Sunday, February 8, 2015

Losing the Umbrella

While I was typing up the latest segment of our courtship story, my twelve-year-old asked what I was working on. I shared some of the highlights with her and she responded with a look of incredulity.

"How did your parents make you so afraid?" she asked.

She meant afraid of "getting out from under the umbrella of authority". It was a good question. 

And then my brain gave me an instant flashback.  

I can see Dad doing a demonstration for us on the coffee table. He has a baking pan, Mom's big plastic ladle, a water pitcher, and two of our Fisher-Price people. The oldest sibling by two years, I am no more than ten years old. We all watch Dad's little drama with curiosity.

The obedient figure is protected by the ladle held over his head as the water rains down, falling around his feet in the baking pan. But the disobedient figure will not stay under the ladle. He rebelliously stands where he wants to, exposed to the direct torrent from the pitcher. 

"But, how did that scare you so much?" my daughter wanted to know. I saw her point. It was merely tap water and plastic toys, after all.

"What the water represented was left to our imaginations," I said. "Anything we were scared of, any bad thing that happened to us after that, must be Satan making it rain on us because we'd done something wrong." 

Granny Weatherwax, the witch in Terry Pratchett's Equal Rites, describes the same phenomenon when she explains magic to her protégé:
"...if you want it to for sure then you let their mind make it work for them. Tell 'em it's moonbeams bottled in fairy wine or something. Mumble over it a bit. It's the same with cursing.
"...Make it loud, make it complicated, make it long, and make it up if you have to, but it'll work all right. Next day, when they hit their thumb or they fall off a ladder or their dog drops dead they'll remember you. They'll behave better next time."

from Bill Gothard's textbook
The umbrella-of-authority was a kind of curse placed on me as a child. And the teaching was still potent, fifteen years later and an ocean away, because the virus lived on my own fear. 

My parents were my umbrella; my dad was my mom's umbrella. Dad had to center himself under the "umbrellas" of God, his employer, and the government. My brothers would one day constitute "umbrellas" for their own families, but as a woman, I was destined to move from under my dad's "umbrella" to that of my new husband. Women and children had to be protected by men, after all.

Shit. It's no wonder I still get terrified of messing up.

I'm glad my daughter looks at me like I have three heads when I describe how I, even as an adult, let my parents control my dating. I'm glad she thinks the umbrella concept is ridiculous, because she is not likely to let an authority figure think for her or dictate her feelings! And our little conversation helped to uproot yet another of the cult beliefs that have lain burrowed in my subconscious for decades.

I don't care about umbrellas anymore. I don't need to feel guilty every time I feel uncomfortable. My fears are only that, my fears. And my husband is not some mystical buffer that protects me from them. We are allies, experiencing life's storms and life's sunshine together. 


  1. Complementarian Christians are always insisting that women submit to men for "protection", but they never explain what men are protecting women from. Funny how they never explain that part.

    There's no real protection under the umbrella at all -- it's just a scare tactic meant to keep women and children oppressed. I'm glad you got free from that kind of thinking.

  2. I'm strongly identifying with this and the last post. I was a "good boy" and really took too much of the umbrella analogy to heart. (In fairness, my parents were never as bad as yours, we didn't get as deep into Gothard, and they didn't control my dating.) Perhaps it was a first-born thing, but I had a good bit of terror, and was likewise labeled as the "rebellious" child because I just couldn't drink the Kool Aid.

    I'm glad my kids and yours will never grow up with this poison in their lives.

  3. Headless Unicorn GuyMarch 27, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    "Because a good wife learns to cower
    Beneath the Umbrella of Power;
    From the shadow of Heaven's gate --

    And "God withdrawing His umbrella and handing you over to Satan" -- how does that differ from a witch-man Putting a Hex on you (and siccing his familiar after you) if you don't do what he says?
    -- Steve Taylor