One of my goals in childhood was to encourage and bless my father, a man who had been through his share of pain, disappointment and ‘hell’. Not only had he been through it, he passed it on to his family and never learned how to consistently rise above the tragedy of his earlier years. He made progress but mostly after his children had left home and most of the relationships were quite estranged.
Why would I write this on Father’s Day? Is it to dishonour a man who was broken, angry, bitter and difficult? Not at all! My father was all of those things and more but I share these details only to lay the groundwork for something better.
For all the imperfections, faults and even wickedness my father brought into my life, the one thing he brought was authenticity. I never felt like my father pretended to be something he was not. When he was evil, uttering death threats and violently beating or whipping his family, there were times that he may have justified the ‘punishment’, but I always sensed remorse. Yes, that is the cycle of abuse, violence and remorse, violence and remorse, on a never-ending merry-go-round. Still, when he said he was sorry, I forgave him instantly. I was confused by his inability to control his emotions but I forgave him.
Like every other child I wanted my father’s approval but because his life was so empty, he seldom had encouragement to offer, seldom a word of empowerment. Instead it seemed I played the role of building him up and trying to make him feel better.
In the two years leading up to his death, I had numerous opportunities to spend time alone with him in the hospital and talk at a heart level. It was during these visits that my father blessed my life in ways that no other man could have, because no other man was my birth father.
On one visit to the hospital my father shared with me that he sees our children and how happy & healthy they are, even mentioning that our girls could read well at a young age, and he asked. “How do you and Tim do it? You give your children so much, when we gave you so little!”
I took that opportunity and shared vulnerably with him. “Dad, I started off the same way you did. I was angry and my children were in my way. One day I yelled at my 2 year and the rage I felt terrified me. That day I went to my ladies Bible Study group and told them I need help.” I went on to explain that I chose to forgive him, I stopped trying to be better than him and started focusing on being the best I could be. I learned to apologize to my children when I was wrong, when my anger was out of control and I kept myself accountable, continually inviting mentors into my life to walk me through the pain. However, I credited forgiving him for what he had done as the one thing that released me and helped me overcome rage with my own children.
My father wept as I shared this with him. He honoured my husband, Tim, speaking highly of what he had observed and saying how thankful he was that I married a good man. He blessed and encouraged me by sharing how pleased he was with the direction my life was headed. This especially impacted me because we were in the process of leaving their religious denomination and I didn’t know if he’d be okay with that. Even in this he observed that religion—meaning acts, rituals and ‘trying to attain favour with God’—had done nothing to better him. He pointed out that it was a revelation of God’s grace and mercy that had set him free. He encouraged me to stay focused on God and make that the main thing, not any particular religious denomination.
Those days with my father changed my life. While the memories of childhood trauma, fear and pain will always be part of my life, it is the few words of blessing that more powerfully impacted me. Still, I embrace the whole story, from beginning to end.
God has redeemed the abuse by empowering me to let His healing flow out of that pain and has given me an identity that goes deeper than experience. Ultimately it is His blessing that encourages me and what He thinks of me that defines me. He is the very essence of what a father’s love should be.