SALT LAKE CITY – Around the corner from where his exiled father has set up a new life, Gideon Barlow, a castoff from a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border is trying to reshape his own.
And he’s grappling with the trials of a conventional life, worrying about not betraying his old parents while trying to please his new ones – Stacha and Neil Glauser, who took him in last August.
“I am afraid to get close to them and love them because I’m afraid of losing this. I have a fear inside I’m trying to conquer. It’s just been so hard to get here,” Barlow said, choking back tears.
Barlow – the son of polygamist Dan Barlow, banished from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in January 2004 – is one of dozens of a group known as the Lost Boys, who have fled or been kicked out of the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
For decades, they’ve made a quiet exodus from these border towns that are home to the FLDS church. Some lost their faith; others were driven out by parents or religious leaders, often when they rebelled against the community’s strictures. Their plight became more public in the past year as former followers of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs began to speak out about his harsh rule.
Barlow’s story shot to prominence last week during a town meeting on polygamy in St. George, when the Glausers publicly questioned how his 73-year-old father could draw money intended to help minor children. Arizona county and state agencies this week began investigating the allegations.
Dan Barlow, who moved into a St. George home after being expelled by Jeffs, is the father of 71 children, who at the time of his exile ranged in age from 1 1/2 to 53.
Jeffs reassigned Dan Barlow’s wives and children, including Gideon’s mother and his six full siblings, to other men. For a while, Barlow managed to survive. Then his world began to unravel when he clashed with his stepfather over his choice of company – other castoff children – and his trips to St.George to see forbidden movies.
When his stepfather issued an ultimatum demanding that he get in step, Barlow asked for permission to lead a “normal” life. Days later, the stepfather delivered a message from Jeffs: Barlow was to take a new job, leave his mother and go live with an older brother. The boy did as told, but “things kept getting worse and worse.”
Barlow starting smoking, drinking and dabbling with drugs. Last July, Jeffs ordered his brother to kick him out. For a while, two older brothers who had left Colorado City earlier let Barlow crash on a couch at their St. George home. He got a construction job and enrolled in public school.
Barlow said his father signed paperwork to get him in school, but made it clear he was on his own. He had been with his brothers about a month when a woman who helps teens displaced from the twin cities put him in touch with the Glausers, who agreed to take him in.
Stacha Glauser recalled her astonishment when Barlow’s parents willingly relinquished their son.
“It was just not that big a deal,” she said.
Barlow puts it less subtly: “Once you leave or you’re kicked out, no one gives a damn about you.”
But the elder Barlow continued to use his son to claim government benefits, drawing Social Security funds in his name. The Glausers found that out in November, when they had Barlow apply for a Medicaid card so he could get health and dental care.
Social Security allows retirement age people, such as Dan Barlow, to collect a stipend to help support children ages 16 or younger who still live at home. They’re supposed to file reports explaining how the money is used.
In addition to Barlow, Dan Barlow has at least eight minor children living with their mothers in Colorado City. It’s not known whether he has collected Social Security funds on their behalf.
Delia Lasanta, the Denver-based regional communications director for the Social Security Administration, said the elder Barlow’s actions amounted to fraud. Armed with that, Barlow confronted his father. But Dan Barlow refused to hand over any money, saying he needed it to pay off credit cards. Finally he relented, and since November has given Barlow $200 a month.
Meanwhile, Barlow wrestles with his contradicting perceptions of his father, questioning his refusal to help him and his other struggling brothers, while describing him as an “awesome man” who “loves me because I’m his kid.”
When all is said and done, Barlow wants only one thing from his father: “He should treat me like a kid – his kid,” he said.