Sunday, June 2, 2013

Levi's Baptism: "Is This Kinda Weird?"

Levi and Cary (my son-in-law)

I had been looking toward Levi's baptism yesterday with some anxiety and trepidation. Baptizing your child is a *really* big deal in the Mormon world, particularly for the child's father who almost always - at least in Utah - performs that ordinance. Mormons have a lay priesthood, and at its heart, it is a patriarchal priesthood, with a righteous father presiding over his children, baptizing them, ordaining his sons to the priesthood, and pronouncing "father's blessings." About the only ordinances he cannot himself perform are those of the temple, in particular the temple marriage of his children.

I have baptized each of my other children, i.e., the eight boys and girls older than Levi, each shortly after their 8th birthday - the age at which Mormon children are usually baptized, in compliance with their scripture. 

My Dad and Sarah - Ohio, 1995

Adam - 1998

Hannah - 2000

Rachel - 2002

Micah - 2004

Nathan - 2009

I apparently don't have any pictures of Aaron and Esther's baptisms. Theirs occurred in late 2010. Normally, they would have been baptized the first weekend in November 2010, right after their 8th birthdays, but we were all sick that weekend so theirs' had to be delayed. 

Unfortunately, shortly after this, the Church decided to change their "worthiness" standards for fathers baptizing and confirming their children. Had Aaron and Esther been baptized as scheduled, there would have been no issue we me both baptizing them and confirming them. (A note of explanation: The highest office of the Aaronic or "lower" priesthood is required to baptize; to confirm, however, requires the Melchizedek or "higher" priesthood, both of which I held since shortly after joining the Church.) However, in the meantime, the Church changed the standard to require that a father be "worthy" of a temple recommend in order to confirm his children. At the time, we were not full tithe-payers, so though I could baptize them, I could not confirm them. This was a bitter disappointment to me at the time, especially because of all we had gone through with these two children, bringing them back from Russia as babies and raising them through some difficult times.

Esther and Aaron on the day
they were blessed (christened)

But I resigned my membership in the LDS Church back in November 2011, and I was happy that my son-in-law, Cary Stewart, could baptize Levi. Mark and I both went to the service because that is what Levi wanted - though we knew that it might very well be uncomfortable for us: me because of being around former ward members and my two older children who refuse to have anything to do with me; Mark because he going into that environment as my same-sex partner.

As it turned out, the morning went well for us. It helped that the service was in a totally different area of Bountiful, in the church of some friends of my ex-wife. It also helped that half of a long pew had been saved for us. Jean was sitting at one end with some of the children, and there was ample room for Hannah, me, Mark, Nathan and Aaron down at the other end. Hannah was the "dividing point," her sitting next to my daughter Rachel (from whom I am estranged). I was able to sit right behind Levi, who was on the front row with Cary (see lead photo above).

The service went as well as could be expected, I think. I had determined beforehand that I was going to treat it like a school program, ignoring all the very heavy other stuff that would be in the situation. In this, I was largely successful, particularly because I was able to focus on my granddaughter, Hazel (aka Nutella).

At one point before the service, Levi had reached around and whispered to Mark, "Does this seem kinda weird to you?" Mark immediately replied, "Very!" It wasn't until later that I realized the true meaning of that question. As the service progressed and we moved from the chapel to the room in which the baptismal font was located (Mormons baptized by full immersion), then again to another room after the actual baptisms, I noticed that Esther and Annie, but particularly Esther, seemed uncomfortable - not her usual boisterous self.

It wasn't until we were on our way back home that I realized what I think Levi was talking about ("this is weird") and what possibly explained the girls' behavior (Aaron had no issues): they were uncomfortable and confused and anxious about both their parents being in the same place. They are accustomed to dealing with each of us separately, on our own turf; they then feel no sense of conflicted loyalty and can be comfortable. But being in that situation, i.e., the baptism, I think they felt anxious because they felt conflicting loyalties. It's also possible that they felt a bit embarrassed about Mark and I being there together: it's one thing to hang out with your two gay dads in Salt Lake, where no one knows them; but it's another to have them come into their church environment and be openly gay in front of people they know. I think it is very likely that they didn't know how to handle that.

Not that it was a huge deal ... but it pointed out to me that (i) I need to talk to them when next we are together and (ii) I need to try to be more proactive in trying to think through what various situations might mean to the kids.

That being said, I will close this on a note of humor. Just before the actual baptisms, a priesthood leader was talking about baptism and said, among other things, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could feel the rest of your life like you feel right now?" At this point, Levi leaned over to Cary and said, "I feel sick."

Gotta love it.

No comments:

Post a Comment