My dad, my hero, my biggest fan, passed away quietly in his sleep three weeks ago. He lived a good life and was a very good man. A man of integrity and quiet determination to be a better man.
My dad came upon The Plain Truth magazine sometime in 1980 or 1981. He (and mom) must have liked what he was reading because we joined the WWCG in 1982. I remember the minister coming to our home to counsel my parents and being very impressed as a 13-year-old on their demeanor and professionalism. We started attending services and I did not like that! It was a one hour drive each way and two hours of services plus talking (or I should say fellowship) after services.
Now one thing you have to understand about our family (three boys) is that we were huge sports fans. Saturday was college football and we never missed our Wolverines–ever! Until now. Dad was as big of a fan as we were and allowed us to listen to the game in the car on the way home. My dad was not so into the “no television rule” when it came to Michigan football and if we got home in time to catch part of the game, he would let us watch it, then turn off the television.
Now we all played school sports and my parents encouraged us every step of the way. I am not bragging but we were very good athletes. The next year I became eligible to participate in the Y.O.U. program and was excited that basketball now became a part of WWCG. It was about this time, as I reflect, that the noose that is “church obedience,” started tightening around my parents’ necks. My parents volunteered to take a few of the boys to a Sunday Y.O.U. basketball tournament so they spent Saturday night at our home. When we got home after services, we flipped the television on and caught up on our team. Well, one of the boys told their parents, who in turn must have mentioned it to the minister and that was it. No more radio, no more television. My dad became someone who we didn’t know. He became strict toward us and our home fell into a period of coldness. My parents followed the rule of the WWCG and HWA to the letter. My dad owned a very successful building company, but being in the WWCG, it did not allow for your employees to work on Saturday. It didn’t take long for customers to show up on a job site and see no one working on their buildings for dad’s company to start losing work. I think the WWCG also used Mom and Dad’s success to give them the old “give till it hurts” routine. The strain of all of it wore on my parents tremendously.
My freshman year of high school allowed me to play the sport I loved, football! I went out for the team and made it with ease. I missed eight days of practice and one game due to the Feast and will never forget the look on the coaches face when I presented him the “note” my dad had written. I didn’t like the Feast at all and all I could think about was football. I quickly picked up where I had left off and despite my coach saying I wouldn’t play, I did. I played in two more games with the freshman team and then was asked to play JV. My dad was so excited! It was the first time in a while that I had seen my dad happy. I played in exactly four games with the JV when the varsity coach asked me to play in the last two games with the varsity! My dad was over the moon when I told him but quickly tempered when I reminded him that varsity plays Friday nights. I know it was not an easy decision for my parents but they allowed me to play. They would be unable to attend due to the Sabbath and they would pick me up as soon as the game was over.
As a sophomore, I was put on the varsity right from the start. My parents allowed me the same deal as before. I had one more request for them, not go to the feast! This was a big one. My parent’s discussed it with me endlessly and finally said yes. I stayed with my aunt and uncle while they were at the feast in Wisconsin. I continued to excel as a nose tackle and became a varsity co-captain as a sophomore.
It was near the end of the season and Y.O.U. basketball was starting when we got a new minister. We had our first practice and the minister’s son, all 6′ 4″ of him, joined the team. He was a grade ahead of me and attended a high school within our conference. I kept the fact that I played football a secret from other WWCG kids per my dad’s request. Well, after practice and in the shower, he sees the bruises from football and asks about it. I say “football” and leave it at that. He starts bragging to me that he plays varsity for his school! Hmmm, the ministers son playing on the Sabbath? High school varsity plays on Friday nights, this I know. I tell my dad this and it was like someone took 300 lbs. off his shoulders!
My junior year was the beginning of the end for the WWCG and my family. The new minister was exactly like the old one, lock and step with the “church.” His kids were arrogant and his wife was snobby. My parents didn’t think much of them. My parents went to every one of my games since they felt if the ministers kid can play, it must be all right. I continued to get even better and was again excused from the Feast. Our second to the last game that year was against the minister’s son’s school. We destroyed them in a route. I had my best game ever! I had 4 sacks and 17 tackles, eight of them being for a loss! My dad was so happy and could not stop talking about it. Well, the minister’s local paper told the story and come the following Saturday, unknown to me, my father was confronted by the minister about me playing on the Sabbath. I could see he was upset on the drive home and not much was said. I remember like it was yesterday when I walked by my dad’s office Sunday morning and he was very upset with someone; my mom was sitting across from him. I was shooed away and the office door was closed. My parent’s were in there for a long time, like hours!
It was two days later that my dad called all of us in the family room. He told us exactly what had happened as I did not know. The minister said it was wrong for my dad to allow a child to break the Sabbath and when my dad confronted him on his son, he said it was because his son had potential to play at the college level. Of course, my dad brought up the inquiries that I was having from colleges and that was quickly dismissed by the minister. He gave my dad an ultimatum (my dad was never a fan of ultimatums) and Dad did what had been brewing in his and Mom’s heart for a while. They quit in 1986 and we were disfellowshipped or marked, whatever you want to call it. I know it hurt them to lose the friends they had and, as far as I know, no one from the “church” ever contacted them again.
That’s the day I knew who my hero was. Not because of some game, but because he stood for what was right and protected his family and his integrity, both to which he held to deeply. We were not in the WWCG very long (big blessing!) and we don’t have horror stories like others but I have to say it made our family realize what men can do with a Bible and their interpretations of the words within.
I think we were an “anomaly” in the WWCG. I remember most of the members being poor or financially challenged; we were not. It makes me wonder why? Was it because those were the type of people that were targeted for membership? Were they easier to manipulate than people who had good finances? This was such a short period in our lives that we were in but as short as it was, it definitely had an affect. My parents didn’t regret a lot, but in talking with Mom and Dad through the years, they did regret joining the WWCG. I guess in the end we were not really harmed as bad as most and for that I am thankful.
I know this is a long story so to make it short, I did receive a scholarship with our Wolverine rival–the Spartans of Michigan State. Our house went from maize and blue to green and white quite quickly. I played and received my degree from Michigan State. In 1992 I was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with their 320th pick. I never played in any official games but my dad told everyone that his boy was a pro football player. He was a Seahawk fan the rest of his life.
By John – Child survivor of WCG (first name used with permission)