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Pastor's Daughter: Myths Debunked

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Mom fell in love with Dad because she thought he was exotic: mixed Norwegian-Swedish ancestry with toe-head blonde hair, blue eyes, and great surfer-bod. Dad fell in love with Mom because he thought she was exotic: 100% Japanese, long, silky black hair, and great cheerleader-bod. She asked him out first. He proposed on their third date. They got married a week later. Obviously their second year of marriage (the year after the honeymoon phase) was hell.

Mom grew up semi-Buddhist in Oahu (which is Hawaii for those of you who are geographically challenged like me). She still thinks incense smells yummy, but for those of you who haven’t been in a Buddhist temple, it smells like one of Toby’s farts. She spoke characteristic pidgin-English, learned Japanese in school, prayed to her ancestors, bought a scraggly, imported, pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree every year, and was part of a million and one afterschool clubs and activities, especially cheerleading. She eventually went to college on a cheerleading scholarship . . . in Minnesota. Yeah, talk about climate shock.

Dad, on the other hand, terrorized the nuns at St. Bernadette’s Catholic School from first through eighth grade. The Sullivans rarely made it to church except for Christmas and Easter, if even that often. Joe Sr. made it clear to Dad early on that all the church wanted was your money. So Dad grew up a wild-child in the suburbs of Seattle, blowing up hilltops, throwing rotten apples at hippie truck drivers and shooting his BB gun at the kids at the bus stop. I know enough stories of his Glory Days to fill a book.

And I might as well throw in a little disclaimer here too: if you think some of the things I write are gross, you have not talked to my dad. He takes pride in being able to gross me out on a day to day basis. You’d think after fifteen years I’d be immune to the stories of his zit-popping, butt-scratching, loogie-hawking escapades. I’m not. Let me just say, there are some things better left unsaid. Dad does not understand this seemingly simple concept.

I think he’s tamed out as he’s gotten older. He stopped chasing me around the house and wiping his freshly plucked nose-hairs on me a long time ago (thank God). He hasn’t gone cliff-jumping since he bruised his tailbone. He still rides his bike like a maniac and a few weeks ago a giant goose dove into the spokes of his wheels while he was flying down the road (or so he claims). Half North America could hear him yelling in the shower that morning as he dug gravel out of his skin. But the goose got the worst of it: the bike looked like it had been tarred and feathered. He’s just over forty now and I haven’t heard a reference to farting in one of his sermons for months.

And that’s the dead giveaway: sermons.

My dad is a pastor, which in turn makes me the dreaded Pastor’s Kid. I.e., PK, which I’ve learned is also synonymous to “run like hell” (no pun intended). How on earth did he go from the World’s Worst Child, complete with a maximum GPA of 1.9 and litany of crimes tacked onto his permanent academic record, to Pastor Joe? In a nutshell, when he was seventeen he ran away from home and joined the Marines, where he was stationed in Hawaii (somebody had to make the sacrifice and go to Hawaii). One of his fellow Marines was a Christian. To make a long story short, they argued incessantly. The first book of the Bible Dad read was Job, the worst book to start with. It gave him the impression that God is a diabolical megalomaniac bent on ruining people’s lives. But his buddy eventually “won him over.” As I said, Dad had a max. GPA of 1.9 before he became a Christian because he never saw a point in getting good grades. After he became a Christian, he graduated from college as the class valedictorian.

I have seen many and varied reactions to my PK status, anywhere from, “Wow, that’s awesome!” to “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I think both responses are entirely appropriate depending on the situation. To tell the truth, I hate being a PK. I would give anything to tell people, “Oh yeah, my dad’s a ________.” [Fill in the blank with any occupation except pastor, even garbage man.]

As far as I can tell, there are two main stereotypes for pastor’s daughters: 1) the wild party animal viciously fighting off the PK label by drinking more and partying harder than anyone else, or 2) the sweet little church mouse who memorizes the whole Bible by the time she’s twelve and prays 24/7. I don’t know if you’ve read any of my other posts, but I’m definitely not the church mouse. You’ll just have to take my word I’m not the party animal either. :) Sometimes it’s still almost fun to see the deer-in-headlights look people get when they realize I’m a pastor’s daughter . . . and they just told me that really funny, really dirty joke. It seems like the world is full of people fighting stereotypes. Apparently I’m no different.

So, here are a few questions people have asked me about being a PK. Feel free to ask more. :)

1) Do you have the whole Bible memorized?

Does anyone have the whole Bible memorized? Enough said.

(Let me just throw this out there: if you actually do have the whole Bible memorized, either you have photographic memory or you have way too much time on your hands and I want your life.)

2) Do you have to prostrate yourself when you pray?

The first time someone asked me this, I thought they were asking if I had prostate cancer. My answer: “Um, no, I am a girl, thank you very much.”

But to answer the question, no, I’ve never prostrated myself in prayer. Actually, the only time I’ve actually seen anyone prostrate themselves in prayer was in the movies. Prayer is a tricky thing. You want to show reverence to God (he is the all-powerful creator of the universe, after all) but at the same time you want to be open and familiar with him (he is your dad, too, after all). When I pray, I usually close my eyes so that I can focus (I’m easily distracted). But if I’m tired, I find it better to leave my eyes open, because I end up falling asleep (yes, I just admitted that praying sometimes makes me fall asleep). I fold my hands if they start twiddling with something in my lap.

I used to hate praying. I felt like I was talking to the ceiling. I mean, come on, a conversation can only get so interesting when it’s going one way. Have you ever talked to someone who never talked back to you? Either that, or they gave you one-word answers. Yes. No. Sometimes. Maybe. And the whole time you’re trying to stimulate dialogue, you’re thinking, OK, this conversation is deader than a flat opossum in the middle of the highway. I felt like that a lot when I prayed. It took a long time to realize that God does talk back, and he talks a lot. 774,746 words long to be exact. Yeah, you know what I’m getting at: the Bible, people!

3) Have you ever spoken in tongues?

No. I’ve never even heard someone speak in tongues before. I think it’d be neat to witness, but I think I’d be a freaked out if suddenly all this garbledygook started coming out of my mouth without my control. I’ve often wondered if the people who claim they speak in tongues are actually speaking in tongues, or if they’re just spouting gibberish for publicity’s sake.

4) Does your dad act differently in the pulpit than how he does at home?

First of all, we don’t have a pulpit. But no, Dad is pretty much the same when he’s preaching or when he’s at home. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve gone over what my dad is like: twelve-year-old mind stuck in a grown man’s body.

5) Isn’t church totally boring?

If I’m answering these questions honestly, then, no church is not “totally boring,” but yes, I have been bored in church before. My dad tries hard to make church interesting, but the fact that I’ve literally been listening to bible stories since I was in utero often works against him. But still, church is pretty fun. We’ve done sermon series based on Indiana Jones (that was fun; he rode down the aisle dressed as Indiana Jones screaming wildly in a grocery cart), the Blues Brothers (black suits, fedoras, and shades), the X-Files, etc. Dad’s also big on using movie clips as illustrations. We’ve used clips from practically every movie I can think of, most memorably from the Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Constantine, etc. (his goal is to keep clips at a PG level, but the clips from those movies were definitely PG-13).



. . .


Once again, any other questions? I don’t care how crazy they are; I’d love to break the PK stereotype! :)





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