When I was 15 my dad told me the only reason he stuck around was because of me and my brothers. It’s a moment I will never forget. The day had not been going very smoothly as we were in the process of packing and getting ready to move. I’m not sure what triggered the argument… either he was unhappy that my mom hadn’t been more productive with packing or she was just emotional. Irregardless they had a knock-down-drag-out argument. The kind where my mom would be sobbing uncontrollably and my dad would storm out of the room and play the “silent” game for hours. (On really bad occasions the “silent” game would last for days.) Anyhow, I managed to come upon my dad and his “silent” treatment sitting in the dark of our basement. I asked if he was OK…more of an obligatory statement than a question…and that’s when he dropped the bomb on me. “The only reason I stay is for you and your brothers.”
My parents had lots of explosive arguments. I’m sure both sides felt they had a legitimate point. Unfortunately, my dad lost his “right to a legitimate point” by having an affair. He had several affairs. His current marriage is to a woman he began seeing several months prior to leaving my mother.
My dad’s leaving left a horrible scar. It wasn’t just that he left, it was how he left…by the light of the moon, essentially. My parents were once again moving and my mom stayed back so she could sell our house; while my dad rented an apartment in the state to which they were moving. I had been married and living on my own for several years. My youngest brother was finishing up his senior year in high school. My brother came home to a half-emptied apartment and a note telling him when the bills were due. We were further told the only way to contact my dad was through our uncle. Unbelievable.
Growing up, my dad’s approval was the one and only “pat on the back” I sought. You know those times when you have to stand in front of a crowd and sing a song, give a speech, recite a line, etc.; and you look for that one face in the crowd? I was always happy to see my mom, but my dad’s face was the one I was looking for. Did he approve? Did he like what I did? Garnering my dad’s praise was like earning the Nobel prize. He was guarded when he doled out the praise, but when he did, you knew you’d done a good job as he wouldn’t just give you a pat on the back for anything…it had to be only for a job well done. My dad and Lee Iaccoca were two peas in a pod.
It has taken some time to move away from always needing his approval. I don’t speak to my dad these days. When he left, he blamed me for tainting my younger brothers’ point of view of him. (As if they were stupid and couldn’t draw their own conclusions from his poor behavior.) My dad felt justified in how he left my mother and tried to use the Bible to prove his point. He made it clear that my brothers and I are to forgive him and forget. (As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the only person who can forgive and totally forget is God. Our job is to forgive…we need to leave the forgetting to God) A few years back, my dad and I tried to develop a relationship. He apologized for what he did and we traded a few emails. Unfortunately, my dad is very much into the transaction. In other words, I did “this” for the relationship now you do “that.” That isn’t a relationship, that’s a transaction and will end up in an exhaustive race as both parties try to make sure they’ve done their share to keep the relationship alive. That’s hell.
I miss my dad but I don’t miss that feeling of inadequacy…that feeling that I can’t be whole until I’ve been specially approved or sanctioned by my dad. I’ve come to understand that we do not have to be a product of our childhood. I’m not shackled by my dad’s mistakes nor do I have to surrender to any mental prisons because of emotional abuse. I’ve learned that honoring your father and mother isn’t easy but it’s Biblical. Words fail me in describing how I struggle with that concept. However, I know the Lord has provided me grace. I love how Psalm 68:5 describes God as a “Father to the fatherless.” In the end, my relationship with my dad is not a “badge of courage” that defines me. Instead, I’ve come to understand the strength that grace has afforded me…the ability to let go and forgive my dad. To understand that it is OK for me to be broken and need healing. To feel the arms of my Heavenly Father and know that in my brokenness I am enough.