What follows is a letter I wrote to my Fundamentalist Christian step-grandmother, Ann Tieken, in 2012. She was married for many years to my grandfather John Tieken. They lived in Pontiac, Michigan and attended Sunnyvale Chapel. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.
Grandchildren don’t get to choose who their grandparents are. When we are born they just show up and we have to accept them.
My Dad’s parents died when I was five. I really don’t remember very much about them at all. I remember the Gerencser farm, the outhouse, the wood cook stove, and the funny language Grandma and Grandpa spoke.
My Mom’s side of the family “blessed” me with two sets of grandparents, Grandma Rausch and Grandma and Grandpa Tieken.
I don’t know how old I was before I realized that Grandma Rausch used to be Grandma Tieken.
For most of my life, Grandma Rausch was the only grandparent I had. She wasn’t perfect but she loved me. I was, after all, grandson number one. She taught me to love baseball and to be passionate about life. She had her faults, but I never doubted for one moment that she loved me.
Here is what I remember about you and Grandpa Tieken.
I remember every Christmas being a day of anxiety and turmoil. I remember the fights, and you and Grandma Rausch not being able to be in the same room together. This was resolved by having two Christmases, two of every holiday
I remember Grandpa’s nasty and violent temper.
I remember Grandpa slugging your son David, my teenage uncle, knocking him off his chair onto the kitchen floor. I saw Grandpa hit him more than a few times.
I remember Grandpa beating the shit out of my brother and me because we took apart an old telephone that was in the garage.
Wonderful childhood memories.
Do I have any good memories of you and Grandpa Tieken?
I have two.
I remember Grandpa taking us up in an airplane he had just overhauled, and I vividly remember Grandpa taking me to a Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Indians game at Briggs Stadium in 1968. I got to see Mickey Lolich pitch. He bought me a Tiger’s pennant.
You were always a church- going Christian. What were you thinking when you married the drinking, carousing John Tieken? But you won, and Grandpa Tieken found Jesus.
For the next 30- plus years you and Grandpa were devoted followers of Jesus. I remember going to Sunnyvale Chapel every time we came to visit you. I remember singing the Countdown song (see notes) in junior church.
As I got older I began to understand things from my Mom’s perspective. Her relationship with you and her Dad was always strained. Lots of turmoil, lots of stress. Lots of angry words and cussing.
She showed me the letters you and she traded. So much anger, so little Jesus.
Mom told me about her younger years. She told me about what went on and what happened to her. Awful things. Shameful things. She told me about confronting Grandpa about these things and he told her that God had forgiven him and they were under the blood. Not one word of sorrow or admission of guilt, not even a sorry. A new life in Christ wiped the slate clean.
I have often wondered if Mom’s mental illness found its root in the events that took place on a Missouri farm when she was but a youth. I know she felt she could never measure up and you, and Grandpa had a real knack for reminding the family of their shortcomings. After all, we were Bob Gerencser’s kids.
When I went to college I lived a few miles away from you. For the first time I learned how controlling and demanding you and Grandpa could be. Now I know I wasn’t the perfect grandson; I remember charging to your home phone some long- distance phone calls to Polly. That aside, you did your best to manipulate and control my life.
When I started pastoring churches you and Grandpa started sending us money through the church. We really appreciated it and it was a big help. And then it stopped. Why? The church treasurer didn’t send you your giving statement when you expected it and just like that you stopped sending the money. Did our need change?
When I was pastoring in Somerset, Ohio you and Grandpa came to visit a few times. Polly and I will never forget these visits. How could we?
I remember you and Grandpa sitting in the last pew in the back, on the left side. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. Grandpa did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die. He thoroughly embarrassed and shamed me.
I remember when you came to visit us in Junction City. Again, how can I forget the visit? This was your last visit to my home, twenty-three years ago.
Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.
After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.
I think we saw you and Grandpa once or twice after that. I remember driving to Pontiac to see Grandpa after his cancer surgery. He was out of it. If I remember correctly, you took us to lunch at a buffet.
For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.
I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you proceeded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.
Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train.
And that is where things remained for a long time.
In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan to pastor a Southern Baptist church. In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, our family moved to the same gated community that you and your new husband lived in. What are the odds? You lived less than two miles from my home.
You came to visit the church I pastored and invited us over to dinner. I didn’t want to come, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive and let the past be the past.
And so we went. Things went fairly well until you decided to let me know, as if it was a fact that everyone knew, that my father was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was pregnant when she married Dad but I had never before heard what you were telling me.
Why did you tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Believe me, I still have not gotten past this. I have come to see that what you told me is probably the truth, but to what end was the telling of this truth?
Church members were excited to find out that I was the grandson to Gramma Clarke (her new married name) , a fine, kind, loving, Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.
Of course I understood how this dualistic view of you was possible. You and Grandpa were always good at the smile real big, I love Jesus game, all the while stabbing your family in the back. It is a game that a lot of Christians play.
Nine years have passed since I last saw you in Clare, Michigan. Life moves on. I have a wonderful wife, six kids, and eight grandchildren. And I am an atheist.
You must have done a Facebook search for me because you “found” me. You sent me an email that said:
What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??
Nine years and this is what you send me?
Ann, you need to understand something. I am not interested in reviving any kind of relationship with you. One of the things I have learned in counseling is that I get to choose whom I want to associate with, whom I want to be friends with.
My counselor and I spend a lot of time talking about family and the past. He told me, Bruce it is OK to not be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with. No more loving everyone because Jesus loves everyone. I am free to love whom I want.
I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!
Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.
My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, too embarrassed to mention). You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s okay.
Life is messy, Ann, and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.
I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.
You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma-and-Grandpa-Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.
The Countdown Song
Somewhere in outer space
God has prepared a place
For those who trust Him and obey
Jesus will come again
And though we don’t know when
The countdown’s getting lower every day.
10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown’s getting lower every day.
Jesus was crucified, suffered and bled he died,
But on the cross He did not stay
He made this promise true, I will come back for you,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.
Soon will the trumpet sound, and we’ll rise off the ground
With Christ forever will we be
Children where will you be, throughout eternity?
The countdown’s getting lower every day!
I’m proud of you, Bruce.
I’m in a similar place in my life at the moment. I’ve spent years trying to be kind to a relative who acts a lot like your step grandmother.
I’m at the point where I’m done bending over backwards. I haven’t totally cut them out (yet…..), but I’ve scaled wayyyyy back on how much time, attention, and energy they get from me. I just don’t care anymore.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for how you handle this situation in the future.
There’s a contrast here. Your tenderness up against their brutal way of relating.
So much conflict. This I relate too.
Any grandpa that would kick his grandchildren, is a piece of shit that doesn’t deserve them. Apparently his boyfriend Jesus’ message of love didn’t get through to him. Fucking asshole
I’m sorry you threw out the precious baby with some very dirty bathwater.
Sorry, but I’m not. What I found is that there is no baby.
Oh, so it was just one rotten apple?
You remember what one rotten apple does, right?
It spoils the whole bunch.
This a poem I wrote many years ago about my mom’s mom, called Grandmother Turnip. I wish you long peace, my friend, regarding your difficult past. You are a very brave man to be able to give so much, having been given so little…
There is much sadness
in the world and much of it
the fault of vegetables,
putrid sweet potatoes,
all lovingly planted
and nurtured by
grandmothers too mean to
be held off by
simple no thankyous.
Clearly, one is left to
howl and blubber,
searching for her departed
husband’s shaving mirror,
to bang it down in front of me
as if I did not truly know
the deeper meaning behind
my ugly contortions,
but could somehow be
taught it with the help
Grandmother, what big
teeth you had,
what big eyes.
What we contrived together
still goes on,
turnips. one mirror to
After reading your postings my only question was why are you so bitter? I now know. please choose to forgive those who have offended you, for your own health and well being and move on. by your writing it would seem you are trying, stop trying and do it.
You read two of my posts, right? And by reading two posts (and local responses to my letters to the editor), you, an armchair psychologist, have determined that I am bitter. Would it matter to you if I told your assumption is wrong? Probably not. Your mind is made up, in 2,000 words or less.
Did you pay attention to the content of this post? Would you like me to tell you things that happened that I am still ashamed to write about to this day? My grandparents were not good people. Did you know them? They loved Jesus and, at the same time psychologically and physically abused family members. If you want to be their defenders by all means do so. Good luck.
Now, let me get back to my bitter ways. *sigh* I am waiting for a family of raccoons to raid our bird feeders. I have been photographing them the past few nights….you know, when I take time out from being bitter.
please accept my apologies, Since I have not met you in person and only read your written words I based my weak supposition about your bitterness on them. If you say your are not bitter, then you are not.
That’s intelligent of you. Will you now read through more of Bruce’s blog entries? Will you think thoughtfully over everything written? Or will you read enough to be certain of judging Bruce? If you can try to understand him, you will be showing a thoughtfulness that is completely lacking in nearly every fundamental, evangelical Christian that comes here. Seriously. (PS–and I’m not an atheist or agnostic, although you would probably consider me damned for being a Universalist. See, Bruce has friends with different religious beliefs, too.)
One of the issues that I run into with Christians is that some — not all, but some — consider any sort of anger to be a Bad Thing. Being angry with abusive relatives, or bitter about your treatment at their hands (and tongues) is not weakness; it is not sin; it is not wrong. It’s a natural reaction, a just and appropriate response. Much as I hate to take issue with Jedi Master Yoda, the idea that anger leads inevitably to the Dark Side is bullshit. Sometimes, anger — or what you’re calling bitterness — is the only sensible response.
“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” –Augustine of Hippo
My counselor has helped me reconnect with my emotions. He told me, knowing my backstory, that anger is a normal, healthy response. The key is deciding what to do with the anger going forward. In my case, I write. Writing is cathartic, while at the same time it gives a voice to those who have had similar experiences.
I think I am, on most days, in a pretty good place emotionally. It’s been almost 20 months since I started blogging again. As you know, that’s a record. 🙂 And it is also healthy emotional progress.
I’m glad you are doing well emotionally. And I’m glad you’re blogging, although that’s selfish as I enjoy reading your stuff. 🙂
I love what you said here Bruce. After deconverting, anger was an emotion that I started feeling a lot of, as you know what I am talking about. As a prior believer, you could not be angry, it was expected that we should forgive. As an atheist, I found this powerful emotion to be a very healthy and normal response and I began to embrace it while dealing with the issues that caused it. Especially the God and religion issue and so many issues that resulted from my experiences with religion. Thank you for writing, I relate with so much of it, even personal family issues. Maybe I should start a blog too, I have some stories I could tell, whew.
Mark, you are an emotional dud. I say that lovingly. You don’t understand that human beings need to feel openly and be honest, not fucked up Christian people who deny emotion and say, Jesus! instead of naturally feeling what is human. Forgiveness is something that might happen, that can happen naturally but is not just decided on…. in fact, your denial is similar. You deny the human need to feel as it comes and goes but want to harm yourself by giving it to gawd or some such nonsense. Your feelings are yours to feel and live through. Just say no to Baptist drugs!
My mother had a vindictive and evil sister who made her life hell. It took a long time and a lot of convincing, because Mama was taught to believe the old “blood is thick than water” crap, but she finally went no-contact when I was a teenager. Now, Aunt had her own problems… but that’s no excuse to treat anyone as though they’re boot scrapings.
Abusive people don’t deserve to be in anyone’s life.
Bruce, I am so sorry. You did the right thing: nobody should have to put up with that, even from family. Not infrequently, families of choice are a hell of a lot nicer than families of origin. You’ve already chosen better.
I read your letter to your step-grandmother, Ann Tieken with great sadness. I am sorry that you experienced such pain in your life.
Your letter made me realize that I dodged a bullet with some of my religious family members. Previously, I had assumed that my biological dad didn’t want to know me because he had brain damage from injuries he received as a fighter pilot, shot out of his plane over France during WWII. I had not considered that he might actually believe that “God had forgiven him” for neglecting me. Like you, I received, “Not one word of sorrow or admission of guilt, not even a sorry”. His second wife might only have been following his lead, also pretending that I did not exist, as that was far more convenient than accepting the reality of a step-child. From what I have learned about them, they were capable of inflicting similar vicious, vindictive treatment, had they acknowledged me.
Your claim that you have a hard time forgiving and forgetting suggests to me that you might be going about it wrong. Short of suffering from dementia, I can’t imagine how else you might forget about how your grandparents treated you—and you shouldn’t forget painful experiences, because that’s how you learn not to repeat them.
Forgiveness should be about YOU. You don’t need to receive admissions of guilt or apologies from wrongdoers before you forgive them—and you don’t need to let them know that they’ve been forgiven because it isn’t about them, at all. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the person(s) being forgiven. (Unless they ask for forgiveness, which is a totally different kettle of fish).
It is in your best interest to forgive people because holding a grudge hurts you more than it hurts the person(s) who wronged you. How would you feel if you realized that holding on to how you were mistreated resulted in receiving a diagnosis of cancer, heart problems or anxiety?
You may never know what heinous acts turned your Tieken grandparents into the nasty people they became—they can’t have been the product of unconditional love—however, you must understand that they did NOT become that vicious and vindictive in response to YOU. They were likely responding to treatment they received at the hands of people who were no longer present, or they might have had mental health problems. Exactly why your Tieken grandparents couldn’t show more love is beside the point, just accept that they were broken people who only showed you as much love as they were capable of showing. Assume that they did the very best they could with their broken, maleficent selves, and ensure that you never inflict such pain onto a subsequent generation.
Take care 🙂
I think are reading too much into my post about my relationship with my grandparents. I don’t hold a grudge against them. John is dead, Ann soldiers on, ignoring the great damage she and John did to to others. I made a choice to not have such people in my life. While we all have a backstory, who and what we are and how we treat others is up to us. As I tell my story on this blog, I am not looking to blame others for how things are for me today. I believe in personal responsibility. At any given moment I can choose to act one way or another. The choice is mine. My grandparents knew their behaviors hurt people, yet they chose to continue to inflict damage and pain on their children and grandchildren, all the while putting on an oh how I love Jesus face. Such is the behavior of psychopaths. Dexter comes to mind — blood splatter expert by day, serial killer at night.
By writing about these things, I rob them of their power over me, and I hope, in some small way, help others who may have experienced similar things in their lives.
I think you are also misunderstanding one line in this post: I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. You translated that into me thinking that of myself. I don’t. People wrongly assume that because I choose not to associate with some people that I am angry, bitter, or haven’t forgiven them. That’s not how it works for me. Some people are not worthy of my love, respect, kindness, or friendship. It’s Christianity that taught me that I had to love everyone. Good news, I don’t.
I hope you aren’t suggesting that the some of the health problems I have are due to what you perceive as a lack of forgiveness. While I would readily admit that some of the psychological problems I have are due to my past, most of my health problems are due to genetics, lifestyle. lack of medical care, poverty, environmental exposures, etc.
Thank you for commenting. You might want to invest some time in reading more posts than just this one. I think you will find that I am quite forgiving and longsuffering.
BTW, I wrote this post in 2012.
I will testify to Bruce being longsuffering– after all, he lets me post here. :-p
I can relate in many ways to the Teiken debacle . My American, natal family was/is very abusive. I don’t see them or have any form of contact. This in itself has taken the fire and intensity out of the situation. They feel far away, like being on another planet and I’m at peace where they’re concerned. Also, I am aware of how they got to be that way. For many, no-contact is a matter of safety. Hood for you Bruce, to not allow such destructive relatives near your kids. As for kicking your son, in time Teiken would have done more. He should have done time for what he did to your mother, and for beating his children. By the way, Teiken seems to be a German name, and in German families, harsh treatment of children was normal. At least back then. There’s a book, “German in America,” that describes that issue. My mother’s real father was German and Dutch. He was a scary person who owned nightclubs and liquor stores. We never met him, we were warned not to bother. He too, was violent, and a cold shot. Without knowing of inherited diseases and defects from him, preventive measures are a crapshoot. No doubt John Teiken had to be abused by his own parents and it warped him. He didn’t choose to rise above it and get help. He was proud and unrepentant. He was a flaming hypocrite, and so was Anne. No one adult ever came to rescue Barbara from him, later them. It’s not bitterness. Mark, to bar such people from your life ! It’s just plain horse sense. Toxins people have a diseased mental state,like COVID. Distance is necessary. Anne and others enabled Teiken to be an evil person. Churches enable and even encourage these “Teiken wannabes not yet caught and stopped. So, Mark, and Linda, you had to be called out on defending those low-caliber grandparents. And saying that Bruce is bitter is a joke. He’s not bitter, he’s recounting an era regarding people who were out of control, as well as breaking the law ! If you see such b.s. being done to some child or another helpless person, step up and report it, and follow through.
Re-reading this in 2020 just deepens my admiration and respect for you, Bruce. Thank-you for being brave enough to get help and see a registered counsellor and thank-you for sharing how you recovered yourself, your feelings. One of the deep ironies for me is how much evangelicals talk about emotions, feeling right with Jesus and spreading the joy of the Lord. In fact, they have subverted their true selves in denial and live with their heads buried under a book they don’t care to read very much. In many cases, the ‘Jesus’ does not forgive at all: ‘He’ enables very ugly humans to carry-on tax-free.
I was rereading this while searching for the post that Levi Bullen commented on. I can’t forget what he said about your post, regarding your mother. I want to call him out on his lower-than-low comment. I wish more people would go NC( no contact) when victimized by relatives, instead of suffering needlessly by tolerating the abusers and allowing them into their lives. Churches are huge offenders where this is concerned. They confuse forgiveness with reconciliation, which can be very dangerous. I absolutely believe that having been stymied in getting justice against Grandpa Teiken, ultimately caused your poor mom to take out on herself the fury that should have fallen on Teiken. She should have shot HIM, if anyone. She’d have done herself and the world a favor. That said, NC is always better than enduring abusive relationships and/ or self- destructing. Not enough people know about the perils of neuthetic counseling, so favored by most churches. If you are told to keep a troublemaker in your life because it makes God or that church happy, run like hell and cancel that check.
One of my favorite verses of scripture (please forgive me…!) is Romans 12:18. “If it be possible as much as lieth within you, live peaceably with all men.” I have come to the conclusion that there are some people you can’t live with. I also believe that forgiveness is not an entitlement to fellowship. It’s ok to love someone from a FAAAAARR distance. I identify with this because my ex mother in law recently passed. I can sympathize because she was the mother in law from hell. I read her obituary and I had to ask myself “Who is this woman???” It certainly was not the woman who was instrumental in destroying my marriage. I’m still dealing with the affects of that 26 years after the fact.
Thanks! I appreciate hearing from someone who understands. ❤️❤️
Not sure why your comments always end up in moderation. You are approved to comment, so I’m not sure what’s going. I’ll look and see if I can whitelist your email address.
I figured it was to keep the assholes out. No explanation needed! Thanks for letting me take part!
Well, you are definitely not an asshole. 😂😂