I was born in 1979. Several years before video games became a standard in typical American suburbia and a couple decades before almost every toy was somehow electronic. As a result I spent a good deal of my time in the real world, playing outside and using my imagination.
I was the last of four children. My sister closest to me in age was 11 years older then me. So by the time I even began remembering things at four years old, she was already entering high school. My brother and other sister a couple years older then her.
My parents had done well for themselves in the late seventies, owning their own construction business. Not well enough to be rich by any standards, especially today’s, but well enough to have new cars, a nice home, a motor home and a decent income.
The house I came home to when I was born was a decent sized colonial with a finished basement, a formal dining room, four bedrooms, a good sized backyard and plenty of woods around to explore. We lived on the street at the end of the block, across the street from the back of a golf course, in a neighborhood mostly built by my parents company. My parents were in their mid thirties by then. The house was always filled with interesting things and a lot of little nooks and crannies. From the brick wine cellar my dad built downstairs, to the pool table, to the bar and basement office.
In the back of our house, past our wooden fence, was a big open field square in the middle of the block behind all the houses. My best friend was a little girl in one of those houses. Her father was a brick layer straight off the boat from Italy and a friend of my fathers. I would go out into the backyard, climb to the top of my swingset and yell out her name over the field. Her father had a raspberry garden in the field where we would meet and play and pick fresh raspberries.
I tell you all of this to give you a little background on myself.
My parents were Catholic, but not strict Catholics. We went to church on a fairly regular basis when I was young. I remember Palm Sunday and all the palm leaves. I remember the big stain glass windows. It fascinated me. I was probably four or five years old. My mother was an artist and I remember her big book of Michelangelo’s work. I would go into her bedroom and look through it on occasion. Much of his work was centered on God and Roman Catholic mythology. I was named both after Michelangelo and the Archangel Michael, so my mother told me.
I don’t remember a whole lot from this era in my life, just glimpses, but I do remember it being a loving home and there being much to do. I also remember refusing to eat my oatmeal in front of the ceramic nativity scene my mother had set out around the holidays. I don’t know why, I just didn’t like eating in front of Jesus. It’s kind of funny thinking back on it.
When I was seven years old we moved to another part of town, downsizing to a tri-level house in a more lower-middle middle class neighborhood. The recession in the 1980’s hadn’t been good for business and my father had to go work for someone else. They had to sell the house and downsize everything.
I quickly met the three boys that lived across the street from me. Their mother being of Italian decent and their father of Irish. Another Catholic home. During most of my childhood it became a second home for me. By the late 80’s Nintendo had swept the nation and we spent a good deal of our time playing video games, but also exploring the woods around the neighborhood, building forts and using our imagination. I always had a big imagination.
Of the three boys, my best friend was Tom, the one who was my age. I remember when we were eleven years old, him and I were riding in my parents backseat and talking about the universe and God. We both asked the question “who made God?” It baffled us, it was beyond our thinking at the time. But it was my first real questioning of religion.
Fast forward to my teenage years. I had always been shy growing up. Like many kids I was picked on in school from time to time. Not as much as some kids but the bully that got to me the most was Tom’s older brother, who was a year older then us and always into sports. Things didn’t go so well for Tom and I that year and I got a new set of friends. This was my high school freshman year. We were all guys, we had all grew up in the same neighborhood and had gone to the same school since elementary, but for some reason I had never really met them. Like I said I was shy. But we all shared a love of making movies together and so our friendships caught on quickly.
By the time I was in the middle of high school, somewhere around 10th or 11th grade, the group of us had become somewhat rebellious teenagers. As teenagers do. Still good kids, but we took out our aggression in what we wore, the music we listened to and the things we said. My personal battle was religion and it was my first taste of atheism. Although at the time I didn’t know there was a word for my non-belief. I also don’t remember why I started disbelieving and I don’t think I ever really did at that point. It was something I did more for shock value against the system. I remember taking a creative writing class in eleventh grade and we had to make a physical book of our writing. On the inside of the back cover I had torn out a picture of Jesus Christ from one of my bibles and taped it there. Hand written underneath it were the words “this is not my God”. Lets just say my teacher wasn’t thrilled with it. But she didn’t take it horribly either. I think she just wrote me a note saying “this was uncalled for”.
Also during that year I had talked with my friend Steve who had until that point blindly believed what his parents had told him about religion. He was a Lutheran and his parents and him regular church goers. He took what I said to heart and started thinking about it for himself and since then he’s been an atheist. Some 13 years now. We’re both still good friends.
By 12th grade I relapsed a little bit. I began to see the error of my ways as a rebellious teen and started looking at various religions and beliefs. I read a lot and wrote a lot of papers on my thoughts about God and the universe. I didn’t know what I believed but I was relapsing back into my Catholic roots a little bit.
One night I was lying in bed and began to get freaked out. I could have swore there was a ghost sitting at the foot of my bed. I could feel the pressure at the end of my bed and the cold on my feet. I was lying on my side facing the window and I could feel the pressure move up along side of me to my back. I jumped up yelling “get the hell out of here” freaked out and got out of bed, turned all the lights on and turned on my TV to the religious channel. I stayed up the rest of the night watching it. I told my parents in the morning who both sort of brushed it off, as did I later on.
Sometime later, I had another strange feeling at night, not quite the same. I began to visual the face of Jesus, praying for his help and no calm came over me. So I began to visual God and I realized there was nothing there. God had no face, but this seemed to work and a calm came over me. From that point I started questioning Jesus and whether he really had anything to do with God or any power to help me.
A couple of years later I was still in what I can only describe as my agnostic phase. I didn’t really subscribe to any belief but I wanted to call myself a Christian and I wanted to believe. After sex with my girlfriend one night I lay back and something amazing came to me. I had a vision of God. Before me was a field of grey spheres floating in emptiness. One of them was God and I realized that God was not vain and did not want to be seen as any different then all the others. It was a weird vision and I also passed it off later on as being just my imagination. Like those often strange dreams you have somewhere between sleep and awake.
A couple of years later my girlfriend and I broke up and the following summer I met a cousin I hadn’t met before. She was around my age and big pot smoker. I hadn’t smoked pot in several years but I decided to do it with her as a bonding thing. I reacted like I had never reacted to pot before. I began to freak out. We had gone to a bar and everyone else went inside. I decided to stay outside. I tried falling asleep but I couldn’t, my heart was racing and I was in a panic. I found myself outside the bar in the parking lot with my shirt off because I was so hot and I was on my knees praying to God and Jesus for salvation. It was the closest thing I could imagine to hell and the worst experience I had ever had. But nothing was working, not even praying. I got up and used my cell phone to call 911 on myself. When the ambulance and the firetruck had arrived they were all very annoyed with me and some of the cops were laughing I had called myself in. My cousin and friends ran out of the bar and she tried to convince me that I was having a panic attack and she had them as well. But I yelled at her, I didn’t believe her. So I went with the ambulance to the hospital. After laying for a while and having calmed down, the pot settled and my friends took me home.
Several months later I woke up one morning drenched in sweat and dizzy. My heart was racing, my vision was burred and didn’t know what was going on. I hadn’t taken any drugs and I had no idea what was wrong with me. I called my dad who told me to call the ambulance and I did, they came and took me to the hospital and my dad was quick to arrive shortly after. I was shaking, my legs uncontrollably flying up in the air and I wanted nothing more for them to sedate me. They ran several tests on me and put me on a drip and after sleeping for several hours I woke up feeling a little better, but still kind of dizzy and scared. They told me nothing was wrong with me. I had suffered a panic attack just like the one I had the night I smoked pot months earlier, but worse. I had never known what a panic attack or anxiety was and was scared it could just happen to me without any drugs being involved. About a week later I finally calmed down and within two to three weeks I was totally back to normal. Convinced by my mothers words that sometimes people have them once in their life and that’s it.
Several years later after having my first son Gabriel, my girlfriend was working, and I was home with both her son who was six at the time and Gabe who was about one year old. I had dropped her off at work to barrow her van since I didn’t have a car or a job at the time. But Gabe had a doctors appointment. So I put the two kids in the car and as I was driving to the hospital and began to freak out. It had been years since my panic attack and I thought I would never have one again. I managed to ge the the hospital but was freaking out. I called my girlfriend to have her meet me there. She had to get a ride from someone at work. I was in the ER and things were taking too long. I also didn’t have insurance. I sleep for about an hour in the waiting room and when I woke up I just told her to take me home. Later I went to the doctors. She was very mean, but she was onto something. She told me the depression I had experienced as a teenager had probably turned into anxiety as an adult.
I was really freaked out. I suffered for the next three or four months with a pretty bad case of anxiety. I remember wondering really strange thoughts like what if I had down something against God and was being punished. I didn’t want to think about the big picture or God or anything. It all scared me. My anxiety was rise as a result. So I spend the next couple of years avoiding the topic but still believing in God to some degree.
When I was twenty seven I began to think about it again. I was talking to my friend Josh who was by then an atheist. I remember asking him if the thought of there being no God was scary to him and his reply was no. He said it was actually liberating. I left thinking to myself in a rather smug way about how he was wrong. I wasn’t necessarily a Christian at that point in my life anymore, but I did believe in a higher power.
I thought it was narrow minded of him to believe that there was nothing beyond the physical world. After all science may be able to explain the physical world, but what about where the physical world came from?
But yet I began to think about what he said.
Several months later on March 12th of 2007 my father went to work at age 65 and had a heart attack. I had just turned 28 a month previous. I rushed to down to Detroit to the hospital thinking the entire way that probably told him he needs to watch his diet and take more aspirin. The thought of him dying crossed my mind but I pushed it out because it was a silly thought. When I walked into the hospital, my mother, my brother and my uncle (my fathers younger brother) were all there. My mother was crying and she said to me “Oh Michael, he didn’t make it” I jerked back, I didn’t understand what she was saying. My uncle grabbed me and put his arm around me and repeated “he didn’t make, your father’s dead”. I had to step away and pace around for a bit.
That night s my family was gathered at my parents house I cried to myself outside pacing around in the driveway with a big stick in my hand. I was scared all day I would have a panic attack but I didn’t.
The next day was beautiful out, the weather was warm and sunny. Strange for a March day in Michigan. But then Michigan is notorious for it’s odd weather. As the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.
The next couple of days it had been nice out, but by the time we buried my father in the ground at the end of that week it was freezing out. But I thanked the priest for the service and wanted to believe it all.
I didn’t know what was going on with me. Suddenly my world was on end. Although I had a son of my own who was by then two and a half years old, I still hadn’t felt like a man or a father. But I recognized I was now both. That I could no longer be the son, I had to be the father.
There was a certain sense of liberation in my father passing away. I loved my dad dearly. He was the greatest and most giving man I ever knew. But now he was no longer there to offer me guidance get me out of pinch.
I started to disbelieve in the existence of God entry. Not because of what happened with my dad dying. But by that point several thoughts had sunk in and with my sense of liberation I found myself trying to find my own way. I took to heart what my friend Josh had said and I found both peace and logic in not believing. My eyes felt like they were open, I began to see the world differently. Suddenly things started to make more sense. I was no longer trying to check everything against my beliefs in a God or a higher power. I began to realize that the idea of God was really like the idea of a father. Someone who watches over you and guides you and that some people never want to give that up and take on the responsibility of their own lives for themselves.
Since then I’ve been an atheist. I’ve also been a pretty outspoken atheist, debating mostly with Christians since it’s what I grew up with and know best.
However my mind is beginning to shift again. I’m beginning to feel like there might be something more. I’m not going to return to my Christian roots. I see too much fallacy in that religion. But I’m starting to look at the idea of a higher power or a creator in new ways. Call them pantheist or deist ways mixed with a little science. It’s like an on going search for truth and sometimes it really gets to me and scares me how endless it all is. I wonder if I’d be better off just living my life and forgetting about all of it. But I can’t, I’m too curious.