My father, a bow-legged, flat-footed woodsman with nine and a half fingers, just bought a Nook on which Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer came free. He sat uncharacteristically still while reading it.
"I loved that book!" he said when finished. "Because Tom couldn't be good!"
My Dad's pre-conversion history rivals Tom's adventures. He grew up touring the next-door meth lab. He skipped out of Mormon church service and took joy rides in his dad's car to buy coffee-a fluid forbidden by Mormons-before he was old enough to have a driver's license. He got his street-smarts throwing chestnuts at cars whenever his mother hadn't tied him to the back porch with her pantyhose. He wasn't "good."
It's a shame you can't hear and see my father's story. To be told well it needs the emphatic faces he makes, the sound of his hooting laughter, and his fist pounding the table. My writerly task-to represent what I see and hear-overwhelms me, dandruff to toenails, while I look at the wallpaper on my desktop, where he stands smiling with two fat fish dangling from his hands. When people tell me that in order to write about life I have to travel broadly, I gasp for air because my plain country world of stories is so replete with flying hammers and unexpected love that I can never dream of rendering it justly. I already have too much to say about the tiny portion of the world I've seen.
Christ crashed into my father's experience and transformed him into a natural evangelist with a tongue full of captivating life stories. When my dad had children, he taught them about the impossibility of natural goodness. Or, as he would tend to call it, the first petal in the Calvinist TULIP: Total Depravity.
Not that we, his two children, didn't already know about depravity by experience.
Early on, my brother's muscles began to rise in his arms like small buttered rolls. He could take me down and hold me down. I screamed hard. I grew my fingernails.
One day my brother drove me to the pitch of crazy that provoked me to chase him like the Queen of Hearts all around the backyard apple trees.
With my half-polished girl-nails I caught his bare back, which was triangular like a small, sturdy kite. I sank them in, and yanked. I left five canals of blood. I wasn't "good," either.
But we learned restitution. My mother often says that no matter how your family hurts you, no one can replace them. "Blood is thicker than water." She says that, too. That day she made me pay for his blood in Neosporin, and I smoothed its thick oil over each red river in my big brother's back.
I don't know what it's like to disbelieve the Creation, Fall, Redemption paradigm. From my father, the first Adam, I inherit a nature not only not good, but warped by the lie that we can do something, outside of God's grace, to save ourselves: "God helps those who help themselves." From my Father who sent the Second Adam I inherit a nature that can ask for forgiveness and forgive. From my biological father I inherit a hermeneutic that fits my reality: The God who requires righteousness, provides it.