Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mom, Dad, We need to talk

I am currently reading this book a friend gave me; “Choosing a Jewish Life” by Anita Diamant. One of the things she mentions in her books is having to tell the parents about your decision to convert. She gave great advice about how to tell them, advice that I wish I had known a couple years ago.

I've already told my parents of my decision to convert, as well as my grandparents. Most of the rest of my family, however, has no idea. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that we are all spread out over the country and have lost touch over the years. However, if I ever get married in the future, I want to have a Jewish wedding, and I would like my family to be there, so i'm going to have to face it eventually.
For now, though, I thought i'd share with you what my experience has been like telling my mom, my dad, my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents. I told my parents separately, as they divorced when I was 11.

I told my mom first. I don't remember exactly when, but she's known about my decision for a long time. I guess at least since I was 19, when I firmly made the decision that I would convert. She's been nothing but supportive from the beginning. In fact, she admitted to me once that when she was a kid, she wanted to be Jewish, which I found odd. We both, at one point of our lives, wanted to be Jewish but we weren't.

 My parents raised myself and my brother to be spiritual, but not affiliated with any religion. When I was growing up, my mom would talk about God and Guardian Angels. If I was ever upset, she said, I could talk to my Guardian Angel and they'd take care of me. Through her teaching, I learned to have a personal relationship with God, but I had no religious background.

I told my dad a couple of year ago now, I think. I merely mentioned it in passing, we didn't exactly have a serious conversation about it. My father is a man of few words and, though I don't like to admit it, still intimidates the hell out of me sometimes. I mentioned Judaism to him every now and again. I didn't want to throw it in his face, but I did want him to know that I was planning to drastically change my life, and our family dynamic. He seemed fine with it when I mentioned it, occasionally posing a question or two.
Before I moved to New York I sent him an e-mail explaining how I was preparing for my move and how excited I was to finally be able to start the conversion process, once I got there. He replied, saying “I'm not sure i'm completely on board with your conversion to Judaism.” That was it. He didn't disown me, but he wasn't totally on board. I sent him a polite, if not formal, response that kindly said I was sorry he wasn't on board, but that didn't change anything. This was something I was going to do. I regret how I dealt with it, sometimes. One of the great things about the book i'm reading is Anita Diamont's emphasis on the convert being aware that this is going to be a big adjustment for the family, not just for the convert themselves. I wish there was something else I could do. I don't want to send him a book, or an article or anything, because I don't want him to take it the wrong way. Ideally, i'd love for him to be involved, or at least aware of this process, but I don't want to make him feel uncomfortable.

I told my Catholic grandmother (maternal) that I was converting a couple years ago as well. Actually, my mom might have been the one to mention it. Either way, she was also extremely respectful of my decision. She sent me an e-mail saying that she knew I was looking into religion and just wanted to tell me more about hers. She wasn't trying to change my mind, she just wanted to give me information about Catholicism. She asked if she could send me a book about Catholicism, and I agreed. I was a little worried about what she was going to send me. When I opened the package I found “Catholicism for Dummies.” I laughed right there! I was expecting something far more ominous. I looked through the book, and I still have it. Even though it is not my religion, I respect Catholicism and all it's practices. Plus, I just love that I have “Catholicism for dummies.”

I was most nervous about telling my father's parents. They lived in Oklahoma and they were members of the Church of Christ, something I've never had a problem with, in fact I love them for that, but I had no idea how they'd feel about my conversion. They were so far away they had been the most out of the loop about my conversion. I told them last fall before thanksgiving, because I was going to spend the holiday with them and I was wearing a Star of David necklace. I was really worried about what they were going to say when they saw it but then my mom said, “If you're worried, why not just be an adult and call and tell them before you go?” She didn't say it to be mean, just stated it as fact. Love you, mom!

I called my grandmother. I said something to the effect of, “I just want to let you know that I'm converting to Judaism. I'm not doing it for anyone else, it's just something I am going to do for myself. I'm just letting you know because I have a star around my neck.” I wanted to get it over with quickly. Also, not what I should have done. In hindsight, I really should have opened up a conversation, not slipped it in like a side-note, but that's what I did in the heat of the moment. My grandmother didn't quite understand what I meant when I said I had a star around my neck (not that I blamed her. I could have been a lot clearer.) She thought that I had tattooed a star around my neck, and freaked out a bit (I would too.) Once everything was cleared up, she seemed much more okay with the whole thing.

When I went to visit them, my grandmother handed me a list of bible passages she wanted me to read before I made my final decision. I was reminded of my Grandma sending me Catholicism for Dummies. I respected her request and even looked up the passages on Google when I got home. I heard what she had to say, even if I didn't agree with it.

Over thanksgiving, my grandfather and I had a conversation while we were all playing a card game. it went something like this:

Grampy: You read a lot, don't you.
Me: yes.
Grampy: You ever read the Bible?
Me: No, I haven't.
Grampy: You've never read the Bible?
Me: No.


Grampy: I have a friend who taught sunday school for a long time and she could teach you about the Bible.

Me: Well, i'm in school, haha, and it's senior year and I've got a lot going on, so I don't think I'll have the time.

Grampy: It'd just be over e-mail.

Me: Oh Grampy, look, it's your turn to play.

That was it. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was out in the open, everyone knew about it. In hindsight, as I said, I wish I had dealt with the initial announcement better but I just kind of dealt with it like ripping off a band-aid which, upon reflection, is how I deal with everything, but that's not how I should deal with a situation like this. Judaism is so important to me, I feel I should have given it more time for discussion. However, when my family (or anyone, really) asks me questions about Judaism and my choices, I'm more than happy to answer them, to the best of my ability anyway.

So there you have it! That is my experience telling my family that I converting to Judaism. I could have done it better, but at least I did it.

1 comment:

  1. You know, it is never too late to tell Gramy and Grampy that you appreciated wha† they said. Just saying...