Updated: Jan 10, 2021
Much of the journey I share on here is a reflection of the relationship I had with my father. It wasn’t until I was in therapy, that I realized how much of my story and journey with my dad was unknown by people who really loved and cared about me. It was unknown because it was unknown to me. I didn’t even come to understand he was an alcoholic until I was in my early 20s, and so I don’t always think to share the journey that I had. This blog today isn’t really about my past with my dad, it’s more about finding peace with the imperfections of my relationship to my dad, and understanding the value and empathy it’s offered me in my relationships to others.
My relationship with my dad was very tumultuous, very painful, and very confusing. It wasn’t always clear to me what my dad was going to do, whether he’d show up or not. As an only child, I didn’t have siblings to walk this journey with me. Every once in a while though, I find myself understanding the feelings of a younger child who is accepting behavior from a parent they shouldn’t. Or I’ll understand the emotions of a teenager who just wants to feel loved and important, and would do anything for that type of affection.
I also remember what it was like to sit in a room one evening when I was a young woman and listen to a man share his whole journey of alcoholism and how God healed him from his addiction. I had tears pouring down my cheeks and not one person in the room knew why I was crying because I did a very good job of perfecting my performance in front of people. I didn’t want people to know how broken my life was and I think I was in denial of how hurtful my dad’s choices were.
For the next 20 or so years, I would have my dad come in and out of my relationship and it caused a lot of confusion and conflict for me. I would avoid seeing him with my kids because he’d want to meet at the bar. I would cross my fingers that he wouldn’t say some thing inappropriate or offensive. Near the end of his life, he began to answer some of the questions I had wrestled with for a long time about why he was so absent from me. Nothing prepared me for those blows.
About a year before my dad passed away, I realized I needed someone with me when I would visit him because I was feeling a lot of trauma and pain from our visits. After I’d visit, I’d battle days of anger and depression. My dad was not pleased when I announced my husband would be joining us from now on to go shopping and grab lunch because that meant he’d be limited in how many beers he could have at our meal.
Conversations like that were normal for me. I’d been putting drinking boundaries around myself with him since I first saw him passed out when I was little. This day he went on to say that he didn’t want anything to do with me. I had this conversation with my dad multiple times throughout the course of my life so it was familiar. This time, however, I decided I was going to respect his wishes and made the decision to let him reach out to me. That night I wrote a song called, “Finding Me Gone,” and it was very raw and personal. When I recorded it, it was probably the most unpolished and gritty version of my voice I ever experienced in the booth and yet it was me. People weren’t quite sure what to do with me sounding like that.
There was this whole other side of me that wasn’t a hallmark story. I’d love to tell you that in that next year my dad made the effort to reach out but the truth is he almost died twice throughout the year and both times he requested that I not visit. Believe it or not, I actually understood why he was acting this way because I understood that every time he saw me, it was torture to think it could be the last time he’d see me. People have all kinds of opinions when you choose to honor the wishes of a loved one and I chose to honor my dad‘s request by keeping my distance. I prayed a lot about it and I had peace that I would be able to see my dad one more time before he died. Six months after the last scare of him potentially dying, he fell. The fall resulted in him breaking his hip and having surgery which resulted in him having a massive stroke. A few days later he would cry out my name and requested my visit.
When I saw him he was a shriveled and emaciated person groaning, and I could tell he was just begging to die. This isn’t what they show you in hallmark movies but this was my experience. My dad’s last words that he spoke to me weren’t, “I love you.” My words to him were, but his words were, “goddamn you.”
This is where the story gets interesting because the truth is I actually felt great comfort from those words because I realized if he would have had a change of heart in that last moment on his deathbed, it would’ve meant that maybe there was a chance for things to change. The truth is he had years to change and those words that he spoke are only words God, Himself, can forgive. I was released from all the pressure and all the fear of what it meant to be a perfect daughter to an imperfect father.
Why am I sharing all this? Because I think sometimes we spiritualize or romanticize a circumstance or a situation that just basically sucks. I think it’s awesome when people have miraculous moments where relationships are suddenly blessed and completely free of all the shame and guilt they maybe caused in the past, but that’s not in my experience. I feel like sharing my experience is more powerful and honest than trying to pretend my relationship with my dad was a hallmark moment.
My relationship with my dad was painful. It was a trial and according to Romans 5:3-5, “trials bring perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope; and hope does not disappoint us.” That’s what a face of hope looks like. It’s one with tears and guilt and shame that’s been erased by the forgiveness and power of grace. When I was in my darkest days, I was no different than my father whose words were to damn me. That’s OK, because at the end of the lowest part of myself, I had a small seed of faith. A glimmer of hope in my heart that I could be honest with God that I hated everything about the things He had failed to do in my life. I found the grace to see the power of the hope of forgiveness.
Right now we are in some messed up times and there are days when I just look at friends on Facebook or hear about situations that just seem overtly selfish, and I’m thankful for my lack of a hallmark life. I’m glad God didn’t give me a hallmark ending. That would mean my story’s over and that would mean that there was less for me to pursue in my life.
I want to encourage you to embrace the endings in your life that you may not be pleased with and consider how you can allow God to rewrite your story. Because that’s the hope that we have; that we are living letters, that we are his workmanship, and that we are the redemptive work of his Son. None of the things that Jesus Christ experienced on this earth were hallmark endings, yet they were the beginning of a new day. Jesus understands a life of trials and His Spirit offers to help us in them. So embrace the things that haven’t ended the way you expected and look for the grace in the moment, so you can be a face of hope to rise again.