throughout our entire lives we spend every day trying to do “our best”. at least according to the standards we have created for ourselves. we attempt to lessen the sting of our mistakes or the disappointment we feel towards ourselves by rationalizing the choices we’ve made.
we often use the excuse of trying our best in order to forgive ourselves or somehow validate our existence. we expect for the world to accept our trying to be enough. we expect that our biggest mistakes will still be better than never trying. but it’s different when it’s someone else who needs our forgiveness. like an abusive parent. it’s difficult for us to let go of a hurtful past when the ones responsible for all the sorrow are so close to us. the pain chokes us, unable to recognize that in their own twisted way they tried their best, too.
my brothers and sisters tell me that dad was physically and verbally abusive towards them. scenes that have been seared into their memory forever, the inexplicable heartache haunting them to this day. though i never experienced the downright abusiveness of my father, i wasn’t exempt from it entirely. he had other methods with me. i witnessed his wrath from time to time, particularly towards my mother when he became mildly violent. i was six years old. as a result, i grew up being fearful of my father and hating him, even when i didn’t know how to explain what i was feeling. at the tender age of eight when my father asked me if i was afraid of him i didn’t answer for the very reason that i was afraid of him.
but i still wanted to have a relationship with my father, or a father. i envied my friends who had their daddy’s laps to sit on. i longed for the comfort of my father’s embrace. i missed having someone to run to and show my latest trick or discovery. i craved the satisfaction of making my dad proud. i listened out for his powerful baritone voice projecting beautiful, melodious tunes. my dad had been my hero, my person, and when he left the quickness in my step went away too. i so desperately wanted his encouragement, his friendship. it wasn’t until adulthood when i fully realized how much his rejection had destroyed me. and at nearly twenty-six years of age i am still picking up the pieces.
there are people who, like my dad, started life with no real chance at all. they know nothing else except how to alienate people from their lives. dad has spent his life hiding away from the consequences. i don’t know everything that happened in the dark corners of his life, but they made up the person he eventually became. the truth is, my father probably never got an accurate picture of what real love looks like. he grew up feeling like the black sheep of the family. whether those feelings were justified, i do not know. but someone had hurt him so deeply, influencing his capacity from an early age to positively connect in all subsequent relationships in his life.
my daddy issues were real. the absence of a father figure wasn’t the only thing i struggled with, but they were what set me up for almost everything else that followed. not knowing how to deal with it all, i blamed a lot of it on my mom. once i was able to separate my mom from every bad thing that happened in my life, i was left alone with an important truth – i harbored a lot of bitterness towards my father.
i’ve accepted this truth about myself. it’s an ugly truth, something i’m not proud of, but i own up to it. i’ve tried, goodness i’ve tried, to let go and move past the hurt. i want to get to the point that when i think of my father i don’t think of the liar or cheat or fraud that he’s been in the past. instead i want to extend to him the same empathy and acceptance i only hope to be given when i royally screw up.
i say that without discrediting my years of accumulated pain. i find it insensitive when people ignorantly say, “at least you have a dad.” pain is pain. no one can say that not having a father is worse than knowing you have one but doesn’t show up. do people really expect someone to tell them which one is worse? when you’re six-years-old you don’t understand why mom and dad can’t get along. at ten-years-old you try to figure out what it was that you did to deserve for your father to call you dumb and then completely disappear for two years. when you’re too young to have the maturity to process these feelings you grow up with a gaping wound and confusion that you carry into adulthood. once you arrive to adulthood everyone tells you to just “let it go” and to “move on”. but you can’t just drop a half a lifetime’s worth of baggage without first coming to terms with it. in order to move on a person has to understand that abuse, in any form, is never their fault. that even though it hurts it doesn’t mean they were never loved and not everything that happens will have a logical explanation. and that oftentimes those that hurt us have been deeply hurt themselves.
again this year i called my father to wish him a happy father’s day, enduring the five minute conversation that followed. talking to him is always so bittersweet and awkward because i can never think of anything good to say to him that i actually mean. he’s a lonely man and the excitement is quite evident in his voice when i call. i imagine his eyes lighting up with joy for those five minutes we spend chatting about trivial things. it’s enough to make me want to cry.
and yet like every time, in an attempt to remember the less lonely days long gone by, he’ll say, “remember that time when…” and I never remember – because it never happened. and all too easily i remember why it’s been nearly two months since I last picked up the phone and dialed his number. a slideshow of scenes from my childhood play in my mind. i think of all the broken promises, the blatant lies, all of the rejection and belittling, and i’m weaving in between doubt and certainty, lies and truth, hope and sadness.
i guess ultimately what had hurt me the most was my father’s inability to feel for us his children for the hurt and shame he would inflict on us with his words. he was never sorry, and even if we had said awful things back (which we did), the difference was at least we knew. we felt the pain of what we had done. i’m not sure if he ever did.
i’ve never in any way have wished harm on my father. even with all my daddy issues i knew i would be the one out of all of his children to commit to his care the day he becomes too ill to fend for himself. it’s a bit backwards, i know. it’s been hard for me to show him unconditional love during his years of health, yet i wouldn’t think twice about being there for him when old age begins to wreak havoc on his body.
coming from an emotional home, i hold tightly to the few fond memories i have of my dad from my early days. moments that, when i think about it, remind me of the caring father deep down behind all the abuse.
it’s a struggle to get the point where i can look my dad in the eye and feel nothing but pity, but i want to get there. i want to be able to one day take his calloused hands and say with a heart full of forgiveness, “i love you.” i want to be able to set aside my anger and fiercely love the broken and lonely human that he is.
i don’t want the day to arrive when he can’t hear me anymore without having said all the words i need to say. i want to be able to say goodbye without any regrets. i want to be able to create real memories with him so he won’t have to believe the made up ones in his head anymore.
where to even begin finding this kind of forgiveness, i do not know. except to pray for it and, well, try. try for family, for my son, for the possibility of it being worth it someday. if there’s one good thing i can say about my father is that he loves children and his grandchildren are no exception.
it’ll be one of the hardest things that i’ve ever had to do in my life. there will be days when i won’t be able to stand sifting through the crap, but i want to get in the trenches with my dad. we may have had an unpromising start, but i want to make a new ending. God put me in his life for a reason, and i want to find out what that is. if i believe i am more than my past, then i must believe that as long as his heart is beating he is more than his yesterdays too. it may be too late for a new life, but it’s never too late for peace.