I’ll never forget the ride home from the Kingdom Hall about a month after I found out that my parent’s were separating, and my father got his own place. This all closely followed the announcement of my mother’s disfellowshipping. Riding alone in the car with my father, the only thing I could think of to say was that all of this must be a “bad dream.”
“It’s no dream,” my father said tersely, his comment doing nothing to comfort me. I wanted so badly for him to tell me it was a dream, and to wake up in the home I knew with him and my mother at the dinner table with my sister and me. As we drove on, my sister fell fast asleep, and the silence prevailed all the way home, until my father broke it.
“Son, I want you to know I love you very much, and you should know Jehovah loves you very much too, but I want you to know I will never love you as much as if you love Jehovah as much as I do, and you do what’s right. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, dad.” I felt a little fearful at his words. The newfound physical separation between us was creating a gnawing need inside of me for his approval. I was afraid that somehow, if I didn’t meet his approval, I might see him even less than I was already.
“Your mother is doing things right now that Jehovah hates, and she may never change, but you have to make sure your heart is always where it belongs, with Jehovah. Will you do that for me?”
“Yes, dad, I will.” I thought about my mother, being cut off from Jehovah, and being destroyed at Armageddon. I saw the pictures from the Witness book “From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained” that showed people screaming as the fiery earth opened up to swallow them whole, still alive. I knew then this would almost certainly be my mother’s fate. It wasn’t for me to judge, that was Jehovah’s job, but it’d been instilled in me for the past six years, since I learned how to read, that the wicked person’s fate would be eternal destruction while those found to be pleasing to Jehovah would find eternal life in a paradise earth. I dreamed of sitting down with the lamb and the lion together, with a harmless rattlesnake curled up in my lap. Still in my dream state, I looked around and realized my mother wasn’t to be found anywhere. A tear ran down my cheek as I contemplated all of this.
“Do you promise?” He was more than serious.
“Yes, Dad, I promise.” The sick feeling remained. I didn’t want to end up like my mother. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to live forever with us, choosing wickedness over service to Jehovah. My mother chose to split us up. I should’ve been angry with her, but for some reason I wasn’t. I just wanted so badly for her to come back, to join us in the meetings again, to love Jehovah as much as my father and I did. I held hope for that and just as often the brothers and sisters in the Kingdom Hall worked hard to instill that hope in me. I prayed every night to Jehovah that my mother would find her back. Even though my mother had a new boyfriend who had become a fixture in our lives, I wished hard for my mother to break it off with him and do the right thing.
We spoke no more on the drive home. My father stared out the windshield as he drove, the illumination of the instrument panel reflecting in his stern, stone-like face. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind as to how seriously my father held to his convictions, nor did I doubt he expected the very same seriousness from me. I was afraid to deviate from his instructions and afraid I wouldn’t be loved by Jehovah, leading to my destruction when the world was restored to the beauty of the original Garden of Eden. Most importantly, I was afraid of not having my father’s love should I not follow in his footsteps. I had been duly warned of that potential already. My being loved by him, as well as Jehovah, was completely and irrevocably conditional.