As a young teen, and pre-teen, living under the iron fist rule of my father, in a house filled with hate, violence and death threats, I used to imagine what it would be like to not have parents. What if they died, and left us to be orphans? My older sister, Anna, would be quite capable of running the household. She had practically done it by age eight or nine. My other sisters would help, and my older brothers would manage the property. We’d be okay.
My parents usually did the grocery shopping together, for two reasons. One, because mom couldn’t drive, and the other because dad had to control the grocery money. During the worst times, I watched them drive out the lane together, and prayed a guilty prayer. I’d request a two things of Almighty God, one of which was not noble.
“Dear Heavenly Father…” I would begin, like any other prayer, and then continue with a deep, desperate plea, begging him to make my parents ‘Christian’, to be sure they both accepted Jesus. And then my prayer would wander into survival, and trying to feel noble, for my intent, I would suggest that maybe they could hit a bridge or run over a cliff and both go to heaven. In essence, I felt as if I was asking God for a mercy killing.
It was traumatizing to live a life of constant fear. And the worry that one or both of my parents might die and go to hell for what they did, added pressure and trauma of another sort. I had no confidence, if they apologized, that things would ever change. We had gone full cycle too many times for me to have any faith in that bringing about any kind of lasting change. My prayer was the only way I knew to take care of it, once and for all.
There was one other option that several siblings and I had discussed, that we felt might be effective. But the risk, should we get caught conniving such a thing, was too big. It could potentially cost us our lives.
My father had an ungodly fear of ghosts, in the sense of ‘divine messengers’. And his ‘reverence’ for God presented itself more as debilitating fear.
One evening I, and my three siblings next older than me, started scheming of a way to use this to bring dad to full repentance and transformation. We would need one of mom’s galvanized steel tubs, some rope and a large white bed sheet. One of us would have to be the ghost, and sit in tub. We would attach ropes to the handles of the tub, and gentle lower the volunteer ‘ghost’ from Wil’s window, which was situated directly above mom and dad’s bedroom window.
The ghost would rap on their bedroom window, swaying gently back and forth, and begin to call dad, in German, by first name, in an eerie, ghost-like voice. We would then tell him to be afraid, very afraid, for the sins he had committed, and to repent and treat his family well, or certain doom would be his. We practised what that should sound like, and laughed until we almost wet ourselves, as we imagined how he would dive out of bed and onto his knees.
By the time we had created the scene, we had released the stress and tension, and never quite had the courage to follow through, which disappointed me terribly. I was ready to try anything to inspire change.
After I moved out at age fifteen, and for many years after that, I tried to imagine how I would respond at news of dad’s death. Would I be relieved that the demons of fearing for my life would finally be silenced? Would I be sad, because there was a side of dad that was fun? And even if we disagreed on just about everything from religion to politics, and everything in between, I enjoyed some of our discussions. We definitely disagreed on prophesy, revelations and end times, something that devastated him, as though he had failed me personally. Would I miss those times? Or would the relief override all of that?
In dad’s last years, as illness slowly killed his body, literally, my terror of him disappeared. At family gatherings, until that time, if he left the table for anything at all, my mind immediately created a scene of him returning with a gun and opening fire. Not once in his healthy years did we get together, without that fear being very present for me.
But as his health declined, and his brute strength gave way to feeble bones, and weak muscles, that fear left. I no longer saw a vile, evil man, but a man destroyed by his own sin. During his extended hospital stays I tried to go visit him several times a week, even though I was pregnant and it was a ninety minute drive both ways.
When it was just the two of us in that room, talking heart to heart, I got to know my dad. He had told me bits of his story ten years earlier, when he was arrested and placed in a locked down psyche ward for uttering death threats. But that was different. In the hospital, in his old age, I heard his heart. His fears. His grief.
We talked a bit about what life had been, at home, when I was younger. He looked at me then, with tears in his eyes, and asked me to forgive him for all the evil things he had done against me.
“I forgave you a long time ago, Dad,” I said. “It’s what set me free from that stuff.” We talked a while longer, and then I left for home.
How times had changed. God answered the prayer to bring dad to repentance for the evil things he had done, but sparing his life.
On February 21, 2003, a beautiful, spring-like day, I was busy washing windows when the call came.
For all that I had imagined, in days gone by, of what I would think or feel, nothing could have prepared me for that moment.
“Your father passed away an hour ago… It was sudden… We think it was a heart attack…”
There was no undoing it. No bringing him back to life to talk about all that had been. No saying, “I love you”, one more time. I had started when he was in the psyche ward, to hug him and say those words. He never knew what to do with it, or how to receive it, and he could never really respond, but that was okay with me. It wasn’t about comfort, it was about overcoming and breaking generational chains.
For several nights after his death I had brutal nightmares, and then they stopped. Nightmares that had haunted me all my life, of fighting to survive against gunshots or knives, stopped. And they have happened but once or twice since. They were over.
But the ‘relief’ never came. The moment of ‘thank God the terror is over forever’, never hit. Only a sad awareness that many years were stolen by sin, and the overruling joy that dad saw it in time, and asked me to forgive him.
Ten years ago today, I lost my father. If I could sit down with him for one more cup of piping hot coffee–so fiercely hot that it has to be poured into a saucer to drink it–there is much I would say that I never had the courage to say then. I would ask more about what happened to his heart, in all that chaos. I would try harder to help him know himself, and find deeper healing. And I’d do it sooner.
In spite of moments, like today, where I remember with an element of grief, I don’t waste time with regrets, rather I try to learn from the past….
I encourage you, parents… Call your children. Get together with them to talk heart to heart. Tell them you’re proud of them. Tell them you love them. And, by all means, take ownership and tell them you’re sorry. That conversation is the key to freedom for you and your children. I can’t promise that it won’t get worse before it gets better. But it’s the risk you have to take, even if you don’t see the reward for many years. Or ever.
And children… Forgive your parents. They are the product of what life did to them, of their own suffering. If you don’t forgive, you will become like them. You will fight it with all that you are, but you will look in the mirror one day and see your dad, or your mom.
Forgiveness is the key that opens a new door, to a new future, a new life. It opens the door for your children to forgive you one day, when you sin against them.
Today that door stands before you. Will you take the key you hold in your hand, and use it?
The song I have chosen today, is a secular one with a powerful message. It has been my theme song, in my relationship with my father, since his passing. I think I listen to it every year, and thank God that dad and I had that conversation in the living years. I apologize if it offends anyone that I, in ministry, would post a secular song, but I unapologetically leave you the message it holds:
Living Years, Mike & The Mechanics
“RIP, Dad. In spite of all things, I have always loved. you. I always will.”
© Trudy Metzger
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