Growing Up as a Pastor’s Kid with SSA

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Childhood plays a very significant part in our lives. How we’re raised defines us in adulthood, paving the way toward how we interact with people: family, friends, churches, co-workers, or strangers.

Father figures especially shaped our lives. Truth be told, none of us had a perfect father growing up. Some of us grew up in abusive homes, others grew up without physical fathers, and some grew up with emotionally absent fathers.

Others of us did have present fathers growing up. Fathers who did their best to provide for their families in whatever ways possible.

We all carry this expectation of either wanting to be like our fathers or not wanting to be like our fathers.

My father was a pastor and a pretty good one! I grew up in a Christian household, where my family heard the Bible day in and day out. It was like our second language, quoting Scripture, or retelling Bible stories to our parents. I’d say my family was pretty healthy as could be.

Of course, we had our issues, whether it was my father getting mad at me and my brothers for doing something stupid, spanking us, having an angry outburst, or somewhat verbally abusing us. We can all agree that not every father is perfect, but my father shaped me and my brothers to respect him and that there were consequences for our actions.

When my father became a pastor in his late twenties, I don’t think my family understood the significance that would entail, especially for me, growing up. It was like this weight of responsibility to be the perfect family was on our shoulders.

It was both an honor and a burden because we were the family that everyone looked up to. On the other hand, we couldn’t hang out with a lot of people, especially those deemed part of the “wrong crowd.”

My dad was a skeptical person, especially regarding spiritual stuff. He asked questions when people told him things God had shown them in their lives — things like visions and dreams. He didn’t question them harshly but challenged them to think and discern if these things were from God or them.

My father also made sure that our family had a strong faith foundation, and he was very proud to lead my family into godly relationships. He did simple stuff like read the Bible to us before bedtime, pray for us, or chase all of us into the living room for family talks that led into amazing God talks.

Though my father was a busy pastor, he made sure he was there for each of his kids, whether by canceling Wednesday night Bible studies for one of his son’s football/basketball games, going on a field trip with one of us, or teaching us how to drive. Family time was very important to him because he saw that it would shape us into the men we’d become now, and if he didn’t take that responsibility, we’d certainly have a different future and probably despise him for caring for his church more than us.

Even in the privacy of our own home, we had to be careful what we did; if we caused any trouble, my dad used our mistakes in his sermons. Basically, we were put on blast for everyone to hear. Man! I hated that!

Every Sunday morning, I heard my dad put me or one of my siblings on stage, metaphorically speaking, telling the entire congregation our wrongs. It felt like dying from embarrassment every time my father did this. I always had to be on my best behavior, or I’d just hide my mistakes so I wouldn’t be another sermon example for the congregation again.

Mistakes were not welcome when I was growing up a pastor’s kid. One “mistake” that used to haunt me growing up was my sexuality. My dad, being a pastor, instructed us that homosexuality was an enormous sin, and we should stay away from “those people” if we ever came into contact with them.

And yet my dad unknowingly had a son who’d deal with homosexuality growing up. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I hid my homosexuality because I didn’t want my father or my family to know that I was a “mistake.”

Holding the burden to be the perfect family and hiding my sexuality from everyone was very draining. I often had the mindset of: “What will my family think of me if I ever have sex with another man?” or “What will happen if they ever find out if I’m gay?” or “What will happen to me if I ever have a boyfriend? God will hate me, and my family will hate me!”

Trying to uphold the integrity of my father’s name while having all these conflicting thoughts led me to hook up with a 30-year-old man. I threw it all away because I wanted to be free from trying to be the perfect son for my father’s namesake.

It was freeing to finally make my own decisions and not follow my father’s idea of being the perfect son. And yet I did have to suffer the consequences of my own actions.

In the end, it did shape my character and launched me to be my own man, making my faith my own.

I’m grateful for this foundation that set up a redemptive story in my life. Though it may not be an awesome redemptive story, and I’m still struggling with the consequences for my actions, having a father who was also a pastor helped me out so much in life.

Eventually, I found my place in the world, and I appreciate having grown up in a pretty good family with an awesome father. Though it wasn’t the ideal family, I learned to love the integrity that my father instilled in us growing up, and he tried his best to teach me to follow Christ in my own way.

I’m very proud that I was a pastor’s kid, and I did my best to be held to that standard. I’m even defensive when people have negative things to say about pastors and their families because I understand what they go through. Not many people can be put in that position, but I view it as a badge of honor to be given that position.

Did you grow up in a Christian household? Did you have a father involved in your life? For anyone else who was a pastor’s kid, how was your life and your struggles growing up?

* Photo courtesy Steve Osmond, Creative Commons.

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  • Prince

    It’s hard living in an extremely conservative christian family and what made it even harder was my father being a pastor. It’s sad knowing that my worth as a person was clouded by SSA. They didn’t care even if I was “mentally” gifted and talented (based on what people say). To them, gays were a lower subset of humans regardless of the things they could do and offer to the church. I’d experienced worst: like being told I would burn in hell; or my looks and intelligence being good for nothing because I’m not straight. In the end, my efforts to make them proud were futile because I would be always that worthless gay man damned to burn in hell for eternity in their eyes.

    • I weep for that mindset. My father never rejected me, it was me rejecting him because of my difficulty accepting his wife (she told me that my best friend was in hell for killing himself). I was always trying to be him and live up to his idea of an idealized man, even though I hated him.

  • My parents divorced in 1973. I saw my father for six weeks out of the year in the summer. My mother was a feminist, and brought me up under the idea that all men were stupid and only controlled by their penis. She was also a drug addict. My father was a recovering alcoholic due to the trauma of Vietnam. He was a Christian and did his best to instill Christian values into my brother and I while he had us. I thank him for this. I hated him because of his wife. She gave me some false information regarding suicide in 1985, telling me my best friend was in hell. I rejected him, just when I needed him most. I couldn’t speak of my SSA issues to him as I thought he was too holy and I was just a piece of crap. I wound up telling him out of spite and fully prepared to hang up the phone on him. All he said was “I know”. He didn’t reject me. I think this was the only reason why I could continue a tenuous relationship with him. We had many fights over the phone. We my step-mother passed in 2000 I didn’t even go to the funeral, to be there for him. I was just too bitter and angry at the time. She was a point of contention between us. I have learned to forgive her. I just wish I had done this while she was alive.

  • Daniel Steven

    It’s kind of funny if you think about it. It’s like a huge contradiction, being born into a pastors home and also struggling with SSA at the same time. My parents recognize my struggle and that I actually want to beat it, so I think I have created this very open atmosphere of “uncomfortable talks” with my family about SSA. Being born in lower Alabama is about the worst place to deal with SSA. But I am proud I am a pastors kid. Thanks for sharing!

    • bluzhawk

      Hey Daniel, your parents sound really great. How good is that to have support like that?
      OK, disclaimer is I’ve never been to Alabama, I’m from Joisey and we have corruption and taxes and Chris Christie, but isn’t ‘lower Alabama’ an oxymoron? 🙂

      • Daniel Steven

        Haha I actually live in Florida but the “Panhandle” might as well be red neck central.

    • Dealing with SSA in a very conservative area of Texas is very difficult too.

      • mistaken identity

        This is Oklahoma, but was it anything like this?

        • Very much like this. A lot of pressure to be rugged and like John Wayne. I wasn’t and was therefore ridiculed constantly, seen as a failure as a male by my father.

          • The pressure to be something you are not is intense. It lead to a lot of anxiety and distance between my father.

          • mistaken identity

            You are more rugged than Duke to overcome what you have, Bradley.

          • Thank you for that! It means a lot!

  • Brian

    My family still doesn’t know that I struggle with SSA and I don’t think I will ever tell them. I already know how they will react so what’s the point?

  • bluzhawk

    Being a pastor’s kid or family has got to have been the best and the worst growing up. Best in that good things mattered but the pressures on not being open about problems like they don’t ever exist must be hard. Best pastors I’ve known were the most human and told you what it’s like to face things and fail and still have faith. In high school I dated a pastor’s daughter for a couple of years and she seemed really well adjusted, except for the fact of dating me 🙂 Her brothers all kinda rebelled in their own ways and it was ok and they turned out ok. We all screw up, it’s just better screwing up with God in the picture even if some things are harder.
    Y’know what I find hard now, it’s letting go of things, the past, the screwups, both the bad and the good. I never want to forget my past but I want to let it go. I’m not sure if it’s pride or just human nature to hold onto things, a possessiveness, but it’s this obstacle to moving on in life with God and with others. The times I’ve known freedom is when the past is filed away and is not current anymore. I’ve shared things here that I haven’t told anyone else, which is kinda lame on my part not to trust others who cared, and there’s a release in sharing here but sometimes also a reliving that sets me back. Jesus promises not only forgiveness but freedom. Letting go to God, not holding onto things, is the hardest thing to do but may be the easiest way to be free.

  • My father is wonderful, and is also a pastor. Both my father and mother are pastors, actually. I relate to many of the tensions expressed in this post. The cognitive dissonance of living with two pastors who were very conservative on sexual issues while being gay myself was very damaging to me. No amount of love my parents have for me – and they have a lot of love – can mitigate the damage it’s done.

    My personal solution is to have good boundaries, to let my parents be who they are, and let myself be who I am. I can’t control them, and that’s okay. That’s no reason to stop living my life as fully as I can, or to diminish the quality of my relationship with my partner.

    A helpful concept to me is what therapist Dr. Gottman calls “solvable problems” and “perpetual problems.” Solvable problems are just that – solvable. But perpetual problems are also a reality. They are the problems that are ongoing, and the source of that problem is beyond our control. (the classic example of this is in-laws who don’t approve of a marriage.) When confronted by a perpetual problem, like parents who have a negative view of homosexuality, I am presented with a choice: do I let that be an ongoing destructive force in my life, or do I accept it, put in place good boundaries and choose to live a good life in spite of it? I’ve had to choose the latter.

    None of this to say it doesn’t hurt like hell. It does. But I’ve learned (and am learning) to manage the pain.

  • Jeff Brady

    Question for Matt and the rest of you. Do you think the relationship we have with our earthly fathers creates the same relationship dynamic that we have with our heavenly Father? Is it harder to relate to God when our relationship with our Dads was not good or nonexistent or stressful because of whatever?

    • bluzhawk

      All that emotional baggage and how we think, yeah, I think we carry that with us. It’s the healing we need. But even the good things we’ve known and experienced don’t prepare us for being alive in the spirit to God. Knowing God as Father in Christ is new for all of us, made possible and real only by the Spirit, apart from any thing we bring to the table.

  • mike

    “homosexuality was an enormous sin” Why do pastors do this? Where do they get this from?
    The Apostle Paul put it into proper context in 1 Corinth. 6 as one of many sinful behaviors for which there is hope for change. Yes, in the O.T. homosexual behavior is presented in a very bad light but the New Covenant reinterprets that putting it in perspective. I wish your father hadn’t put it that way.

    • Jeff Brady

      Mike, the scripture you cite is very specific about the enormity of the sin. Those who do such things will not inherit eternal life. It’s a big deal.

      9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

      Seems to be enormous to me. It’s a sin committed with the body as opposed to one committed outside the body. In the same passage, Paul draws a line between those two kinds of sins and says sins committed with the body are more serious because we carry in our bodies God’s Holy Spirit. If one reads the whole chapter in context, the enormity of sexual sin cannot not be escaped….in my opinion.

      • mike

        I think my point Jeff is if Matt’s dad singled out homosexual behaviour as the “enormous” sin over and above other sexual sins, then how’s someone like Matt to feel? Well he tells us how he felt: like “those people” and consequently Matt hid. Sure all sexual sin is “enormous”. Adultery, masturbation, porn, sexual sin of the eyes of lust are all “enormous” and many (most) in a church struggle there.
        Yet, in the passage you quote Paul does the opposite. He places sexual sin amongst other sins to give all people hope: “such were some of you” and the process leads to change for all. So good!
        When discussing masturbation in the podcasts Tom and Elliot highlight the consequence of sexual sin which is as you say is “serious”. The body being the Temple or dwelling for God loses something (a lot) when we sexually sin: it loses the intimacy of fellowship with our Lord, we lose inspiration in our work, and power to deal with temptation and the evil one. It is an enormous consequence…