Dad, you shouldn't have! Really...
April 17, 2012 7:41 PM   Subscribe

So, my father wrote a book. He may even have had it self-published. I'm proud of him, but since the subject matter involves his religious beliefs which I do not share, I don't really want to read it and I certainly don't want to talk to him about it. He fed-exed one of the first copies to me. What are my polite, respectful options here?

It's more important to me that I not offend him than I'm comfortable, so I will just suck it up and read it. That's probably like going to the Christmas Eve ceremonial stuff at the church which I do for my niece and nephews who are in the choir.

How do I handle being kind when his fiction is (based on what I've read of it so far) grounded in the religion that I broke away from when I moved out of his house? We're pretty far away on the matter: He's in a mainstream denomination and I'm a mostly atheistic non-believer.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Focus on the sharing of the writing and the act of writing itself rather than the content: "Thank you so much for sharing this with me! I can tell you worked so hard on it. I'm so proud of you for putting the time and effort into writing it. That's more than most people accomplish! How long did it take you to finish it?" and so on, and so forth.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 PM on April 17, 2012 [18 favorites]

Avoid talking about religion itself and congratulate him for his dedication, patience, and writing style, tone, and overall skills instead.
posted by livinglearning at 7:48 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Think of it as a painting. See if you can find one element of the book that you can relate to or appreciate, and focus on that when it inevitably comes up in conversation. Don't be afraid to skim. Ask him what others have said about the book. Otherwise, focus on the effort and dedication that it took to write the book, or move the subject forward by asking what he has in mind for his next book.
posted by furtive at 7:51 PM on April 17, 2012

Look. Writing a book is hard. It doesn't matter if the content is objectionable to you or if the writing is terrible or whether it was published by Penguin or Lulu.

If you have any sort of even slightly close relationship with your father, you have an obligation to read that book. Suck it up and get ready for a few days of speed reading on the bus to work.

Note that you don't have to pretend to like it. PhoBWanKenobi's advice is spot on in that regard. But you don't get to avoid reading it.
posted by 256 at 7:51 PM on April 17, 2012 [37 favorites]

My mom writes poetry, and one time she showed me a bunch of it.

I politely read through it, and thanked her for sharing. I was hoping that she would read between the lines of my polite lack of enthusiasm.

But then she asked what I thought of it, and I carefully said it's not the sort of poetry I like. But even that wasn't enough for her to get the idea.

So when she asked me for specifics about what I thought of it, I told her kindly but honestly what I didn't like about it. It wasn't quite the response she'd been looking for. As for me, I was sad that I wasn't able to enjoy her poetry.

But my mom raised me to be not just polite, but also honest and forthright when the circumstances required it. So I figured, 'Well, I'll be as polite as I can be, but if you're gonna push it, I'll be honest and forthright.

Like I said, it was a let-down for both of us that I didn't like it. But she accepted my critique and, incidentally, never shared her poetry with me again. I'm okay with that, and we still have a good relationship.

So perhaps you could approach it that way? Thank him for thinking of you, and then, if he pushes you for your honest opinion, give it to him. You've read some of his stuff, so you've showed you've put a bit of effort into it, which gives you the right to an opinion.

(I can't tell from your post whether you're able to be forthright with your father about the extent to which your religious beliefs differ, so complete honesty may not be an option in your case.)
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:59 PM on April 17, 2012

I'm an atheist too, and I've enjoyed plenty of novels in which the characters were religious, and/or the plot revolved heavily around religion. Not agreeing with the beliefs or motivating factors of characters in a book does not need to be a hurdle to enjoying it. It becomes more difficult if the entire point of the story is proselytizing to the reader, but even then you can read it as sort of an anthropological exercise for yourself, getting a window into a foreign (to you) culture. Can you try to forget that your dad wrote this thing, and just read it with an open mind? It sounds like your antipathy towards your dad's religion might color your experience of his book. It sounds kind of paradoxical, but I think you'd have an easier time finding something nice to say about the book if you can imagine that it was written by a stranger.
posted by vytae at 8:12 PM on April 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Read the book. I'm a militant atheist and read books from all religions. People read books about wizards and vampires and other mythologic stuff so think of it that way. You can't catch his Christianity from his book. You might find yourself skimming through sections but that's fine, you're not going to need to write a book report when you're done. Reading his book will teach you something about your dad.

Congratulate your old man on his achievement and try and find something nice to say about it (talk about pacing or story arcs or something but not about specific religious aspects). If your old man your congratulations about the book as a point to try to save you from eternal hellfire, then you have another problem. If it were me, I'd politely change the subject either back to the non-religious details of the book or to another subject altogether.

My dad wasn't a writer and we didn't see eye to eye on hardly anything. He has alzheimer's now and doesn't' know who I am. We can't talk about anything anymore. Don't be like me and wish you could have talked and not realized it until it is too late. Even if it is about something you don't believe in.
posted by birdherder at 8:15 PM on April 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

I don't understand why you're opposed to reading a book that involves religious beliefs that you don't share, but your dad wrote a book! and the polite, respectful thing to do is read it and discuss it with him (which doesn't mean you have to agree with it).
posted by J. Wilson at 9:02 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an atheist and have a religious family member with a similar hobby. I generally respond as a writer to the creativity of an idea, the techniques used, etc., and also just with general pride that someone I care about has accomplished something cool that they really seem to enjoy.

I'd say give the book a skim, see if you find a few parts that aren't too squicky-uncomfortable for you, and focus on those when you talk about it.

Most religion is undergirded with some good ideas, like compassion, courage, grace etc. It shouldn't be too hard to respond positively to those ideas. I don't believe Jesus was the son of God and I question whether or not he said half the stuff ascribed to him, but I can still be inspired by certain parts of the new testament.
posted by bunderful at 9:11 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you find what you like about it? If it's really very very nothing, then I'd suggest being vaguer but still positive. ("I like it.") With respect, I don't think PhoBWanKenobi's suggestions work for me. I think it would be pretty transparent you're avoiding talking about the book. (The suggestions are great, of course, if it's in addition to talking about the book.) I also think how much you like it can be pretty independent of how much you agree with the religious messages (even assuming they're heavy-handed like this thread is picturing them to be). "This isn't me, but it's very powerful how you... I love you dad." or whatever-such is really true about what you found to be beautiful or exciting or funny or very personally revealing or...
posted by spbmp at 9:19 PM on April 17, 2012

You don't want to read a book that's grounded in mainstream Christianity? Say goodbye to pretty much all of Western literature.

I'm sure somewhere in the book you'll find something that you like. Read it, and talk to your dad about that.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:21 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was gonna say what Ragged Richard said, too-- I mean, there are probably hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of paintings, poems, compositions and novels created by Christian or Christian-pleasing artists in Western culture that are enjoyed thoroughly by believer and non-believer alike. If you were appreciating a Great Work of Literature, you'd take a critical distance from the views of the author him/herself, but you would still be able to comment on the craft and beauty of the book. If I were you, I'd approach it like that (not being deliberately distant or critical about his views, but focusing on what resonates with you as a reader). Also, telling him you're very proud and excited that he's found such a fulfilling hobby.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:27 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

OP, I have your back on this. I'm pretty serious about my Christianity and I read a lot of theological and spiritual writing from that (and other) traditions, and I would still rather have a dozen root canals than read some random guy's self-published sermon on how everyone is Doing It Wrong (and before anyone ab-dab-dabs me, let me remind y'all that I am a book reviewer who receives dozens if not hundreds of self-published books a year, and nearly all of them in the "Christian" category are by angry old white dudes writing basically "Get off my lawn because Jesus said to, also stop being gay").

But. This isn't a random guy. It's your dad. I like PhoBWanKenobi's strategy of praising his determination and work ethic and accomplishment, because yeah, writing a book in your spare time is an impressive achievement. Maybe he did a good job, in terms of craft and skill, in expressing his views, and there will be something to praise there. "Dad, you know I don't agree with you about x, but I was really impressed with how clearly you stated your position."

Or not. Maybe the best answer for you and your dad is to praise him for having completed a very demanding project, but to be clear that if you read the book, it won't be an opening to discuss the ideas and doctrines in it further.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:10 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

What if it were a self-published book from your primary school-aged son? Same-same. Claim he did an awesome job, congratulate him for his neat printing, post it on the fridge for a few weeks.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 PM on April 17, 2012

As you and others have said, there's no real "option" here except to read the book.

Funnily enough, I too am an atheist, and a couple years ago my Christian dad wrote, printed, and mailed me a book: a retelling of the story of Christ, from conception to execution.

At first I approached it with trepidation, but by the time I reached the end I was relishing it. Religion – personal religion, I mean, not institutional religion – is, in many ways, a mirror. Many people have plumbed the depths and come away with quite different and often contradictory perspectives and revelations. When a monkey looks in, as they say, no philosopher looks out.

And so in his specific telling of the story of Christ, I came to see, better than he ever could have explained to me, what my father values in a man, what he considers strength of character. That a man speak his truth, even against convention, even when speaking the truth runs contrary to his own interest. That he protect the weak, and face down the strong. That with grace and charity he ennoble the destitute and the cast-offs of society. And that when his time comes, he faces death with humility and courage. These are the elements of a man's character my father feels transcend ego, and what he – deliberately or not – chose to celebrate in his retelling of this two thousand year old folk tale.

It didn't give me any faith in God, I have to say, but it did give me faith in my father.

Part of why writing is difficult is it's impossible to do without revealing some part of yourself. The spirit of the creator is imbued in even the most dry, linear account of events, in what is included and what is omitted, in whose perspective the reader is granted, in which scenes are descriptors most carefully chosen or fastidiously avoided. Your father knows his heart is in the work he's made, and sharing it makes him feel vulnerable, and that's why it's brave of him to do so, especially with someone he reasonably fears will reject it a priori and never consider what value it might contain.

You do have to read the book, but whether or not reading the book is a waste of your time is mostly up to you.
posted by churl at 11:16 PM on April 17, 2012 [31 favorites]

Read it, if for no other reason than to check whether your Dad is in good mental health. If it's full of paranoid ramblings or delusions of grandeur, you have an early warning of his mental state.
posted by benzenedream at 12:29 AM on April 18, 2012

Simply stick to grammatical editing. If you analyze the content, things could go awry quickly with a topic so deeply important to him as his religion. Tell him he did a good job. You are proud of him for writing a book; most people will never get to do that! That's awesome! But, just read it for what it is and don't critique the content.

On a somewhat related note: my father is writing a book about the murder of my grandmother (his mother-in-law). My mom and I believe that he has no business drudging up the past like he is. He is literally going around asking people who were involved what their recollections of this awful time of our lives were. He has interviewed me. I don't agree with it in the slightest, but I go along with it because as he was a witness to the murder, he is probably using it as a form of therapy. He wants me to read the book when it is complete. I don't want to, but I have to, because he's my father. I am proud of him for writing a book because I will probably never do that. This event is 16 years behind us and he keeps it at the forefront. I feel for you. Just read it and stick to the grammar, not the content. I can't say the same on my end for when my reading comes due, but I wish you the best of luck. You can memail me for support/ranting if you wish.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:50 AM on April 18, 2012

Please don't make it about grammar. Instead of being critical, find the things you can be positive about. Criticizing him would be a shitty thing to do, unless he specifically asked for help in editing the book.
posted by QuakerMel at 7:23 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be deeply hurt if I wrote something personal and shared it with a friend or family member and all they commented on was the grammar (unless I specifically asked for feedback on grammar). Your dad is trying to share something of himself with you. It's scary for both of you. Read the book and have your honest reaction to it and reach out to him.
posted by bunderful at 8:04 AM on April 18, 2012

I think you are focusing on the wrong part of the situation here. This is your dad. Since you seem to have an otherwise OK relationship, I'm inferring that he went to a lot of your Little League Games/Piano Recitals/Ballet performances, which must have been equally torturous. It doesn't hurt you or diminish you in any way to hear someone else's beliefs, unless your own are so weak that they can't stand a challenge. This is your father-- you love this person, right? Grin and bear it, man (or woman) up and read the darned book. You don't have to like it, but you do have to do it. If one of my face-to-face friends told me this story, I'd say they were acting like a jerk. But you are someone on the internet and I don't know the entire situation, so I won't do that here. It's not polite to be rude to strangers. It's even more impolite not to read a book written by a close family member. To reiterate, my assessment would be: "Religious content I don't like = Slight discomfort. Father I love and don't want to hurt = Way more important." I hear so many things from my parents about fishing and geology and Obama that don't really excite me, and they hear from me about permaculture and the latest methods I've discovered to teach kids carpentry. Part of being an adult is tolerating the things we don't like in the people we love. Good luck with your situation, and come on back here if you need to vent!
posted by seasparrow at 8:18 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, think off this like that time you decided you were going to major in Econ instead of becoming a doctor like they wanted you to do. You wanted them to love and support your choices for your life. Do the same.

Now if you can't because he has used religion to reject or judge you all your life, that's another issue. In that case I would work my way to an "I" statement like "dad, it's really hard for me to read this book because hearing you talk about religion reminds me of moments in my life - like when you wouldn't speak to me for a month after I came out as gay - which were really quite painful to me. I respect your right to your own views, but it seems like those views are the ones you judge me with, and it has been hard over the years to feel judged sometimes when I wanted to feel accepted."
posted by salvia at 9:55 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wrote a book and self-published it.

You must read the book. Full stop.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:05 AM on April 18, 2012

OP has already said he or she is planning to read the book.

I think furtive's advice is great - just look for things to like. I bet you can find an interesting character or a few evocative descriptive passages you can focus on. You don't have to keep all your attention on the religious aspect of it.
posted by kristi at 9:12 AM on April 19, 2012

« Older Help me clean grout off ceramic tile!   |   helping someone who survived war. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.