Focus on the Family

Car rides with mom were tedious. The trips from point A to point B were interposed with a droning AM radio. Jeff and I sat strapped in the back seat looking out the window trying to drown out the sounds of conservative Christian radio that kept my mom brainwashed with ridiculous ideals that we knew would be imposed upon us in some fashion, usually sooner rather than later.

My mother’s favorite was Dr. James Dobson, the conservative Christian radio talk show host of Focus On The Family. When Dr. Dobson wasn’t on, we would listen to oldies which were a much more tolerable. My mother’s favorite oldies song was “One Toke Over The Line” by Brewer and Shipley.

I think she liked this song because it sounded happy and had the word Jesus in it. She would sing this song in the joyful-noise manner that could be pleasing only to the God that had created her. She had no idea what the song meant, but she sang it to the Lord, with us in the back seat hoping it would be over soon because her singing sounded just like her yelling, which was her favorite form of communication. She would let go of the steering wheel and her fists would ball up like that of a happy infant and she would dance in her seat not unlike a Muppet, driving with her knee and singing at the top of her lungs, eyes half closed, encouraging us to join in.

When I was finally old enough to learn what the true meaning of the word “toke”, I laughed, immediately remembering the song it belonged to in my memory being belted out in an ironic praise of the very thing that Dr. James Dobson was so against. I’d always been confused by the word “Toke”, but I’m pretty sure my mother was confusing it for the word “Toe” – the meaning of her rendition was so obviously laced with an “I’ll Fly Away” type nuance, The way she sung it sounded as if she would be going “home” soon…to heaven.

I suppose a “toke” or a “toe” over that line would take you to some form of heaven either way. The idea of my mother flying away in a rapture had always troubled me. On one hand, I would be sad to lose my mother, but on the other hand, maybe it would mean I would get a newer and better one. I just hoped the rapture didn’t happen while she was driving us somewhere, because Jeff and I would be stuck in the back seat of a careening car until it found a telephone pole. So getting into a car with my mother was always a matter of putting my life into my mother’s hands, or her God’s hands and it was always just a little scary.

I would count down the telephone poles until we reached our destination and be thankful when the car came to a stop and we were able to get out. If the rapture happened once we were out of the car, at least my mother wouldn’t have to deal with hitting her head on the ceiling of the car to get to heaven. I was never sure if I would be included in the rapture because it seemed like something set aside for more seasoned Christians. I was just left to worry and wonder about when it would take my mom away.

James C. Dobson talked about the rapture on his show sometimes, a dangerous thing to listen to while riding in a car, because it seemed to be taunting fate. He also espouses ideals that are supposed to make a family run a smoother, better, and more Christian home. But all I remember of my mother trying to impose his ideas were the yelling and screaming they produced with we were unfairly confronted with sudden changes in rules like Alice was faced with in Wonderland, but at least it had been Alice’s chioce to jump down that rabbit-hole.

My older brother Mike had a tape collection that he’d been working on for years. After an episode of Dr. James C. Dobson, my mother convinced my father that the music Mike owned was all “Devil Music” and its presence in our house was inviting evil spirits into the house. Mom and Dad decided that instead of letting Mike give his music away or sell it to friends, it was their responsibility to make sure that this music not be spread any further as they didn’t want to be held responsible for the proliferation of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll that the Devil Music promoted. Guns’N’Roses, Metallica, Ratt, Poison, among others had been our rebel yell when mom and dad weren’t home to hear it pumped up. Of course, Mike had some “Christian Rock”, Stryper and the like – most of it gifted to him by our Mom who was well aware of his rock music habit all along and had been trying to subtly infiltrate it with acceptable alternatives.

That night, making Mike watch, they sorted through all his tapes, the tapes that he’d paid for with his own money that he’d earned mowing lawns, and they destroyed them in front of his face, pulling the ribbon from the cassettes while he cried, helpless to do anything about it. Jeff and I also cried upstairs while we had to listen to what was happening down in the basement that night. There was too much sorrow for just one person to express the unfairness of it all. So Jeff and I helped. We cried in sympathy for our brother, we cried because we were upset at all the yelling and screaming that accompanied the cassette-exorcism, and we might have even been crying because the little devils stored in the tape cassettes had been let loose, now free to float around the house and terrorize us, my mom in particular, even more. At least when they had been in their little cassette cases, they had been contained.

So, when it was all said and done, Mike was left with a smattering of “Christian Rock” and a few of the tapes he’d been lucky enough to recover from his friends to whom he’d lent them at the time. When he got those tapes back he hid them well in a gap between the wall and ‘70’s fake-wood paneling in his basement bedroom, the same place he hid his porn, so mom would not find them – but Jeff and I knew about them and were bonded by secrecy and a good ass-kicking if we ever told. The secret made Jeff and I feel special, united, and telling wasn’t an option because we liked the loud music just as much as Mike did. We liked the loud music partially because it pleased Mike that we did and we looked up to our older brother.

The irony of it all is that Dr. James C. Dobson had a program in place to buy back the devil music so that you could send in your tape collection and they would actually pay you for it and then destroy it. If Mike had been able to send in his tapes, he could have at least gotten a little money for it.

I’m pretty sure this program was in place just so Dr. Dobson could amass the most kick-ass metal collection ever under the guise of mere Christianity. His call-to-action when it came to rock music was eerily similar to how he sat around and watched porn so that he could inform the other Christians about just how bad it is. Dr. Dobson does these things because he cares. I was supposed to be thankful that men like that are willing to bear the burdens so that other Christians don’t get caught up in the evil tangle of what the secular world has to offer. It is this kind of generosity that marked Dr. James C. Dobson’s reign over our lives by proxy of my mother, but I am not thankful for it.

I once asked Mike about whether or not he thought there were ever evil spirits in the house in which we grew up. His answer did not surprise me: “The only evil spirits in that house belonged to mom and dad.”

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