Lessons From Growing Up In West Texas

A phenomenon I’ve recently experienced is that geographic location tends to define ideological labels. For example, while in California I’m considered a liberal, in West Texas I’m a communist psychopath. I’ve specified these two locations for comparison because the former is where I currently reside, and the latter is where I grew up.

As you might already be envisioning, my personal creed is significantly contrary to the majority opinions of my hometown. When I was younger I felt isolated by this blatant philosophical divide, and became insecure and frustrated by my family’s inability to relate to my natural conclusions. Today, these differences give me a stronger appreciation for their unyielding acceptance and support. 

I don’t mean to imply that California is my unfaltering beacon of cultural identity. I admire the diversity and enthusiasm of LA, but my move to the West Coast inevitably invoked a few face-palms. My California friends thought my overalls were an ironic fashion statement, I redefined the standards of what I considered a financially reasonable happy hour, and I quickly learned to be suspicious of unidentified brownies. After watching one of my hometown friends save up for six months so she could finally see the ocean, it was hard not to scoff at a West Coaster when she complained about the Malibu beaches not meeting her aesthetic preferences. 

West Texas is on the other end of the cultural spectrum. In complete stereotypical fulfillment, I grew up participating in rodeos, singing Johnny Cash, and going to church three times a week. Some of my most defining moments were experienced at high school football games, and the best days of my life were spent at the lake with friends. Despite these positive associations, I still feel the urge to bang my head against the metaphorical wall of conservatism when I try to voice an opinion outside the typical norm. 

I adore my hometown and all of its bible-belt charm, but I don’t intuitively mesh with the culture. Somehow in the midst of my conservative upbringing, I turned into a democrat, a vegetarian, an outspoken feminist, and an LGBT advocate. Call it a symptom of my early twenties, but I have experienced cultural detachment from my inability to align my personality with my background. Incidentally, my small-town family and I have fundamentally different world views. 

Now, I’m not saying my family is painfully old-fashioned. After all, my grandparents recently switched denominations from Church of Christ to Baptists, totally breaking the mold of their upbringing in a full-on elderly rebellion. However, it’s fair to assume that my unconventional spirit and left-wing agenda are far from what they had in mind while I was being raised in a classically conservative home. Regardless of our divergent lifestyles though, my family genuinely loves me unconditionally, without hesitation or compromise

Many experience harsh rejection with the development of their opinions; I’ve seen families drift and parents label children a lost cause. It’s easy to love your offspring when they fit demographic expectations, but tolerance is tested when a child completely breaks the atmospheric mold and fails to adapt to an anticipated lifestyle. 

Although others in my community have made comments that I have “gone off the deep-end,” my family happily acknowledges my path as a unique road to personal happiness. They not only endure my offset principals and various rants about the GOP, they embrace my differences as an essential component to our family dynamic. 

There is a profound lesson here that I have experienced firsthand: cultural acceptance does not require universal agreement. Claiming to accept someone while passively still hoping for a change in their lifestyle will only isolate a family member and weaken the unit as a whole. I’m incredibly lucky in that my family makes a conscious effort to ensure I feel connected to their world, even if my opinions are outside the traditional standards of my upbringing.  

I am beyond grateful for the distinct phases of my life. Having a conservative family has provided me with a level of insight and understanding for alternative views. I naturally have the ability to cultivate a diverse group of friends and instinctively respect opposing beliefs. My background makes me feel grounded and whole because my opinions have been at the other end of the spectrum. 

The most valuable lesson I learned from my family is to truly accept every aspect of a person. From their love, I have formed my identity, and I hope to instill in my offspring an array of values I learned from my youth. No matter what my children decide to be (yes, even if they become Republicans), I will unconditionally show them love. TC Mark

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