I’d imagine that the single greatest selling point evangelical Christian theology had for my dad was its resolute insistence that obedience to patriarchal authority was commanded by God. Humans have been inventing gods as a way of justifying their own inclinations and desires since there have been humans, and I think it’s fair to say that what my dad wanted more than anything else is for people to do as he said, and to snap to it, too. God provided cover for his anger: he wasn’t mad that I’d disobeyed, he was doing whatever was needed to keep my soul safe, as any loving father would do.
Sometimes, in the last few weeks of school, the weather in Regina would warm up drastically, and it’d go from crisp to bike weather just like that. Our dilapidated duplex was a fair hike from Rosemont Elementary and we had to do the circuit twice a day: there was no cafeteria and no lunch provided. My dad was at bible college and my mom worked as a bank teller downtown. We came home, pulled a frozen ham on white bread sandwich out of the freezer, watched The Flintstones, and then back we went.
I suppose that parents must retain the right to issue arbitrary orders to their children. In the morning of the day I disobeyed, my dad’s orders might have made sense: the weather seemed inclement, a chill still lingered in the air—forbidding us from riding our bikes to school that day seemed reasonable in the breakfast table light. The afternoon bore no relation to what had come before it: it wasn’t just sunny, the air had that warmth that you can only feel when you’ve just been locked into a four-month, -40 deep freezer, and now you’re not. When I came out from lunch that day it was kids on bikes as far as you could see. I didn’t think too much about it, I just wanted to wear a t-shirt outside again, to feel the warm breeze on my skinny, little forearms, to ride along with my friends, and so that’s what I did.
Don, a bible college friend of my father’s—himself a future missionary to South America—had seen me on my bike. My dad told me this as soon as he came home. He wasn’t happy. I denied that this was possible. Have it your way, my Dad said. A half hour later the doorbell rang. It was Don. Don took me to the living room.
“I saw you your riding your bike,” Don said.
“It wasn’t me,” I said.
“Colin, I saw you.”
“A lot of kids look like me,” I said.
“Colin, I saw you!”
“I didn’t ride my bike today,” I said.
“Colin, you’re lying!”
I know my dad thought that the corporal punishment he inevitably administered as soon as Don was gone was going to teach me not to ride my bike. It taught me a lot of things—but not that.
By the end of Grade 7—my first year in the boarding school in Quito—I’d passed from good kid to bad. In an environment where bad kids were sinful kids, and where sin was something to be dealt with through discipline, my life no longer bore any relation to the life I’d known before. No one treated me like a normal person anymore. I was a problem. Since I was never not in trouble anyway anymore, I’d decided I might as well earn my reputation honestly. Quito is a big and ancient city. We were resourceful. In the complete absence of any compelling adult figures, I’d bonded with a band of similarly neglected delinquents. We were completely idiotic, and on a number of occasions we were lucky not to die. I think this is the point of why you nurture your kids closely at this age. My brain had no conception of mortality and little interest in morality, on account of the intellectual dishonesty of those who professed it loudest, and when things go wrong at that age they often seem to go really wrong. The brain hasn’t learned the things it needs to know to keep you safe.
The school was well within its rights to summon my dad from Chile, which it did midway through Grade 8—which I suppose we should call the Eighth Grade, since the former is Canadian usage, and the latter is not. My second interrogation was significantly more formal than the first. Don had multiplied. There were five of him—a Principal, A Vice-Principal, a Dean, A Chaplain, my father—seated in the principal’s office. The seats were arranged in a circle. My dad was beside me. His five colleagues (all employed by the C&MA) were laying out the case against me. It was a pretty big list what they knew. They kept coming at me. They wanted answers. What answers? I don’t know how many Christian & Missionary Alliance-like types you’ve come across with directly in your own life, but the days of A.W. Tozer are long gone, and an era of great intellectual dimness has descended upon them—as the scene, to which we now return, illustrates. If five grown men can’t figure out why a 12-year-old kid might not adjust well to being separated from his parents and sent to live in a foreign country, why even try? I said nothing. Not one word. My lips didn’t move, and I invented shoegazing there in that instance, you’re quite welcome. They kept it up for a couple of hours. It didn’t change anything. Enjoy the silence.
When they finally let me go, my Dad and I walked across the field between the school and the dorm. I turned to my dad looking for the love I so craved. “Son,” he said, “I’ve never been so ashamed of you in my whole entire life.”
I got expelled the next day. Not a lot of chatter between us on the flight back to Santiago.
I don’t really have any good photos for this reminiscence, but I’ve worked in, awkwardly it must be said, references to both shoegazing and a song by Depeche Mode and now you know why.