’s what they did. Neville constantly reminded his followers of the importance of being Godly and obedient. However, he and the other men of the community used pornography. Young women who put on weight were forced to fast and were verbally abused. Sandy was fondled by Neville, and some of the girls in the community were forced to join the elders in hot tubs. Children grew up living in one room with their parents and witnessing them having sex.

Neville also believed that once girls hit puberty, they were ready to be married and start having babies. Pregnancy was an opportunity for the women not to work as hard, since they were allowed to rest more when they were having babies. Children in the community were involved with overseeing births, most of which took place at home, unless there were medical issues. Childbirth was considered totally natural and something that should not take place in a hospital unless there was a medical need.

In 1995, Neville Cooper went to prison for about a year on sexual abuse charges. His son, Phil, and some of the girls who had fled the community testified against him. His followers remained steadfast in their loyalty to their leader.

Before long, Phil Cooper was once again at odds with his father’s strict rules and abusive methods. When he was 27 years old, with help from a couple of his brothers, Phil left Gloriavale for good. At the time, he had five children between the ages of eight and sixteen months. After he left, he was told by a community elder that he would no longer have any communication with his children. Phil was heartbroken, so he decided to abduct his children, and his wife, Sandy. Again, he was able to pull off his plan with help from a couple of his brothers. Phil and his family eventually landed in the United States, where Sandy gave birth to Phil’s sixth child, a boy named Andreas. Sandy was never happy outside of Gloriavale, though. She went back twice, despite Phil’s protests, because she didn’t think she could live a Godly life without being in the Gloriavale community. After the second time, Sandy stayed, and later granted him a divorce.

But unbeknownst to Phil, when she left him the second time, Sandy was pregnant with his seventh child. He did not know about his daughter, Cherish, until she was much older, and at the time this book was published, had never seen her in person. One of his other daughters, Dawn, also willingly went back to the compound. The rest remain happily outside of Gloriavale. They have been able to go back a couple of times, but with every visit, there is both the pressure to stay and conform to the community’s culty standards, and careful minding of their visit so that they don’t influence anyone else to leave.

Phil and the other children eventually left the United States, having spent some time in the Hutterite Community in Minnesota. One of his children, Andreas, was named after one of the Hutterites who helped Phil. That group was apparently a much nicer one and more Christlike, and they treated Phil and his family with kindness. But they needed to go home and be closer to their family. So Phil and his kids moved to Australia, even though Andreas, having been born in the USA, was an American citizen. They had to get him Australian citizenship.

My thoughts

Fleur Beale has done a fine job with Phil Cooper’s exciting and amazing story of escaping his father’s cult. She’s a good writer, and her style is engaging and interesting. I liked that she included photos, some of which are in color, and is careful to explain some of the more complicated aspects of this story.

Oddly enough, aspects of this story and some of the methods used to get Phil to comply with his father’s wishes reminded me a lot of my husband Bill’s ex wife’s methods. One of the ways Neville would get his children to fall in line was to get other family members to put pressure on them and employ abusive methods like shunning, lovebombing, and group or family pressure. Bill’s ex wife also does this. Younger daughter has said that when she left home, her sisters would call or email her, berating her for being on a “high horse” or being “prideful” and telling her she should humble herself. Incidentally, when Bill was freshly divorced and leaving Mormonism, younger daughter also accused him of being “prideful”. Ex resorted to extreme measures to get her way and always punishes anyone who goes against her wishes. Neville Cooper was like that, too.

Neville Cooper/Hopeful Christian is often described as a very charismatic narcissist. Everything had to be done under his conditions; it was his way or the highway. Bill’s ex wife is the same way, and he has described her as “charismatic”– the type of person who can sell ice to Eskimos. Or, at least she can if they are unaware of the type of person she is.

Neville Cooper sounds like he was the same way, controlling and convincing people to do everything in exactly the way he wanted it done. A wide variety of abuses were employed to keep everyone in line, to include ostracizing members of the community. It’s no wonder Phil Cooper couldn’t stand it anymore. He recognizes that he has some of his father’s qualities, too, although he does his best to temper them. The children who left the compound with him are grateful that he got them out, even though they had to grow up without their mother. Neville Cooper was addicted to power, and he was ruthless in his quests to get it.

This is an excellent book about Gloriavale, and a young man who decided to risk everything to escape it, even though his father was the leader of the cult. Phil Cooper’s story is very interesting, and I think Fleur Beale has done well in writing the tale. I would definitely recommend Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult to anyone who is interested in learning more about this community, especially if it’s paired with other books about Gloriavale. It really is an interesting cult– and a reminder that the United States is not the only place where dangerous and charismatic leaders get into power and enslave people.

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disasters, Duggars, narcissists

Josh Duggar is in deep doo doo…

Well… last night– yesterday afternoon Arkansas time– Josh Duggar’s charges became public. He’s been charged with two counts of receiving and possessing child pornography. I suspect that was what the whole Homeland Security raid was about back in November 2019, when the feds busted into Josh’s car dealership office. This was the statement released by the United States Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Arkansas.

I’m not sure if he could get 20 years total or 20 years for each count… I also don’t know if there’s more porn that they found, but they’re only charging him for two counts.

Back in 2015, when Josh’s pervert proclivities first came out, I had some empathy for him. At that time, his crimes against his sisters and the babysitter were reported as having happened in 2002, when Josh was himself still a child. I reasoned that at 14, he was the same age Elizabeth Smart was when she was kidnapped. People were calling Elizabeth Smart a child. I reasoned that in 2002, Josh was also a child, and should get some consideration for that fact. The fact that he was a male and doing something very wrong didn’t change the fact that Josh wasn’t yet an adult.

In 2015, Josh was NOT a child, but when the news about his crimes against his sisters first surfaced, we hadn’t yet heard about his extramarital affairs with other women or his penchant for viewing pornography as he lectured everyone else about family values and Christian decency. He is a liar and a hypocrite, for sure, and he was back then, too… But I still wish that when he was still just a fourteen year old boy, his parents had done something real to help him. He might have still turned out to be who he is today, but at least they could say they gave helping him an honest try. Instead of getting him some therapy from a real counselor and trying to treat his issues, they shaved his head and sent him off to do hard labor with a family friend.

When I was studying for my MSW, I had a professor who worked with sex offenders. He was an interesting guy, who had a lot to say about the subject and his years of experience within it. He explained that the sex drive is an incredibly powerful impulse and extremely difficult to control in some people, much like eating or drinking. That does not excuse sex offenders from being held accountable when they victimize people. However, it may offer some kind of an explanation. A person with a deviant sex drive is not like you or me; they don’t think the same way because they have a true mental illness.

That being said, I think Josh Duggar is a total creep and a hypocrite, and I would not be surprised if he is a full blown narcissist. He’s done bad things that have affected many innocent people in so many negative ways. I suppose the American public is, in a strange way, kind of complicit in the fact that his crimes have escalated, because he was not really held accountable six years ago. In 2015, Josh was outed, and that should have led to REAL treatment for his problem, as well as restitution that involved something other than attending a fundie “treatment” program. However, the Duggar family franchise still continued. Josh was not on any of the shows, but he was still pretty visible, and he and his wife continued to make babies, which were shown off to the world. It was as if they were counting on (see what I did there) the whole thing to blow over. And, honestly, I think it was getting to that point, although I suspect Counting On is on its last legs, anyway.

I also noticed that Jim Boob and Michelle were also sneaking back into the spotlight. I have no doubt that if Josh hadn’t been busted, they would have eventually found their way back to the show as more prominent fixtures. I absolutely hold Mr. and Mrs. Duggar responsible for not taking proper care of their children– especially Josh and the sisters he violated when he was fourteen. They did nothing to protect or support their innocent children, nor did they get appropriate or effective help for their child who hurt them. Seems to me that money and fame was more important to Boob, and Michelle was simply doing what she was trained to do… be “joyfully available” and follow her man. I wonder if Michelle blames Anna for not being a “good enough” helpmeet. If Anna had only been a better wife, Josh wouldn’t have been tempted… but I think we all know that line of thinking is nothing but bullshit.

A lot of people are writing about Anna Duggar, claiming that they don’t care about what happens to her. I think if they care about Josh’s children– and people really should, in my opinion– we should also care about Anna. She’s very likely going to have to deal with raising that brood by herself, especially if she stays married to Josh. It’s going to be very difficult for her, and she has a big job to do, making sure she does her best to see that none of her children with Josh turn out to be like him in any way. I’ve always thought Anna was a decent mother, although one might question a woman who keeps making babies with a known pervert. But Anna was raised and conditioned to be “joyfully available”, and there is no telling what kind of abuse Josh put her through when the cameras weren’t rolling. Add in Jim Boob’s obvious control issues and the way he treats anyone who doesn’t do what he says, and you have a very scary situation for a young woman, especially one with so many children to care for.

On one hand, I’m relieved for Josh’s children that he probably won’t have much access to them. On the other hand, I also know that it’s hard to see your loved one– especially a parent– being accused of very serious crimes and locked up. Josh’s children are totally innocent, but they are probably going to have to live with this infamy for the rest of their lives. It’s going to affect everything. I imagine when they get older, wanting to find a mate or possibly a job. There will be people who won’t want to associate with them because of who their father is and what he’s done… and allegedly done.

In any case, my sympathies are definitely with Josh’s children. I do have some empathy for Anna, too. She’s got a tough and scary road ahead of her, especially given that she’s pregnant again. I hope this will be the last baby she makes with Josh. And I hope people in her family will show her kindness and mercy, and help her… because I can already see that a lot of people in the public at large have no regard for her at all. I am sure that having been married to a narcissistic type like Josh, she’s used to people not caring or being kind. Remember, Josh famously took a nap when she was laboring at home, birthing one of the older kids. But it’s still a hard way to live, and I think that someone so obviously victimized by a notorious abuser should rate more understanding.

One thing that Bill and I have learned is that these kinds of problems don’t tend to go away when they are ignored. It’s hard to face the truth and all of the unpleasantness that can come with a situation like this. Doing the right thing is difficult and scary. However, if you don’t nip it in the bud with some very decisive and effective actions, it will get worse and more innocent people will be harmed. Eventually, you will end up with a much bigger problem than what you started with.

Incidentally, a Facebook user named Thriving Forward wrote and shared a very informative post about why Anna has stayed married to Josh and continued to have babies. Thriving Forward is herself a survivor and escapee of the fundie cult Advanced Training Institute (ATI), founded by Bill Gothard. ATI is the fundie Christian belief system the Duggars follow. The post is public, and you can find it by clicking here.

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complaints, mental health, narcissists, poor judgment, psychology

Coming in through the back door…

A few days ago, I wrote a post called “Waiting for ‘contact'”. It was inspired by watching Statcounter and noticing that people sometimes hit the same post over and over again, then go to my contact page. Sometimes, they go there repeatedly, as if expecting to find something new, when all there is on that page is a form to fill out if you want to send me a private message. There’s no “about me” post there, or anything, and the comments on that page don’t automatically get published. Or, at least they haven’t been yet. 😉

Sometimes, people will read posts repeatedly, but come in through the back door. That is, they access my blog via a seemingly unrelated post, then go to another post. I notice that seems to be happening regarding a post I recently wrote about Debra Hunter, the Florida mom who was sentenced to a month in jail for purposefully “coughing” on a woman who was filming her meltdown at a Pier 1 store. That was one of the posts that I decided not to publicize on my Overeducated Housewife Facebook page (which, once again, I am considering deleting).

That’s right… sometimes I deliberately don’t share posts on social media. I would say probably 98% of fresh content and a lot of reposts do get shared on my personal page and the OH page, but every once in awhile, I will write a post and not put it out there. I do that, because I don’t relish getting into fights with people over what may be unpopular opinions. I realize that’s kind of cowardly of me, but there are only so many hours in a day and I have only so much energy. I try hard to explain how I come to my unpopular opinions, but I’ve found that many people don’t care about the hows or whys of how I come to my viewpoints. Instead, they simply want to argue or “correct” other people’s opinions. And since this is my blog, and we’re paying a good sum for the business plan so I can have certain plug in tools (and not because I’m selling anything), I figure I have the right to run it as I see fit.

But I do pay close attention… and I have noticed this person in Florida who seems to be coming in through the back door. He or she is repeatedly hitting a post entitled “A Man’s Got to Put in Overtime to Get Me Off“, which is mostly about Jenna Ryan, the real estate broker in Texas who was whining about the potential for her to go to jail for storming the Capitol, but also references a line and notoriously funny scene in Eddie Murphy’s film, Coming to America. Then I notice that the person searches internally for Debra Hunter, and is probably visiting a post I wrote about a woman who was made viral for melting down at Pier 1. The Hunter post was never shared on my social media and, so far, has remained quiet. But this person comes back and searches… perhaps looking for more dirt or controversy or whatever. So today, after a couple of weeks of this treatment, I’ve decided to add something new to their search about Debra Hunter on my blog.

So… what do Jenna Ryan and Debra Hunter have in common, besides going viral on the Internet and having a lot of perfect strangers wishing for their lives to be destroyed by infamy? To my mind, I don’t think the situations are that comparable. Jenna Ryan, you see, actively boasted about flying in a private jet to Washington, DC, where she would be meeting up with thousands of other people with the explicit intent to interfere in the congressional proceedings certifying Joe Biden as our 46th president. This wasn’t a matter of people who were peacefully protesting, either. Several people died, and many more were injured. There was also quite a lot of property damage, particularly to the Capitol building itself, as well as psychological damage done to the rest of the country.

Jenna Ryan was in the thick of it all, lustily cheering on the destruction and actively participating in it. When she was later held legally accountable for her actions, she complained that it “wasn’t fair” that she’s facing a jail sentence and fines, since she was only “following her president”. She outwardly stated that she hoped Trump would grant her, and her calamitous buddies, pardons for their outrageous behavior. Quite predictably, their orange “zero hero” did not come through with any pardons, so they’re all going to have to face the legal music. Jenna Ryan complained about that, too, whining pitifully about how she was “duped”. How is it that such a “gorgeous” and “successful” real estate broker (in her mind) wasn’t smart enough to see what so many of us could see so plainly from day ONE of Trump’s time in the White House (and really, prior to then, too)?

Ryan has steadfastly refused to take responsibility for her willfully and wantonly dangerous actions. I haven’t checked on her lately, but for several weeks, she was quite gamely sparring with all comers on the Internet, releasing videos, talking to the press, and just basically being a shameless asshole.

Debra Hunter, by contrast, fell into Internet infamy due to an incident in June 2020. A total stranger caught her on camera, having gone off on a Pier 1 clerk. The stranger, a woman named Heather Sprague, claims to be medically fragile and she was mightily upset by hearing Hunter’s harsh words at Pier 1. She claims, but to my knowledge, never proved, that Hunter had been ranting for fifteen minutes or more as she ignored her child doing a “potty dance”. Then, when Hunter noticed Sprague filming her, she quite understandably got pissed, flipped her off with both hands, and “coughed” on her. That caused a problem for Sprague, who says she’s been treated for a brain tumor and has health problems, and is also the mother of ten children, some of whom are also fragile.

Now… I don’t condone what Debra Hunter did. I don’t think yelling at clerks is good behavior. I also don’t think coughing on someone deliberately is appropriate, even when there isn’t a COVID-19 pandemic happening. I do think she should be punished for her actions. However, unlike Jenna Ryan, I have not seen Debra Hunter promoting herself for weeks on the Internet or in the news. In fact, even though this incident went viral almost a year ago, I had not heard of it until Hunter was sentenced. And when I did read about it, I saw many horrifying comments by total strangers condemning Ms. Hunter’s character and wishing death and ruin on her. I thought it was extreme.

And then, when I watched the video of Hunter’s court proceeding, I heard Ms. Hunter express remorse and saw her tears. I heard the anguish in her voice as she described what her life has been like since Ms. Sprague decided to put her on blast over an incident that, frankly, wasn’t her business. There were also circumstances in Hunter’s case that I felt mitigated the situation somewhat. She was under a good deal of stress due to a house fire, as well as slow progress in building a home for her family. While yelling at a clerk is not good behavior, customer service is part of the clerk’s job, and dealing with irate and dissatisfied people, unfortunately, comes with the territory.

The judge in Ms. Hunter’s case said that she hadn’t shown any regard for her “victim”, Heather Sprague. But I did hear Debra Hunter apologize to Ms. Sprague and acknowledge that she had faced troubles in the wake of their unfortunate meeting. I saw Ms. Hunter cry, and it appeared her tears were real. In fact, the judge even told Hunter to calm down on more than one occasion. And although the judge didn’t recognize Ms. Hunter’s contrition, to me it was pretty apparent and honest. She also outright stated that she was ready to accept whatever punishment Judge James A. Ruth handed down. That makes her VERY DIFFERENT from Jenna Ryan, who seems to think she shouldn’t at all be held accountable for her actions at the Capitol on January 6th.

Many people in the comment sections were labeling Debra Hunter as a narcissist. They based that label on a story about how she’d behaved on that one day at Pier 1, when she was being videoed during a stressful moment. Jenna Ryan, on the other hand, has actively engaged in promoting her story, has told egregious lies (mainly about her level of financial and romantic success), and has brazenly claimed that she’s owed special treatment for her illegal actions.

To me, Ryan’s behavior is highly narcissistic. Hunter’s behavior, while rude and potentially dangerous (but ultimately not physically harmful), is not necessarily narcissistic. Hunter was once caught on video melting down, as many of us do from time to time. Ryan, on the other hand, was gleefully and willingly showing herself committing crimes and fully expecting to get away with her illegal actions. She has engaged the press with much gusto, and was all over Twitter insisting that she did nothing wrong.

I took the time to watch most of Debra Hunter’s court proceeding, which is posted on YouTube. I doubt most of the people condemning her and wishing death and destruction on her family did much more than read and react to headlines. And I felt badly for her, because what happened wasn’t just affecting her personally. It was affecting a whole lot of other people who were completely innocent– everyone from her children, who weren’t being allowed to play with their friends, to people in Florida who happen to share a name similar to Debra Hunter’s and getting death threats! By contrast… Jenna Ryan has eagerly reached for the spotlight, like true narcissists are wont to do, so I doubt many innocent people are being mistaken for her in her community. A lot of us know who she is by now, and would recognize her in a parking lot or a store… especially since she probably doesn’t wear face masks.

It’s true, I’m not a big fan of jailing people, particularly for minor crimes in which no one has been seriously injured or sickened, or there’s been little property damage. Debra Hunter wasn’t infected with COVID-19, so her meltdown last year didn’t make anyone sick… except for the fact that deliberately coughing on people, especially when there’s frank spittle involved, is really gross. I think it’s right that she pay a fine and reimburse Ms. Sprague for her rapid COVID-19 test. I think it’s right that she seek help from a therapist and perhaps do community service and serve probation. Jail is overkill, in my view.

Now… Jenna Ryan probably would benefit from a stint in jail. I think she deserves it, if only because she’s been so delusional and offensive. But I don’t necessarily think this incident should ruin her life… nor would I be angry if she didn’t go to jail. We have way too many people locked up in the United States, and a lot of people are getting rich off of other people’s misery. I think it’s time we came up with something more productive, less expensive, and better for society.

But that’s all probably a pipe dream… so I’m going to close now, and go have breakfast. And I hope this post is a satisfying one for those who come in through the back door of my blog.

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family, funny stories, memories, mental health, music, nostalgia, psychology

“Go with the flow”…

A few days ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with one of my relatives, who quipped in passing that she thinks that she and I are both empaths. I didn’t contradict her at the time because I had a feeling that if I did, we might end up fighting. So I let the comment pass, but I was definitely shaking my head about it. I guess I had decided to “go with the flow” and “sweep it under the rug”, which sometimes is a good idea. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s not.

Last night, we were chatting again. This relative has been interested in my musical pursuits, which includes my attempts to learn guitar. After I wrote yesterday’s post about “musical flu”, which was inspired by watching an online concert by the jazz ensemble at my alma mater, Longwood University, I actually sat down and learned a new song. I not only learned it; I played it– shakily– on the guitar. No, I don’t play particularly well, but I did manage to play a song yesterday as well as sing the vocals. Fair disclosure, I did the vocals before the guitar part. I’m not quite ready to do them both at the same time. Still working on that pesky F chord, too.

This is a cover of an old song done by Linda Ronstadt with Dolly Parton doing harmony…

I don’t actually relate to the lyrics of “I Never Will Marry”. I just think the harmonies are pretty. I wanted to see if I could replicate them. And, with the help of Chordify and a capo, I was able to play it somewhat. I literally learned the song and the guitar part and recorded it in a few hours. And, because I was feeling tired and bitchy after that effort, I used a clip of my dog, Noyzi, as the video part. The video doesn’t really matter that much to me, anyway. I’m about the music.

A year ago, I could not have done what I did yesterday, even if my efforts from yesterday are imperfect. This was a pretty big achievement for me. I have a long way to go before I’m ready for busking on the street corner, but I felt pretty accomplished.

My relative listened to the song, praised it, but then said she didn’t like the song itself. She said she thought the lyrics were self-pitying. I don’t disagree, but I still think the harmonies are lovely. My relative went on to explain that she doesn’t like “whiney” songs, and that reminded me of a funny story from my past. I proceeded to relate a short version of the story to my relative, but she completely missed the point in a non-empathic way. Since I’m not drunk on wine right now, have nothing better to do, and I’m writing with a clear head, here’s a longer version of the story for all of you dear readers.

When I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University), I was forced to move out of my dorm after the first week of school. I ended up in what was considered the “worst” hall on campus. Well… it wasn’t really the “worst”. It was just a single-sex dorm with hall bathrooms. And, unlike the dorm I had moved from, it didn’t have air conditioning, which really sucked during the late August Virginia summer heat. I imagine the heat lasts longer these days than it did in 1990.

Anyway, the hall below us was an all men’s floor for freshmen. At the time, it was the only all men’s hall that wasn’t used by a fraternity. The women on the second floor and the men on the first floor all hung out together, and most of them attended a mandatory class called Longwood Seminar. It was a special class for incoming freshmen, designed to teach them about how to survive in college. The sections were divided by dorms, which back in the 90s, were still where most Longwood students were living. There wasn’t a lot of off campus housing then, nor did people tend to commute a lot.

I was not in the same Seminar class as my new hallmates were, since I was still in the group I was put in with my original dorm. Because I was not in the same Seminar group, I missed the incident that led up to the invention of the word “brently”, coined by my old friend, Chris.

Back in 1990, Longwood instituted a new rule that freshman dorms were to be “dry”. That meant that alcohol was forbidden on the halls dedicated to freshmen students. Of course, even though there was a rule against booze in freshmen areas, that doesn’t mean people obeyed. One day, early in the semester of our first year, the Longwood Seminar professor talked about avoiding alcohol. And a guy named Brent stood up and said, “If Longwood is so serious about preventing underage drinking, how come half my hall was drunk last weekend?”

Naturally, that confrontation did not put Brent in good stead with his peers. Brent also had an unfortunate habit of being a bit “whiney” and “self-pitying”, much like the song my relative said she didn’t like. Brent would go around saying things like, “Basically, I’m just fucked up the rectum…” as he cringed and complained that he’d just shit his pants because he had amoebic dysentery. I swear… I am not making this shit up. 🙂

Brent also got a lot of people upset because he was involved in an interracial relationship. I’m sorry to say that despite its many progressions lately, Virginia is still a southern state, and even in 1990, some people had issues with the races mixing. Personally, I didn’t really know Brent or his girlfriend that well, and I didn’t care who he was dating. But people supposedly said something to him about his girlfriend and Brent’s response was, “I can have any white woman I want,” which I think we all know is patently untrue. No one can have “any person they want”, no matter who they are. Anyway, the general consensus was that Brent was an arrogant asshole who was very uncool. And he also bore a slight resemblance to Ronald McDonald, except he used to bike shirtless around campus.

Well, people were upset with Brent for busting them in Longwood Seminar class, so my friend Chris decided to play a prank on Brent. He knew Brent had an illegal sword collection in his dorm room. Chris was an English major, so he knew how to draft professional letters. At Longwood, we had a student run Honor Board and a Judicial Board. So Chris wrote a letter to Brent, ostensibly from the Honor Board, inviting him to a “hearing” about his illegal sword collection. Brent, lacking situational awareness, quickly panicked and started searching frantically for the R.A., a guy named Jack.

Chris felt sorry for Brent, so he said, “Brent, man, it was just a joke. Calm down.”

Brent then seized Chris, threw him up against the wall, and snarled, “Oh… so you think it’s funny, huh?” And then he kneed Chris right in the balls.

Chris said, “No Brently… I just feel… SICK.” as he crumpled to the ground. I still laugh when I think about this part of the story.

From that day on, whenever someone said or did anything victim-esque, my friend Chris would say, “Brently!” And we all knew it meant the person was being a martyr or acting like a victim. To this day, I still think of the made up word “brently” when someone is self-pitying or pathetic. Bill’s ex wife is a prime example of someone who is “brently”.

I thought I was just sharing a funny story from my college days. But my relative, the non-empath, immediately calls me (and my friends) out for “bullying” Brent, just because of his looks. She said Chris deserved to be kneed in the nuts, because “karma is a bitch”.

I said, “Wait a minute. People weren’t bullying Brent because of his looks. It was his behavior that did it, although his looks didn’t help. Aside from that, this was thirty years ago. I haven’t seen or talked to Brent since the early 90s. And when I did know him, I wasn’t involved in these incidents at all. I was not mean to Brent, nor am I routinely mean to anyone, unless they ask for it.”

My relative continued on about how she felt sorry for Brent, being “bullied” by us… and she basically lectured me as if I was still a child, even though I’m almost menopausal.

So I said, “I don’t have any pity for Brent. He brought that treatment on himself. Moreover, all Chris did was play a harmless prank and scare him for a minute. Brent committed assault and battery and could have been arrested for his retaliation.”

Again, I really don’t think people picked on Brent solely because of his appearance. I don’t think most people cared who he was dating, either. Some people did, because it was Virginia and some people are backwards and racist. But I don’t think that was the overall attitude toward Brent. It was his arrogant behavior and confrontational attitude that got him picked on… calling out freshmen for drinking when he was, himself, breaking the rules by keeping knives and swords in his dorm room.

So then, I said to my relative, “Anyway– the POINT of the story is not about Brent being bullied. I was trying to tell you about a funny word made up by my friend, which could describe the song, ‘I Never Will Marry’. It’s a ‘brently’ song.”

Now… how does this relate to my relative falsely referring to herself as an “empath”? Besides the fact that she completely missed the point of the funny story and went straight to shaming me, as if I were 12 years old, it’s also because I have many memories of her bullying me. I remember her telling me she thought I was “stupid, fat, and ugly” when I was a kid. I also remember her physically abusing me when I was a small child and couldn’t fight back. I remember many, many meltdowns from her over the years, and a lot of entitled behavior, even after I had reached adulthood. For instance, here’s another rerun story from the past.

Christmas 2003– Bill and I lived in northern Virginia, not far from my relative’s home. My family was having Christmas at their house. My relative, then in her 40s, asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her down there with us. I said it would be okay, but she needed to realize that if things got shitty, we would be leaving. I didn’t want to hang around if there was any fighting.

My relative agreed, so on the day we were leaving, Bill went to pick her up. Naturally, she wasn’t dressed when he got there at the pre-appointed time, so he had to wait for her to take a shower, dry her hair, get dressed, and have coffee. This put us on the road later than we needed to be.

We got down to my parents’ house. All the other relatives were there, and most were sleeping at the house. Bill and I were relegated to the office, where there was a very uncomfortable fold out couch with a metal bar that would hit right in the middle of the back. I had also started my period, so I wasn’t feeling very well.

There was a lot of tension in the air and we were all walking on eggshells… Sure enough, hours after our arrival, I got into a fight with one of my sisters, who decided to get all self-righteous and holier-than-thou with me. My feelings were hurt and, whether or not the fight was my fault, I didn’t feel like staying in that environment, which had become pretty toxic. I just wanted to go home and be in my own house, with a comfortable bed and a toilet where I could tend to Aunt Flow in peace.

Remembering that I had vowed to leave if there was a fight, I told Bill I wanted to go home the next morning. So we told the relative who had bummed a ride with us that we would be leaving early. She had said, before accepting a ride with us, that she was okay with us leaving early if the need arose. But then, when the situation actually came up, her response was to try to manipulate Bill into talking me into staying. Why? Because she was hoping we’d drive her to nearby Williamsburg to go shopping. She wanted us to drive her around, even though at that time, we didn’t have much money, and I sure as hell don’t get my kicks watching her buy stuff. She really can be a terror to clerks and wait staff.

When Bill didn’t talk me into changing my mind, my relative tried. I said I wanted to leave and nothing was going to change my mind. So she flew into an EPIC rage. She was still in bed when we packed the car, but she got up, took a shower, and came storming into the kitchen with wet hair. She screamed at me that she needed to dry her hair and have coffee, so she wouldn’t catch cold. I was just flabbergasted that a woman in her 40s was acting like this. I turned to Bill and said, “Let’s just go.” Because I knew that having her in the car would be hours of hell, and I had had enough hell.

So, while my relative was still angrily orbiting around the house, Bill and I got in the car and fucking left! And my relative ended up taking a bus home. She gave me the silent treatment for a year after that, not that I minded. Somehow, our decision to enforce a boundary also became a reason for shaming. I remember my dad telling me I was “mean” to leave my relative stranded like that. He had no idea what had transpired, but just assumed, after hearing her side, that the whole thing was my fault.

Leaving my relative at my parents’ house was the right thing to do, but it was also a hard thing to do. Because I have been trained since childhood to overlook other people’s bad behavior and be “nice” at all costs. And when something goes south, I get blamed for it, even if the other person was the one acting like a jerk. I was expected to just “go with the flow” and sweep it under the rug.

My mom was always a big fan of “going with the flow”, and she always tried to tell me that’s what I should do, even when someone was outrageously abusive to me. Like, for instance, the time my father humiliated me in public, treating me like a six year old when I was a married woman in my 30s. That incident occurred, again, when I was doing a favor for my “empath” relative, who had asked us to drive my elderly parents around northern Virginia.

Bill and I were sitting with my relative’s boyfriend in a noisy stadium on the occasion of my relative’s master’s degree graduation. My parents were not sitting next to us, but they must have seemed like they were with us, because some strange woman who sat near us apparently felt we were being too rowdy. Instead of speaking to us directly (we weren’t being any louder than anyone else in the stadium was, and we were all adults), she complained to my parents. And my dad turned around and yelled at me, “Shut up! You’re DISTURBING PEOPLE!” It was really loud, and I’m sure everyone heard it. Including that cunty woman who complained to my parents instead of directly to us. I still don’t know how she knew we were together.

Anyway, after my dad screamed at me, Bill says the look on my face was one of unbridled rage. I wanted to kill my father right then and there. I was absolutely LIVID. Instead, I got up and left. Bill found me, and I told him I just wanted to go home. But because we had driven my parents’ car, that would have meant arranging for alternative transportation. At the time, we had very little disposable income to waste on rental cars or even train fare. Once he had me calmed down somewhat, we found my mom. I went to the bathroom, and my mom was telling Bill that I should just “go with the flow” and not let that incident ruin our “lovely day.”

Bill, being the prince he is, told my mom that actually, my dad’s outburst was embarrassing, uncalled for, and totally wrong, and that I had every right to be as angry as I was. Moreover, we were at the graduation as a favor to my parents and my relative. I hadn’t even WANTED to be there. I had just let her talk me into doing her a favor, yet again. As we rode in the car to the very nice restaurant where Bill and I had gotten engaged the year before, Bill was making small talk while I squeezed the blood out of his hand. I was so PISSED.

It happened to be Mother’s Day that day, and the restaurant was giving out pretty potted Impatiens flowers. They gave one to me and my dad said, “Why do you get one? You’re not a mother.” To which I said, “I am a stepmother.” This was before Ex’s parental alienation campaign had ramped up to the toxic levels it eventually got to. And then, when we sat down to brunch, which my father would be paying for, I proceeded to order steak and eggs, several whiskey sours, and dessert. Bill smirked at me, knowing full well that I was passively aggressively taking my rage at my father out of his wallet.

The following week, Bill finished his first master’s degree. We went back to that same restaurant and had a less expensive, but still very enjoyable, do over of that brunch. And ever since those incidents in 2003, as well as Ex’s sick Christmas stunt of 2004, in which she tried to compel me to spend Christmas with her in my father-in-law’s house, I have become a lot more assertive and less likely to just “go with the flow”. Especially, when it comes to dealing with my relative who, I repeat with emphasis, is NOT AN EMPATH by any stretch of the imagination. However, she is sometimes pretty “brently”.

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condescending twatbags, mental health, overly helpful people, poor judgment

You just used that word… and I don’t think you know what it means.

A couple of days ago, I was feeling a bit angry and depressed. I was sitting here alone, reading the local news, and there was an item about Angela Merkel’s latest desires. Mrs. Merkel wants to allow the federal government in Germany to employ an “emergency brake” lockdown for all of Germany. Normally, each individual state’s leaders make decisions for how things run. But because vaccination rollout has been excruciatingly slow here, and people are continuing to get COVID-19 and overrunning the hospitals, Mrs. Merkel and some of the public health leaders in Germany feel that this is a necessary move.

Germany has been in some form of “lockdown” since early November 2020. Apparently, closing everything and trying to restrict people from being in contact with each other has not been effective in slowing down the latest COVID-19 variants. Neither has forcing everyone to wear medical grade face masks. So, as each month passes, the end of the lockdown keeps getting extended. At this point, the estimate is mid June when we can have some semblance of normalcy.

Meanwhile, I watch as my friends back home are getting vaccinated and enjoying a more “normal” life. Actually, I think things have been relatively normal in the United States since the beginning. It’s just that Americans aren’t being allowed to come to Europe willy nilly, and vice versa. I still think Germany has handled the virus a lot better than the USA has… but the incredibly slow vaccine rollout is quite disastrous. Making matters worse is the fact that Bill and I were supposed to be getting our shots by the end of May. A large shipment was sent to German military installations for that purpose. But apparently, they’re Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and the CDC has just recommended holding off on using them until they can be investigated, since several women developed rare clotting disorders after being given the shot.

I was already in a crappy mood for a lot of reasons. The main one is that Bill is gone this week and will be gone for more than half of May on business. He hasn’t been vaccinated, yet he’s allowed to travel for work purposes while I sit here alone with my thumb up my butt– not literally, you understand. And I’m also pissed off because of some recent upsetting news we got regarding a close family member. Bill and I had a private chat about those matters. I finally had to ring off, because I was tired and in a really foul mood, and I didn’t want to talk anymore.

Just as I was about to go to sleep, I got a private message from another family member. This family member is a bit older than I am, and never seems to want to let me forget it. She also seems to assume being older means always being wiser. In her case, I don’t think it does.

Private messages are annoying under most circumstances, but since it was family, I indulged my relative. I was pretty upset after having read the news about the longer lockdown, Bill’s work schedule, and the news about our family member. She wanted to know why I was so irritated, so I explained. As usual, this particular family member starting giving me unsolicited advice, forgetting a number of things… like the fact that before too much longer, I’ll be pushing 50, and I’ve actually had some training in counseling and related subjects.

She immediately started telling me what she thinks I should be doing, even though I never asked for her opinion and was really more wanting to vent than seek advice. I really would like to have someone to talk to… someone who sees me as an equal and is willing to listen, rather than just offer unsolicited suggestions. She doesn’t seem to realize that most competent people don’t want advice or suggestions; they want insight and support.

On that night, I needed a friend, not a pseudo-therapist… especially not one who seems to think I’m naive and incompetent. I know I’ll always be a “squirt” to her, but I really am a grown adult, and I eventually assured her that I AM pretty competent in most things. I’m just fed up, most of all with this fucking COVID-19 lifestyle and Bill’s constant work schedule, as well as the fact that HE can travel for marathon work trips, but we can’t have any fun. It’s making life a colossal bore, and a drag, and I’m starting to hate being here… and my life in general.

Yeah, I know that sounds a lot like pathetic whining. Maybe, to some people, that’s what it is… After all, the bills are paid; we live in a comfortable house; and for now, we have our health. But being locked down, thousands of miles from home, sucks. Telling someone who is feeling upset to “buck up” or “calm down” is not really the best solution.

My situation doesn’t call for “toxic positivity” or invalidation, nor do I need an overly helpful person to suggest that I do things I’m already doing… like creative pursuits. My relative told me to take an online guitar course. Does she honestly think I’d be dumb enough to buy a guitar and not learn how to play it somehow? It’s like the morons who tell an infertile couple to consider adoption… as if that idea had never crossed their minds! And does she really think, as someone with advanced degrees in social work and public health, I need someone to tell me about narcissists and empaths? That would be like me telling her about her chosen field… which I will admit I know nothing about.

So anyway, all of this was the usual par for the course bullshit, when my relative dropped a bombshell. She’s been reading up on narcissists and narcissism, apparently not understanding that she’s a touch on the narcissistic side herself. She was telling me the usual spiel about narcissists, as if I had never read a single book or watched a single video about narcissism, let alone had many personal dealings with them. And then she said, “I really think you and I are empaths.

Well… I had to stifle a giggle at that. I wanted to respond truthfully, by saying “You just used that word… and I don’t think you know what it means.” Seriously. I love this relative very much… but I don’t think she has much insight into what an empath is. I also don’t think she has much personal insight as to what kind of person she is.

I think I am capable of empathy. I can definitely try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I try very hard to see all sides of a situation. But I am definitely NOT an empath… and she is even less empathic than I am. How do I know this? Because I have been on the receiving end of MANY tirades from this particular relative. I’ve known her my whole life, and I’ve seen her lose her shit many times. One time, we were in a city park in Madrid and she got very angry with me for taking too long to find a newspaper. She’d had to pee, and didn’t speak Spanish. Silly me… I though at her age and with her world experience, she would be able to handle going to the potty by herself. But no… and she totally went off on me and called me a “motherfucker”. That is NOT the behavior of an empath.

This relative also has a habit of “glomming on” without much situational awareness… and will ask favors, yet show very little consideration. Like, for instance, the time Bill and I had dinner reservations for my birthday, and she asked me to drive her to a doctor’s appointment because she was going to be on Valium. I told her about the dinner reservations, but she assured me she’d be done in time. On the way home, she wanted to stop at a restaurant for dessert. I was worried about the time, but she promised she’d get the dessert to go. Next thing I knew, we were sitting in a booth. That is NOT the behavior of an empath.

She can be very manipulative and will throw epic temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. I’ve witnessed her being rude to wait staff and store clerks, as well as men who try to be overly friendly to her in bars. And she’s also been rude to me on many occasions. When we were a lot younger, she was occasionally legitimately abusive to me. I remember being verbally and physically abused by her, before I got big enough to fight back. She is capable of being an extreme bitch when the situation calls for it. There have been times when I’ve marveled at her ability to be a bitch… and, I must admit, even admired it. She’s not one to be fucked with by anyone.

On the other hand, she’s a lot of fun and has a great sense of humor. She’s also very smart and talented. She can be contrite and sympathetic, when the mood suits. When she’s in a good mood, she’s a delight and HILARIOUS. I do love her. But an empath, she is most definitely NOT.

However, in fairness, like I said, I’m not an empath, either. And that is not a bad thing. Empaths can often end up being taken advantage of by self-centered types. I do have a big heart and am fully capable of being empathetic to people. But that does not make me an empath. That’s a good thing, though, because Bill IS an empath. I think it would be disastrous if both of us were empaths. My being less empathic is good, because it balances out his tendency to be overly forgiving and kind.

I wanted to correct my relative’s thinking, but realized that if I did, it would probably lead to an argument. She thinks she’s an empath, though, and she’s wrong. And if she really thinks she’s the type of person who is constantly thinking of others and putting their welfare before her own, she’s also a bit delusional. She is definitely not one to take on other people’s problems. I have never seen her cry over someone else’s misfortunes. If anything, I think she’s on the other side of the narcissism spectrum. One time, I described a traumatic incident she and I had to my former therapist. He actually used the term “narcissistic” to define the behavior she had displayed to me.

Truly empathic people are unique and somewhat rare. My husband is an empath, and he attracts narcissistic assholes like his ex wife and his war time boss like flies on shit. These folks can smell it on people– those who will put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. Bill will bend over backwards for almost anyone, is very slow to anger, quick to forgive, and has a “red line” that is way further down the line than mine is. He is genuinely a kind and compassionate person who almost never raises his voice and feels extreme remorse whenever he hurts anyone, even if just by accident.

Neither my relative, nor I, are like that. I will fully admit that I don’t have much regard for people who are disrespectful to me. I don’t go out of my way to be nasty, but I don’t have tons of sympathy.

I think Bill comes by empathy naturally. Both of his parents and, I suspect, his daughters are also very empathic people. They want to please others and they have overdeveloped superegos and guilt complexes. That’s why Ex runs roughshod over them so easily. Bill fully admits to this, too. It’s not that he’s spineless. It’s just that he hates to disappoint people, wants to make them happy, and genuinely feels for people. But he’s come a long way in his people pleasing ways and has become more assertive, which is something empaths must learn to do or be sucked dry.

My relative has no problem telling people off, taking legal action, or making people feel shitty. I know this, because she’s done a lot of those things to me. I haven’t been sued by her– at least not at this point– but I wouldn’t put it past her if she felt it was necessary. That is not the action of an empath!

I do think I am more empathic than she is, though… and although I could have told her to STFU the other night, I indulged her need to advise me on what she thinks I need to do. And last night, when Bill messaged me, I told him about it and we had a good laugh. Because he also knows that she’s not an empath. And he has frequently told me that he’s glad he married me instead of her… although I think it would have been funny to see how this relative would deal with his Ex, former tenant, or the land bitch from Hell. 😀 My guess is that she would not have handled any of them with much empathy.

Anyway… I wish she’d have a little more empathy for me and stop trying to give me unwanted advice. I’m not 12 anymore. And I wish Mrs. Merkel and her minions would get their acts together so we can all have our lives back.

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