O My Son Absalom

I try to imagine my life from my dad’s perspective. Part One.

Luke was a bit of a worry during his early years. It was hard on him losing his mom and living with different people. When I remarried and got him back during his fifth year, he was withdrawn, sullen and angry.

He rarely misbehaved around the home. He was too afraid he’d get shipped off again. He didn’t understand that he could feel secure in our love. My second wife, Gill, and I loved him very much, but he was like a child who’d been raised by wolves.

He’d had the best first year of life, surrounded by love. The next three years were a disaster. They warped him.

Around the house, Luke was very easy. Very obedient. He never caused trouble. He didn’t confront us over anything. He didn’t fight back. He just adjusted to our changing surroundings the best he could.

He was very partial to Gill and clung to her. She had pre-menstrual syndrome a couple of weeks a month and was a bit of a horror. Luke didn’t know what to do, so he did what he’s always done when insecure, he retreated. He retreated deeply into himself and he tried to stay out of the way of the flying crockery and all the emotional drama.

I retreated too into my work, into my study, into my evangelism. This wasn’t the home I’d known in my first marriage. Gwen was a saint. She didn’t have PMS. Gill and I made the rounds looking for help but that didn’t come until about 1984, when she started hormone replacement therapy.

I wonder if Luke got his tendency to withdraw from me? When I’m confronted with emotional drama, I too want to withdraw. I seek safety in books and work. I wasn’t always the most loving and comforting husband. I think that Gill often found that more from Luke than from me. He was a loving child much of the time, desperate to love and be loved. He loved to listen. He was always a better listener than me. I have to fight my tendency to pour my wisdom down people’s throats. It’s hard for me to let people finish their sentences, because 90% of the time, I know better than they do what they are trying to say.

In the Biblical view, the man is the head of the household. Somebody has to be in charge. Men are more ruled by reason than by emotion and they are better suited to taking the lead. The buck stopped with me. I provided for my family. I saw my that wife and children got everything they needed. They never wanted for anything. In exchange, they knew that I had the final vote. They treated me with respect.

While Luke was very easy to have around the home, he was quick to get into trouble when he left the home. He liked to eat sweets, even between meals. In the Seventh-Day Adventist view, eating between meals is a bad idea. Eating candy is bad. So we punished Luke for this.

Luke was docile around the home, but away from it, he’d get into fights. Not fisticuffs, he’d just use his brain to taunt people and to wound them. They responded by hating him, which just made him taunt them all the more.

During Luke’s first two years at school, second and third grades, he was a worry. He didn’t have many friends, usually just one close one (Wayne Cherry was his best friend, perhaps only friend, from 1972-1977).

I worried about Luke’s character development. I worried about his lack of discipline and toughness. I tried to build him up. I gave him rewards for accomplishments and I punished him for messing up.

I spanked him about a dozen times, mostly from age eight to nine. There were two main things he did that worried me — he’d lie to avoid punishment, and he’d eat sweets.

On a third-grade camp-out, his teacher Mrs. Patrick caught him with an enormous cache of cookies and candies. She told us. We confronted Luke. He confessed to stealing money from us to buy his loot.

Before I hit him, I sat him down and explained why I was going to spank him. That it would hurt me more than it would hurt him. That it was for his own good. He had to learn that certain things are wrong and there are consequences.

Gill and I used to keep telling him the Bible verse, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”

It’s his strongest memory of all instruction.

I’d tell him that if he cried while I hit him, I’d only hit him harder and longer.

I wanted to toughen him up. He was a bit of a girly boy, very sensitive (at least to his own feelings).

Then I’d have him pull his pants down, bend over, and I’d spank him 10-20 times with my bare hand.

Gill whacked him a few times, but that was spur of the moment when she was angry and he was egging her on. He was always good at getting people’s goat. He loved to goad and to mock.

It was not very Christian of him and it worried me.

I tried to beat the Devil out of him.

I remember working in my study one morning and heard a rattle in the kitchen. I looked over and Luke was swallowing something and picking up a spoon.

It turned out he’d been attacking the brown sugar bag over the past few weeks. I made sure he never did this again.

Luke learned very quickly that when he was caught in his sins, it was best to make a full confession. I believe this has become a lifelong habit for him — first he’ll try to lie his way out of a mess, and when this doesn’t work, he’ll make a full confession.

After Luke moved into fourth grade, I don’t think I ever had to spank him again. He hated that we made him bike home for lunch every school day. He wanted to hang out with his mates, but we made him come home so he’d stay out of trouble.

By the time he’d biked the mile back home, there was rarely time for him to play.

The next ten years in his life were deceptively quiet. He’d learned to be as good as church mice around the home. Outside of it, he learned what he could get away with without us ever finding out.

We got very few complaints about Luke during this time. He learned not to make waves. He learned who he could trust and I guess it wasn’t his dear old dad.

I was very busy. I ran Avondale’s Religion department and then in 1977, I transferred to Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley. A couple of weekends a month, I’d go out on evangelical swings around the world. I admit that my focus was on saving souls for Christ. I didn’t neglect my home life, but I was very focused on my work. Luke and Gill seemed to be able to make their own way while I saved the world.

Home was a refuge for me. I liked it quiet and contemplative. On occasion, I had a few friends over, but most of the time it was just the three of us. We all loved books and we’d sit around in our separate rooms reading.

Luke got his hands on a radio in sixth or seventh grade and that was the beginning of his fall. Before this, he was an innocent kid. Once he got the radio, he became a sport fanatic. We tried to limit his radio time but he’d sneak it under his pillow at night and what could we do?

He got his first job in seventh grade. He hit up friends of ours for a gardening job. He got fired after a few weeks. He was not a good worker. He got fired from almost every job he ever held through high school.

He was quick to use the advantages of being Desmond Ford’s son. He’d hit up our friends for work. How could they say no? It was very embarrassing to me when he didn’t do good work.

Luke has never been good at doing anything he wasn’t passionate about. He got poor grades at school unless he was enthusiastic about the subject and the teacher.

Luke has always liked to take the easy way out. He tried to use my connections. He tried to use his status as my son to get preferential treatment. Early on in his life, he got into the habit of cheating and stealing when he could get away with it. We punished him for it. And what did that do? He just took greater care not to get caught. And he was largely successful, if you count success as avoiding punishment from his dear old dad, who was frightfully busy and looking to avoid domestic drama.

Americans are frightfully generous people and Luke took full advantage. He was always looking to suck up as much love as possible, frightened that the teat would soon run dry so he might as well get all he could in the moment.

I’d say that his years 1977-1980 at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, were the happiest years of his childhood. It was an idyllic place. Luke got a lot of love from the people who loved me and from the people who hated me (because they wanted to prove their goodness).

I remember in our first few months in California, we were playing a game of softball. Luke didn’t really know the rules (neither did I, not that I cared), but that didn’t stop him from screaming at Dr. Staples, a member of the religion department, that he was cheating. It was horrifying.

Luke has always been quick to accuse. He has not always been as quick to check his facts.

I saw Luke looking longingly at other homes, dreaming about them adopting him. He thought that other moms didn’t suffer from PMS and other dads liked to play sport with their kids. In the end, however, he realized that the advantages of being Desmond Ford’s son far outweighed the disadvantages.

Luke loved having a famous dad. Fame was always very important to Luke. Something got warped in Luke in his early years, and he thirsted for attention. It was his substitute for love.

He didn’t act towards others in ways that would gain love. Instead, he’d use shock and awe with his vocabulary to demand attention.

It was not a recipe for smooth relationships with others, and he almost got kicked out of the Pacific Union College Elementary School in seventh grade.

Luke loved his elementary school and he reacted to this threat by straightening up his ways and staying in school.

Luke loved to people’s buttons. He was driven to establish where your limits were, but once he found out, he was usually careful, if he valued you, not to push you past your limits so that you would punish him.

In January 1980, Gill and I moved to Washington D.C. so I could prepare a defense of my controversial views on the church’s Heavenly Sanctuary doctrine.

Luke was distraught at the prospect of leaving his friends behind, so we let him stay at PUC with a friend of the family.

When he came back to us in June, he was changed. He was chewing gum, not something I approve of. It was like he’d assimilated American values and was acting more like other kids.

We’d bought a television for the first time and he loved to watch TV, particularly sport. We had to limit him.

It was a pretty miserable summer for him. He didn’t have friends in D.C. He spent his days at the local library. God knows what he was reading. I suspect that much of it was not wholesome.

When I lost my job with the church, Luke was sad. He loved PUC. He wanted us to go back. It was not to be.

It looked for a while like we were moving to England, but then we set up camp in Auburn, 45 minutes drive north of Sacramento. We were only two hours drive from PUC and Luke was able to nip over several times a year.

Luke loved the attention my controversy attracted. I was written up in Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times and other media. Sometime in eighth grade, Luke decided he wanted to be a journalist.

It was not work I’d have chosen for him. I used to work as a journalist in Sydney during the 1940s. Most of its practicioners were secular. There favorite method for getting a good story was taking sources to the bar and getting them drunk. The journalists I knew tended to curse a lot and chase women.

I never pushed Luke to enter any particular career. I did suggest law. I thought he’d be a good lawyer because he liked to argue. His big sister eventually became a barrister.

Luke did poorly at school. No matter what we said or did, he wouldn’t study hard for any class that he didn’t enjoy. He wouldn’t work hard at any job he didn’t like. We couldn’t seem to correct this character flaw.

“Life is a hard taskmaster,” I’d tell him. “You’ll have to learn at the University of Hard Knocks. I want to try to spare you that pain, but I’m not getting through.”

In 1978, Luke set his heart on jogging and soon he was running marathons (26 miles 385 yards). Gill and I were opposed to this extreme exertion. We didn’t think it was healthy, but Luke has always had a strong will. We couldn’t stop him.

His knees cracked up after a year and that stopped him.

For our first year in Auburn, Luke was miserable. He failed classes at school. He got sick a lot. He only got that light back in his eyes when we reluctantly allowed him to go to public school (starting in tenth grade) so he could take journalism classes.

During the next three years, Luke excelled at keeping his life away from us. We didn’t really know much about what he was doing. He’d tell us a lot of stories about going to Bible studies and the like, but I had a vague suspicion he was sneaking off doing things he shouldn’t.

During his teenage years, his connection to Christ dropped steadily away. I think religion was mainly a social thing for him, an opportunity to be around girls, and when I was isolated by the church, Luke got isolated too and gave up on religion.

After high school, he went to live with his brother Paul in Australia and completely abandoned God. He started working on the Sabbath. He came home a year later and announced he was an atheist.

For the next three years, for the first time in his life, Luke worked hard. He extended himself to the limit. As is usual with the Fords, he overdid things. We tried to restrain him. We wanted him home at a decent hour, but he was determined to work late into the night.

We finally gave up fighting him on it. He would’ve left the house otherwise.

We warned him that his health would crack if he kept work so hard, but he didn’t listen to us. Then in early 1986, his health did break, and he struggled with mononucleosis for three months. Gill and I were away for most of that time. When we got home, we were very worried.

He recovered his health in the summer of 1986 by working construction. Luke began to look at hard work as his salvation, as his solution to troubled relationships with others.

There are some people who move ahead with grace in life. They bless others with their presence. Luke was not like that. He was dogged and stubborn. He exerted great effort. He bulldozed people when he could get away with it.

Finally, life laid him out. The great collapse I’d been warning him about happened in early 1988. He came down with what was later diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He’s had to limp through life eversince.

I never told him, I told you so. I just tried to help him every way I could.

Gill and I were terribly worried. We reached out to everyone we knew who might be able to help. We sent him to all sorts of doctors. We got tons of medical tests. I used my research skills to try to get to the bottom of this baffling disease.

He drove off to UCLA in August 1988 and lived out of his car for a month before the dorm opened. Gill was frantic and wanted to drive down to get him but I told her we’d have to let him go his own way.

We sent him to a doctor in Southern California, endocrinologist Norman Beals, who was able to help him a little bit.

After nine months of school, he gave up and came home. He felt thoroughly whipped by life.

Luke had a new hero. He was always seeking out these substitute father figures. Luke wanted to go his own way. He didn’t want to follow in my shoes. He went through all these phases where he wanted to be a politician or a journalist or a sports anchor. Now he was following this Jewish theologian Dennis Prager.

During the summer of 1989, somebody asked Gill where Luke was spiritually. She said, “He’s between Marxism and Judaism.”

Of the two choices, I much preferred Judaism. I even read to him (at his request) Prager’s book, The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism.

Luke was so sick, he couldn’t read to himself.

I’d never seen him this helpless, not since he was a little boy anyway. He seemed to relapse into the pathetic state of his earliest years.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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