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18 Mar 2012

How My Parents Met

OR Raising Conservative Catholic Kids in Liberal California

First, I feel the need to clarify what I mean by “conservative.” Politically, my parents are actually Democrats. They are passionate about social injustices and helping the poor. Some of my earliest memories are of being taken to rallies for the oppressed in places like El Salvador and Chile… rallies against regimes Republican leaders such as Ronald Reagan supported. My mother teaches English as a Second Language to people from third world countries and has always been inspired by their harrowing stories and has sought to inspire my sister and me with them as well. Then what exactly do I mean by “conservative?”

My parents met in Taiwan in the late 1960s. Both having grown up in conservative Catholic households (conservative politically, socially, and religiously: my maternal grandmother had 10 kids because the Pope preached against birth control and my paternal grandfather got up at 5 am everyday and went to church, while his wife was one of the main volunteers at St. Philip’s Parish in Pasadena), Mom and Dad spent many of their early adult years as a nun and a Jesuit brother respectively. They were both sent to rural Taiwan to do missionary work and to serve the poor. My mother disliked my father at first, finding him obnoxious and pushy. However, he mellowed (today he is one of the humblest, classiest men alive) and in the early 1970s, after both had left the clergy, Dad won her over. His proposal: “I’d like to be married by March.” Very romantic, Dad. However, they set a date in June 1972 and several years afterward, I was born in Taiwan. I was their $25 baby. Four years later, it cost them $6,000 to have my sister in San Jose.

While my parents became liberal politically, they remained religious and social conservatives (with the exception of the fact that my mom believes in birth control – THANK GOD! I love my sister very much, but one was enough.) We were dragged to Church practically every Sunday, which inevitably caused tension, as I was a difficult child and always dragged my feet and tried hard not to go. Additionally, to this day, my mother HATES pop culture and couldn’t tell you who Will Smith or Emma Stone are. Growing up, my allowed TV viewing was Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, and when I was older, The Cosby Show. In fact, whenever we had babysitters, my father would go through the TV listings in the newspaper and circle what we were allowed to watch, which wasn’t much. Thankfully, our babysitters rarely adhered to this and through them I was introduced to Three’s Company and Knight Rider, among other fun 80s shows. I’ve still never seen an episode of The Love Boat or Gilligan’s Island. Must Netflix those.

One of my favorite childhood stories to retell happened in the 6th grade when my parents finally had the money to send my sister and me to Catholic school. One spring lunchtime, we were all sitting in a circle in the shrine and, as we were all just beginning to become aware of our budding sexuality, the question of whether or not we were virgins was passed around the circle. The only context I had ever heard the term “virgin” in was “The Virgin Mary,” so when everyone was saying yes, I thought this was blasphemous! When the question came to me, I replied, “No, of course not!” My answer of course shocked everyone and it took a long time before they stopped teasing me about it. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, the next year in the 7th grade, I got made fun of for not knowing what a condom was. When I went home and asked my mom, she vehemently told me I was too young to know. No amount of pleading or professing that everyone else knew and they all were making fun of me softened her. As this was pre-internet days, I was relegated to stealing her dictionary to look it up.

After college, I gave up Catholicism for Lent (I came up with that joke first Stephen Colbert! I’ve been using it for over a decade!) and, being a nature girl, started dabbling in Wicca. I love Jesus’s message of love and forgiveness and find the beliefs he preached beautiful. However, that message has become lost over the millenia in the nuts and bolts of institutionalized religion. All of the (in my opinion) petty rules and tenets that have nothing to do with what Jesus actually preached, and which the Church stubbornly holds onto, even though they have become obsolete, drove me away. In fact, in College I struggled with my faith. I wanted to believe and remain true to my roots, but if I was being a “good Catholic” I wasn’t being true to myself and if I was being true to myself, I was a “sinner.” Jews may think they have a monopoly on guilt, but they ain’t got nothing on the Catholics. I think it’s part of our DNA: we’re born feeling guilty for something we haven’t yet done. I became much happier when I decided to leave the Church and be true to myself. I am forever grateful to the values, which my parents, and through them the Church, raised me with: love, helping others, working for justice and peace, and in general, leaving the world a better place than the way I found it. This last one, I believe, is our purpose in life and whatever way we choose to achieve this is our path. Best of luck to all of you on your paths.

Thanks for reading. God/Goddess/Universe bless,

Katharine