Being quite honest, I wasn’t always able to say, “I love my dad” . The road was actually long to being able to sincerely speak the words, “I love my dad”. There were many years that I was petrified of him and no, I don’t use the word “petrified” lightly, but it is the only word that really works.
Actually I’ve only mentioned my dad once or twice over the years while writing Our Place because for a long time it all felt just way too vulnerable. But truth-be-known I’ve written this post in my head many times in the last couple of years and still never followed through because it was actually too painful and would seem to expose some pretty tender spots from my growing up years. Yet, this is my story. There’s no denying it and there’s no pretending. It’s just the raw, painful reality.
So why am I finally sharing this part of my past? Well because I feel strongly that several out there need to hear this wee snippet of my story…this part that I’m opening my heart to share.
With a deep breath, here goes….
Growing up in my dad’s home was traumatic (to say the least). Throughout the days and even more so in the nights I would hold my breath waiting. Evenings and nights held terror like none other and that meant I truly didn’t sleep much at night.
Friends, if you grew up with parents who loved you, you were indeed blessed – spend time with them and tell them how grateful you are. If you grew up with parents who not only loved you but told you so, you were infinitely blessed – spend time with them and tell them how grateful you are. And to my friends who didn’t grow up with either of those scenarios, but rather without parents who expressed love but actually were abusive, you will likely understand this more than most.
Backing up, when I was a little girl I asked Jesus to come into my heart and forgive me of my sins. And to this day, I am sincerely convinced that that early-age relationship with Christ and the ability to whisper to Him at any time throughout my painful days and terrifying nights is what literally kept me alive. He was always there with me and I whispered to Him all day and throughout the hours that I would lay awake at night.
More than anything I wanted to please the Lord with all my heart yet when I was about thirteen I began to develop unforgiveness, resentment and even animosity toward my dad. I just couldn’t fathom his treatment of me and eventually built some pretty big walls around my heart. Probably many would say my unforgiveness toward him was reasonable on my part and completely justified. After all, it’s easy to think that if he did “such-n-such” to you then it’s natural to not forgive him, even possibly acceptable to hate him and appropriate enough to never speak to him again. But the reality is that we all are capable of sinful behavior and I am/was no exception. Trust me, over my lifetime I’ve done my share of sinful stuff. Yet God was so gracious and merciful to me and forgave me whenever I asked Him to.
Fast forward a couple of years to when I was nineteen and preparing to marry…in God’s generous mercy, love and kindness, while preparing to marry Dw I heard a man speak about how a woman would likely treat her husband if she hadn’t forgiven her dad. Well that hit me straight between the eyes! I was completely convicted.
Of course, I knew very well that I hadn’t forgiven my dad because my heart still held the long list of things he had done to me. In fact, I’m very ashamed to say but to my very closest of friends I actually referred to him as “my mother’s husband” even though he is my birth father. Yet after hearing that man speak and looking toward my upcoming wedding day I knew I did not want anything to interfere with my love, respect and relationship with Dw. I also really did not want my walk with Christ to be compromised any longer.
That man’s Biblical teaching motivated me to want to speak to my dad as fast as I could. I prayed hard about it because in reality I was terrified to even talk to him, let alone about something so difficult.
No doubt, from the time I was a little girl I had wanted the relationship with my dad to be healthy but after all the years of pain I really didn’t even know where to begin and of course he was still perpetrating abuse toward me. It’s hard to heal in the middle of ongoing verbal, emotional and physical abuse.
So after much prayer I went to talk to him. Trembling I began, “Dad, would you please forgive me for anything I have ever done to hurt you?” What happened next I wasn’t prepared for and that will have to wait perhaps till one day when I publish my life story, but suffice it to say that it didn’t go like I had prayed, dreamed, planned or hoped. Yet in the midst of it all, at that very moment, I felt my heart break for my dad and incredible peace flooded my soul. The Lord allowed me to see my dad as a very broken, hurting soul who perhaps had never dealt with his own painful past.
That day I truly forgave my dad even though he didn’t ask for me to forgive him and his response was less than appropriate. I forgave him even though he didn’t say he was sorry for anything. I forgave him even though his words were painful….in spite of it all our astoundingly faithful God did something so powerful in the supernatural in my heart that words fail me.
God’s gracious kindness had honored my willing soul in spite of the fact that it was pretty much a complete disaster. The words I spoke set the stage for complete forgiveness in my heart toward him. I had been highly motivated because, no matter what, I did not want even a hint of unforgiveness toward my dad to stand in the way of my relationship with my heavenly Father or my ability to love Dw or anyone else for that matter.
Of course, it’s interesting how us humans are. We all long, no matter how old we are, to know that our parents love us and we thrive on hearing them actually tell us so. I realize I’m not alone in this. I’ve heard many tell me when I was a counselor on staff at the churches we pastored that they always had wished their mom and/or dad had told them that they loved them. And although now at my age, I rarely think about it, when I do stop to consider this, my eyes will always well with tears. It’s true. If only.
And yes even as a “well-seasoned” adult, there will always be a part of me that still longs to hear him tell me he loves me – even just once. I’ve talked to the Lord about this at times. It would seem, that at my age, it would no longer matter, yet I confess there is still a quiet longing to hear him sincerely say, “I sure love you Linny. You are my girl.” He said a lot of things over the years but nothing remotely like that.
And now my dad is 92 and has late-stage Alzheimers. He hasn’t known who I am in quite a few years. As surprising as it might be to some, when we are at Dw’s old home place each summer, every few days while we are there, I love to drive to Buffalo to visit him. My dad never talked to me while growing up, maybe hard to imagine, but he never had even a two sentence real conversation with me. He never even said, “How’s school?” or “Did you see someone new is moving in across the street?” – not even once in all my life. But oh how I longed for that. Just a teeny-tiny conversation about the daily things of life.
As unlikely as it would seem, with Alzheimers I have now been given a tiny gift, if you will. When I am in Buffalo, I sit beside my dad and there are some days he actually just talks to me – of course he has zero idea who I am. (And truthfully, with Alzheimers there are days that he says things that are unconscionable and I have to leave.) But on his good days I have been able to ask him questions about his early childhood, which he has sometimes been able to remember. And my questions have sometimes prompted treasured ramblings about being a boy. Some days his mind is not there and he makes stories up – like that he owns the memory care facility that he lives in and is buying another and all the employees work for him. When that’s the case I ask him things in context of his made-up stories – just to hear him talk kindly. Now in his Alzheimer’s-state I’ve treasured the little pretend conversations whether about his childhood or made-up stories because for some reason there is still some quiet comfort in hearing him talk with kindness to me. As expected he always asks who I am and I tell him to which he responds, “You are not my daughter. I never had a daughter.”
Whenever I am with him I tell him multiple times each visit, “Dad, I love you.” And I mean it with all my heart.
And this past summer he met one of his 21 great-grands, little Winston….
And so what’s the point of me making myself vulnerable today?
Well maybe you have a parent who didn’t express love, show love or speak love toward you. Maybe they were in fact abusive. All I can say is that I am so grateful that I chose to forgive my dad that day in 1978. I can declare with all my heart that I have never, ever regretted that decision as my actions coupled with my words set me free to love others and to forgive so many.
Even though the reality is that my meeting way back in 1978 with my dad didn’t change anything in our relationship it did change my heart. Forgiveness is a powerful tool in our relationship with Christ which ushers in His joy, His complete peace, and the incredible ability to generously and purely love and forgive others.
I cannot ever thank the Lord enough for giving me the courage, strength and desire to go to my dad that day and to the best of my ability make my end of the relationship right. It will always go down in my personal history as a pivotal day in my life.
And on that note, perhaps there is someone that you haven’t forgiven. Maybe they were cruel, harsh and hateful to you as well. Maybe they even betrayed you. I pray my personal story will give you the courage to go and forgive that person or persons. You will never regret it. Take the hurt, the heartache, the abusive memories and the trauma that they have caused and gently lay it at the foot of the cross. Jesus died and rose again for us to be free. Let Him set you free from unforgiveness as well.
I love my dad.
I couldn’t always say that. But the healing began on a day in late-June 1978 and I can freely shout, “I truly love my dad.”
PS. The top black and white photo where my dad is looking at me? As I posed for the picture with him, he turned and gave me the sweetest look and questioned, “Okay, now who did you say you are?’ We all smiled. Oh, the incredible heartache of Alzheimers.
PSS…Parents – tell all your kids you love them. Tell them daily. Talk to them about everyday things as well as deep things. Just talk.
PSSS…I wrote this months ago and feeling protective of my dad, I just didn’t have the courage to push the “publish” button. But now my dad is dying and I want all to know how much I love him.