Aaron’s leave-taking came a bit later, when he was in his early twenties. He was also considering doing lengthy missionary service for our church, just as Matthew had. It’s very much encouraged within the culture of the church and, given his background, Bob had always assumed that his boys would follow that path. Aaron began making preparations, but I knew that he was terribly conflicted. There were other things that he wanted and needed to do. He didn’t feel “called” in the religious sense, but he didn’t want to disappoint his father. Decision time was drawing close, and Aaron was in agony—alternately crying and angry—in a continuing state of upheaval. I felt that this was an issue between father and son and that Bob was the only one who could intervene.
The Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac came to mind. From a modern perspective, those families in the book of Genesis were a smorgasbord of dysfunction: Cain slew his brother Abel; Noah was an alcoholic; Jacob and his mother, Rebecca, plotted to steal the birthright from his older twin, Esau. Abraham and his family were no exception. Isaac was the much-wanted son of Abraham and Sarah, born when Sarah was well past the child-bearing years. When Isaac was a young boy, his father took him up the mountain to make a burnt offering to the Lord, as was their custom. It turned out the Lord had asked Abraham to make Isaac the sacrifice. (Did Sarah know about this plan? I can’t imagine that Sarah or any mother would agree to such an arrangement.) When they got to the mountaintop, Isaac asked his father where the animal was that they were going to sacrifice. Next thing we know, Isaac is bound and placed on the altar. But the Lord intervenes and tells Abraham to find the ram caught in the thicket to use as a sacrifice instead of his son.
In our own family, the situation had reached crisis proportions. Aaron had already turned in the necessary papers. It meant a two-year commitment, a huge sacrifice in the life of a young man. Yet Aaron still was wracked with uncertainty. The three of us sat talking one night as he tried to sort out his feelings. Then Bob said, “I don’t want you to go.” Aaron began to sob. “You found the ram in time,” he said, referring to the story of Abraham and Isaac. He realized that he was not to be sacrificed as Bob had been. Instead Bob had intervened and given him permission to choose another path, one that met his needs more clearly at the time. The needs of the individual had taken precedence over the dictates of religious tradition. Because Bob had patiently undone many of the psychic knots in the tapestry of his family, his son was free to pursue a pattern of his own choosing.
As it turned out, Aaron’s personal growth during those young adult years was exponential. He clarified and pursued career goals and met his beautiful wife, Emily. He also grew in spiritual ways and has continued to serve the church as an adult. With our support he made a decision that was not within strict church guidelines. Others would have made a different choice, but for Aaron and his own personal and spiritual journey, it was the best path possible.
Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.Like this author?