This is not a post about Father’s Day
It seems that Father’s Day is coming up. Everywhere you look, you see signs and endcaps promoting gifts for “Dads and Grads” (aren’t these advertisers clever with their little rhyming wordplay?). Father’s Day has always been a little difficult for me. My relationship with my dad has never been described as “close” in any way, shape or form. Any holiday which may involve me giving my dad a present would involve criticism of whatever I gave him or a pouty guilt trip if I didn’t get him anything. Exactly once in my memory did he graciously receive a present from me – some Jacques-Yves Cousteau-esque DVD set. I can’t express just how relieved I was with his reaction. No, not happy, pleased, proud, etc. I was relieved, because for once he didn’t take advantage of me reaching out to tell me how I just didn’t measure up.
I don’t presume to have had the worst childhood. I am not saying that my dad was some sort of monster, that he locked me up in closets and burned me with cigarettes, molested me or anything truly horrendous. There are too many children out there who endure exceptionally tragic abuses at the hands of their parents and I was not one of those people. I learned at a very young age, though, that my dad wasn’t exactly in my corner. I struggled from the age of 7, at least, with a thought which I finally verbalized when I was about 10 or so – “I hate my dad.” I cried over those words until probably 16 or maybe even later. I simply couldn’t reconcile the ideas of family and “Honor thy father and mother” and “Daddy’s little girl” with what was going on in my house. Little girls are supposed to love their dads, not hate them. So what was wrong with me?
Recovery has been an awesome tool for helping to work through all the memories rife with resentment, pain, loathing, betrayal, sadness and any number of negative emotions. Over the past five years, I have had to face the damage caused by my own mishandling of this and other relationships – of the internalizing of false truths and all the over-actions and over-reactions that have soured good relationships and made bad ones even worse. As I have grown, I have approached this issue with my dad from many different angles armed with new understanding. At different times, I have avoided, confronted, and reached out to my dad in a number of ways. Today’s philosophy is one of doing nothing until I know what the next right action is. The last time I saw my dad was November 9th, the day before my wedding. He picked a fight with my then-fiance over preparations for that evening’s dinner party with all the in-laws, then threw a hissy fit and boarded a plane home (threatening to walk to the airport). Again, I was relieved. I had been so afraid, wondering if I should have him walk me down the aisle or what sort of scene he would make in front of all my friends and family. Sad to say, we had a beautiful, happy, wonderful wedding, free from drama without him there. He has not attempted to contact me about any of this (or anything else, since then). I am just at a loss and taking it as a sign to respectfully maintain distance from each other. We do what we can to make amends; we don’t hang ourselves up on crosses for people who are unwilling to make an effort, no matter who they are.
I believe it was three years ago on Father’s Day – I was feeling sorry for myself that I had such a difficult relationship with the king of “Do as I say, not as I do”; this man who once told me that everyone teaches us things – some teach us what to do, some what not to do – and that he was willing to provide all the examples of what not to do. Biggie and I had gone out to eat with some friends after a meeting. One of the men had kids our age and had provided some great wisdom and laughs to both of us (and still does). He was the first person I called when Biggie had his nervous breakdown and needed to be taken to the hospital and he has given me fatherly counsel on many occasions. We arrived at the restaurant and found ourselves seated right next to my ex-mother-in-law and her husband. These two took me in when I was brand new sober and Bobby was in jail. They provided a roof, good food and great Christian instruction, taking me to church and introducing me to Theophostic Prayer which has aided my recovery immensely. Many nights, we would stay up in deep, loving conversation. Today, even though Bobby and I don’t speak, they still treat me like their own daughter.
So here I sit at dinner on Father’s Day, with these two men who are exactly what my dad is not. And I am feeling very, very sorry for myself. Until I realize… these are two men who are exactly what my dad is not. These men have treated me just like I always thought a father should treat his daughter and they have shown me what a healthy relationship should look like. Over the past few years, they have been more fathers to me than my own father ever was. They didn’t have to do that, but they did so joyfully and how blessed was I to be sitting alongside not one, but two fantastic father figures on Father’s Day?
But this is not a post about Father’s Day.
What I really want to talk to you about is all the amazing transformations I was witness to at retreat this weekend. But these are not my stories to tell. Yes, I had my own exceptional experiences which will forever leave me changed, but even these are not my own to tell. However, there was one moment Friday night which sort of summed up the whole experience for me. I stood in the center of the chapel with no immediate need to do anything or say anything. I just had to be there. The air was electric with this overpowering sense of love, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation… it was as if all the air in the room had been sucked out and replaced by the Holy Spirit. The joy was truly palpable. This was not MY moment. My moment had happened before I left home, when I lay on my bed and screamed at God that I was tired of trying to make things work. No, this moment was for everyone else. But I was allowed to witness it and it was all I could do to just stand there and smile. I closed my eyes and breathed in the power all around me, grateful to simply be a part of it all. Yes, truly happy to be the tree standing at the back of the stage.
For so many years, I lived in resentment of people who had great relationships with their parents; girls who were effortlessly thin and beautiful; high school graduates who took a year off to just travel the world before settling down into college and career…. I have always wanted to have it all. So often, some other’s success was met with my own envy and criticism. It’s still something I struggle with often. This weekend, though, I finally felt the true meaning of community. I was able to live vicariously through the miracles all around me… and that was my own miracle. I didn’t have to try to be the center of the universe – because I already was. These were not MY experiences, but there they were, played out in front of me and I at the center of it all… or at least standing at the back of the stage in my little tree costume.