Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Fear of My Father

Katrina Parker Williams

My father was a Primitive Baptist preacher, and anyone who is familiar with the Primitive Baptist faith would know the word “Primitive” describes succinctly the doctrine of this denomination of faith. Primitive Baptists believe that we are all predestined to be “called” or “chosen” by God. Our names are already written on the Book of Life before we are even born, before we are even conceived as a being in God’s mind.

“Many are called, and few are chosen,” my father would always preach in his sermons. My father was a devout preacher. Elder Carper, he was called, after being ordained to preach the Word of God. My father read his Bible every day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him read another book, maybe the newspaper to see what the weather would be like for the week or to read the crop report, but other than that, he rarely read anything but the Bible. My father was a tall man, six feet, four inches tall and as thick as a running back for the local college football team. He liked sports, but only baseball kept his attention on Sunday afternoons after church. I think sometimes, maybe, he secretly dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player as much as he liked to watch it.

My father was a serious man, serious about business, his family, and especially the church. He believed that in everything he did, God should always come first. He prayed daily. It didn’t matter where he was, if he felt the need to pray, he would. In the grocery store, at the tobacco market, on the tractor in the cornfield. We could hear him praying sometimes in the middle of the noonday, a scorching hot one hundred degrees, and he’d be singing the Lord’s praises. As children, we wondered if he wasn’t suffering from heatstroke or some sort of dehydration.

At night he’d always make us pray at our bedsides, on our knees, because kneeling showed your deference to God Almighty. We’d begin with a simple prayer that we children memorized before we knew our alphabets: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Then we could ask the Lord to answer any prayers we had been saving up all day. My prayer usually asked the Lord to bless my mother and father and sisters and brothers, except when my sisters or brothers angered me. Then I would pray something mean, but my father told me the Lord doesn’t answer prayers made in spite, so I’d ask the Lord to forgive me and to bless my sisters and brothers anyway even though they made me mad. Then I’d end the prayer, “in Jesus’s name, I pray. Amen.” This would be our ritual every night that I can remember growing up in my father’s house.

There were some days during my high school years where I’d skip my prayers at night, my thinking I was getting too old for that. Yet the fear of the Lord prompted me to remember and say an extra prayer whenever I’d miss one. My father would say, “You’re never too grown for the Lord to whip you.”

My father was a man that instilled fear in me, just from his voice alone. He only had to tell me once to do something or stop doing something, and I would. My siblings, however, seemed to test his every word. They failed. Their punishment? A belt whipping. A switching. Or a hand spanking. You’d think after a couple of hand spankings from my father, who had hands the size of a baseball mitt, they would learn to obey him on first call. But noooo. They were hard-headed, my father would tell them. “You need to act like your sister,” he’d say, comparing my well-mannered behavior to their disobedient conduct. Only my obedience stemmed from my fear of him. I obeyed out of fear. The same fear I had of God.

My father fell ill when I was eighteen years old. Well, in actuality, he had a nervous breakdown. We never called it a nervous breakdown. We called it the episode. During that time, being anywhere near crazy was humiliating because, of course, you know people in small southern towns talked. Or better yet, gossiped. No one wanted their personal business to be the “talk of the town.” There was such a thing as southern pride.

We failed to realize that our shame of his condition resulted in our denial of the seriousness of his illness. It was an illness and not an episode. If you think I feared my father before, I truly feared him after the episode. My fear was in the unknown. I had never known my father to ever lose control or to be so vulnerable as to want to take his own life as well as the lives of his children. I never thought of my father as weak. But that day I saw a weakness in my father, humanness, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. I didn’t understand it, so I could make neither heads nor tails of the situation. All I knew was my father had fallen, and I had no idea how to help him regain that stature that had made me fear him with the fear of God. I feared what he had become. What I couldn’t know or understand.


Katrina Parker Williams is an English Instructor who teaches English Composition and Grammar at a community college. Williams is a Barton College graduate with a B.S. in Communications and a Masters of Education in English from East Carolina University. She is also the author of a fictional novel Liquor House Music and publishes writing and publishing articles online. Visit Katrina’s website at for more writing and publishing tips. Email Katrina at for more information.

© Katrina Parker Williams

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012