Like a lot of children, I went to church at the behest of my mother. I spent the majority of my time there pretending that I was a robot or a detective (or a robot-detective) and wandering into places I did not think I was allowed. Sometimes I would write notes, sign them as Jesus Christ, and hide them all over the building. I found sermons that didn’t involve some sort of magic practically unbearable and would stare at my shoes or doodle on scraps of paper until something crazy caught my ear. I could never resist a good story and The Bible is absolutely chock-full of them.
Sometimes a loaf of bread and some tiny cups of wine would come around and everyone would eat and drink their tiny portions all together. I found it off-putting that they all partook in unison and asked around about it often. Someone eventually told me that eating the bread and drinking the wine meant I had accepted Jesus into my heart and that it represented consuming his blood and body. This was a concept that I found immediately terrifying, so I would always pass on communion without participating and never bothered to get baptized either. Outside of the singing bits, I really was a pretty half-assed Christian.
Church just did not do a whole lot for me, but that didn’t keep me from actively participating. Usually when my boredom was about to peak, the minister would call us all up front for children’s corner. This was a “private sermon” just for us kids that took place in front of the entire congregation and involved him asking questions that had to be answered into a microphone. I hated being put on the spot but liked using the microphone. Most of them ended with him saying something like, “I guess God must really have to love us to do something like that, wouldn’t he?”
Then he would dismiss us all to our respective youth group leaders where we could learn the biblical basics. Outside of my single read-through of the bible as an adult, this is where I acquired the majority of my information on Christianity. While there were a lot of people helping out, the entire operation was run by a man named Sam, who I didn’t much care for. Sam was the type who would always put his hand on your shoulder or ask for hugs that lasted too long. His red face was always too close to my face and his breath smelled crazy. On a few occasions I would see Sam outside of youth group and he’d chat up my family. My mom would always comment on how nice a man he was and I’d tell her that there was something about him that I didn’t like.
My primary qualm about Sam was due to the fact that he was basically the Michael Jordan of child molestation in my neighborhood. As a little kid, you are immediately taught to stay away from strangers but you’re never given any useful pointers about how to handle familiar creeps. I recall a few brief “bad touch” conversations but was not particularly well prepared for the dangers of the friendly pervert. If I ever have children, I am definitely going to prepare them for all contingencies. I’ll try to be nonchalant, so as to give the maximum amount of information without scaring them into a few weeks worth of nightmares.
“Listen, this is going to sound crazy but there are a few people out there that are going to want to touch your butt or your pee-pee and it’s your job not to let them. So, unless I say they’re cool, don’t let anybody ever touch your butt. It’s just one of those things.” -Father of the Year
I must not have been alone in being ill-prepared either because Sam had a pretty illustrious career as a pedophile before finally getting caught over a decade later. Either this guy was a total mastermind, or molesting kids isn’t nearly as difficult as I originally assumed. I don’t really recall him being master strategist though. There were a few occasions where he followed me into the bathroom and asked me if I needed help, but I always said that I was good and don’t actually remember ever being outright molested. Maybe I just wasn’t an attractive enough child, maybe I was clever enough to avoid him or maybe I just blocked the traumatic memory of it happening. He definitely broke new ground for creeping me out though. He was the only adult I felt perpetually uncomfortable around. The frequency at which he hugged us was alarming and he was always finding excuses to rub our backs or talk one-on-one with his mouth close enough to moisten our cheeks with his breath. I even remember him fogging up my glasses.
I don’t tell this story a lot for reasons that should be immediately obvious. Child molestation is a very touchy subject for most people and I have a tendency to inject humor into even the darkest places. But, I assure you, I do not endorse pedophilia. I do, however, have a partial solution to the problem. It might not be a terrible idea to spend some extra time listening to our children. I could not have been the only person to have told my parents that I didn’t like Sam and that there was something wrong about him, but he was in his sixties before he was finally caught and convicted. Kids say a lot of stupid and nonsensical things, so it’s easy to dismiss them or tune them out, but there is usually an actual message buried somewhere in there. My parents were good ones but I remember visiting them during college when my mom told me that he went to jail. She asked me if he ever did anything to me and I think that was probably the first time anyone had ever asked me that.
A few years before I found out that Sam got caught, I worked with a man named Norm. He was the type of person that would tell you stories that were really entertaining but that you also sort of wished weren’t true. I liked working with him even though he preyed upon everyone with less fortitude. He’d inquire about their sexual exploits and tease them but keep his distance. He was a character and, while off-putting, entertained me by just being strange. Then, one day, he told me a story about his daughter and a custody battle that made me like him a lot less. I just want to remind everyone that these people are out there.