Year of Polygamy

Bev’s story, part one

Bio: Bev is a politician in the American West. Because of her work, her real name and identity is anonymous.

In 1996, mere months after he baptized me as a “worthy priesthood holder” my dad was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This would be the first of multiple excommunications for extramarital affairs. I knew it had something to do with the “Red Haired Lady” we’d meet at McDonalds or to go fishing. Whenever we saw her, he made me promise not to tell my mom we had seen his friend, because she didn’t want my dad to have any friends. I knew he had been meeting with his friend for a long time, even before my baptism, so I knew he couldn’t have possibly been honoring his priesthood when he baptized me. I wondered if that meant it didn’t count. 

My dad no longer had the priesthood and that was shameful, not just for him but our entire household. Having the priesthood in our home was an important thing, arguably essential. I had already sat through countless lessons as a young girl about the importance of priesthood in the home. I knew the role my dad was supposed to play and I knew my job was to cheer him on.

I’m so glad when daddy* comes home,

Glad as I can be;

Clap my hands and shout for joy,

Then climb upon his knee,”

This is a song we sang often at church when I was little. It was one of many that reinforced the man’s role in the household and the importance of having the priesthood. Perhaps my dad’s first excommunication was the reason I became so obsessed with having priesthood authority in our household. I often asked my Sunday school teachers why girls couldn’t have the priesthood. It made for awkward and uncomfortable pauses in the lesson. None of them could give me an answer that satisfied me. It was always some form of, “Well, women have the babies…” With all of the turmoil in my home I wasn’t sure if I wanted children. When I would say, “I don’t want to have babies” They would smile and assure me, “That will change.” I wasn’t so sure.

Looking back, It’s apparent my obsession with having the priesthood came from living in a home without a worthy priesthood holder during very formidable years. My mom was worthy, why couldn’t she step in where my dad had failed us? And in a few years, I would be old enough to receive the priesthood. I knew if it were up to me, I could remain steadfast in my testimony, choose the right and serve my Heavenly Father and my family. If I had the responsibility, I could take care of my Mom and my baby sister and we wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else.

Spoiler Alert: They didn’t give me the priesthood. Eventually my questions were met with more and more annoyance and I stopped asking. 

I found comfort in another Mormon teaching: If we are to live righteously in this life, we would become gods and goddesses of our own worlds in the hereafter. I told myself if I could just get through this life with these rules, I could make my own world and my world would be fair. I was determined to be the most righteous.

My dad did earn his way back into the church’s good graces. He was re-baptized and received the tokens of the priesthood just in time to baptize my only sister. But this is when I first discovered that some church leaders are not always inspired by God when it comes to discernment. I knew my dad was not worthy of the priesthood.  

He knew that I knew, but he often tried to assuage my concerns by bringing me to his level. “You and I? We’re different. The church will always be difficult for you.” He loved to pit he and I against my mother and my sister, “We’re not the same. They’ll never understand people like us.

My dad was, and is, a very ill man. He has deep wounds from religious and sexual trauma. As an adult, his second wife shared with me a story that he had revealed to her about his mother, my grandmother. As a teenager, she would greet him each morning with the question, “Did you masturbate last night?” If he told her no, she would reply “God knows the truth.” If he admitted his “sin” she would tell him to kneel and ask God for forgiveness before he could eat his breakfast. 

My grandmother was a very pious woman; beautiful, judgemental and cold. I never saw her without her hair done perfectly and a full face of makeup. When my mother first married my dad, she strictly forbade him to leave her in a room alone with her. She was often ill, spent a lot of time “napping”, and always had an array of prescriptions for her ailments: pain pills, muscle relaxers and sleeping pills. I am certain the cycles of trauma run deep into my family tree.

My father was also at fault for a car accident when he was 18 years old that resulted in the death of two motorcyclists. He never received professional counseling for any of it. Just the counsel of his church leaders and blessings from the priesthood. They credited the power of prayer that the family of the victims chose not to press charges for the tragedy. The relief pain pills prescribed for his injuries from the accident still haunt him as a substance abuse disorder still to this day. 

Another way my father’s trauma presented was an obsession with sex. I don’t remember precisely how old I was when he first decided to educate me about “what two people do when they love each other very much” but I do know it was before my 8th birthday. Before I was baptized. 

We were sitting in an Ace Hardware store parking lot. The discussion did not just include the anatomical workings of intercourse. The majority of his lecture centered on the importance of me, as a female, learning to like and enjoy the process so I could please my future husband. “Men have needs,” he told me. “If you learn to enjoy yourself during sex, your marriage will be much happier. It feels good. It’s natural. Heavenly Father made it that way so we would want to make more babies and bring them into this world.”

Throughout my childhood and teenage years this lecture would be repeated in varying formats. He stressed the importance of being open and adventurous. He once told me, “Your husband will sometimes want you to do things that you might think are yucky. It’s important not to turn him down, even if he wants to put things in your mouth that you don’t think belong in your mouth.” He would also leave porn open on computers he knew I would find.   

He shared details of my parents’ marriage no child should hear. She did not perform her duties as his wife. Not just sexually, but even her cleaning was not up to standard. She had also become overweight and “gross.” He warned me never to become like her and praised me for being so much like him. 

Once, at 15 I was trying to log on to MSN messenger to talk to my friends. A tab had been minimized and left from whoever had last used the computer. It was a profile for AOL chat that had my picture on it. I did not use AOL. Curious, I opened the details and saw my stats, including my bra size, weight, height, and sexual preference. The age was wrong, listed at 18. My bio read: “barely legal, looking for an older man”. My father was posing as me to go into chat rooms and engage in “cyber sex”. I found saved conversations with strangers on the internet. 

My dad was a licensed therapist. He lost his license when I was very young for having a “relationship” with his client, the red haired woman. She initially accused him of rape while she was under hypnosis. She would later withdraw the charges. This instance of “adultery” would result in his first excommunication from the church.

Years later, processing these and countless other instances with my own counselor, he introduced a term to me: Grooming. My fathers relationship with me meets all the criteria of a sexual predator grooming their victim. As a therapist himself, my dad literally had textbooks on grooming behavior.  

To my knowledge, he never touched me. I believe he had convinced himself it was his duty to groom me to become a good wife to my future husband. One of the last times I talked to my dad before cutting off all contact with him, he called me in a drunken stupor and slurred, “I made a lot of mistakes as your father. But I did do one thing right: I didn’t do the things that I was tempted to. I didn’t do the things that I wanted to do too… with you.”

He made it sound like it was a huge accomplishment. I think he was truly proud of himself, as if this was his redemption.

As a young girl I knew my dad was often not worthy of the priesthood. He spent every night locked in the computer room looking at porn. My mom would find empty fifths of vodka stuffed in folding chairs in the garage. But somehow he convinced me that it was okay because the lord knew his heart. God knew my dad would struggle with the church because that’s how he made him. He was special, and I was just like him.

But I was determined to live righteously. I believed my dad, but hoped he was wrong about me. I was the perfect little Mormon girl. I memorized all of the articles of faith. I bore my testimony often. It was discovered I could sing, something that pleased my father very much as he too has a beautiful singing voice, as do many of my aunts and my grandmother. I would often perform solos during Sacrament meetings. I was asked to sing at stake conferences and travel to other wards. People would often comment on how strongly they could feel the spirit when I sang and how it was a testament of the strength of my testimony. I loved my church. I became Beehive president and did baptisms for the dead. 

But I experienced much dissonance in my young women’s Sunday school classes. There was so much emphasis on becoming a mother and a wife. But I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to be either. My mother was miserable and I didn’t want any sort of life that resembled hers. 

When my father was accused of raping his client and subsequently lost his license and membership of the church, my mother quickly filed for divorce. Ultimately she ended up staying with him. I’ve heard her share the story about praying for guidance about what to do and that the spirit confirmed she must stay with her husband. No one in her family had ever gotten a divorce.        

My mom has since admitted to remembering very little of my childhood because she was on such heavy doses of antidepressants. Being married to my father was a horrible existence.

When we talked about our future lives in YW, my peers always centered their plans around “being a faithful wife and mother.” The church did encourage women to seek an education, as long as it supplemented our most important calling. 

I could not imagine myself as either. I often talked about wanting to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or professional singer. Sometimes my teachers would help finish my plans , “And you will be a fine mother as well!”  When I was younger, I didn’t correct them.

In high school, at the height of my rebellious years, my seminary teacher kicked me out of his class for pushing back against these ideas.  I had spotty attendance and was always in trouble about that but the final straw was a discussion that somehow led to me sharing with the class that I was going to law school. Our teacher, a tall, wiry man, added the appropriate life goals to my plans, “Sometime in there, you’re going to need to find a husband.”

I responded, with a dull, flippant, “Maybe.”

He smiled condescendingly and quoted a prophet, “A woman’s first and most important callings is that of a wife and mother,” to which I responded, “Maybe, if I have time once I’ve established my career.” 

He quickly countered, “I think it should be the other way around.” With a level of arrogance and annoyance only a teenager can successfully deliver, I said,

“I think you can go right to hell.”

In retrospect, there were many other things I could have said; Better retorts and comebacks. But I WAS a mormon girl, after all. And I didn’t even use “Heck,” so it felt seismic at the time. He called my mother to tell her what had happened. She didn’t even punish me.  She told me I didn’t have to go back.

My mothers dad, Grandpa Dell, has a doctorate in education. He’s also a bit of an anomaly as a liberal, active member of the church to this day. He encouraged all of his children and grandchildren, male and female- to attend college. I think he was a little sad that none of his daughters never attended more than a few months of college before marrying their spouses. I excelled at school and he was always the first to call and congratulate me on my accomplishments. He was at every ball game and every recital. He called me “his little scholar” and preached the benefits of an education. “Heavenly Father didn’t give you those brains for no reason. He wants you to use them.” 

Brenda’s dad reminds me of him.

Like any teen, I was curious about sex. I had trouble navigating the very mixed messages from my dad and the church about what to do with this curiosity. I was told to remain pure and chaste, but I needed to learn to like sex. Save myself for marriage, but don’t be shy. 

When I got my first boyfriend at 14, hormones pushed me quickly to one side of that dichotomy. I wasted no time experimenting.  

It was also around this time that I discovered the oblivion of drugs and alcohol and started worrying that I was, in fact, just like my dad. I liked the way alcohol made me feel warm and relaxed. I liked the way it blurred the sharp edges of anxiety that often consumed me.

When I was fifteen I auditioned for a talent scout that had been visiting the area. This led to me booking a modeling shoot in New Mexico. My aunt happened to live in the same city at the time and it was arranged for me to fly there by myself for the weekend of the shoot.

My aunt had a son four years older than me. He was sent to the airport to  pick me up. We had never grown up near each other and didn’t know each other well. We had only seen each other a handful of times at family reunions. He thought it was about time he got to know his cousin. He took me to meet some of his friends. He proudly announced to his friends, “This is my cousin, she’s a model.” I liked all the attention from these older guys. I felt mature and important. 

He picked me up after the shoot the next day. He asked me if I had ever drank alcohol. I felt so cool to be able to say “Yes, I drink all the time back home.” I had actually only drank a few times but I wanted to seem more experienced than I was. I was rewarded with his praise. He kept saying how sad he was that we hadn’t grown up together. That I was, hands down, the coolest cousin. 

He had a buddy that got us a six pack of wine coolers and we took them back to my aunt’s place.  We hid them in the  backyard before we went inside to have dinner. Once my aunt was in bed, we snuck out into the back yard to indulge. He challenged me to chug one wine cooler after another. 

I was very dizzy when he started asking me about my sexual experiences. I shrugged and acted nonchalant about my boyfriend and I were beginning to fool around. I was glad I had a little bit of experience so I didn’t seem like a child. 

“Man, you really are the coolest. You’re so mature. And so beautiful.”

He kissed me. I laughed. He didn’t laugh. He kissed me again. I didn’t know what to do. I kind of just froze. It didn’t seem real. This was my cousin.

When I was 18 he sent a letter to my home. In it he said he was in the repentance processes with his bishop. He told me he was sorry for what happened that night and urged me to also seek the miracle of forgiveness from my own bishop. 

My dad found the letter and lost his mind about it. He was angry and cried. He told me it wasn’t my fault and there was nothing I needed to be forgiven for.  He also said this was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. He told me he had experienced heartache that I could never understand but that this hurt worse than any of it. “When you’re a parent, you will understand. Knowing your child has been hurt is an unbearable pain you can’t even begin to comprehend,” he sobbed, wanting me to comfort him.

I never shed a tear about the rape or the letter. It came out in other, more damaging ways.

I came back from New Mexico and began drinking as often as possible. I rarely said no to sexual advances. If I wanted it, it couldn’t be taken from me. But it turned out that sex was fun. I did like it, even though I wasn’t supposed to as a girl. It was as much of an escape as the drinking and the drugs. I knew I really was like my dad. 

I still knew the church was true. But I knew I was bad. I knew I was broken. 


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