10.30.2005

Daddy's little girl

Megan, I'm sure you know the story of me & my "dad". If not, I'll give it to you in a nutshell.

He was a not-so-great guy. Drug and alcohol abuser. My mom divorced him when I was three. He would never show up for visitation when he was supposed to. When he did take me to visit I would spend the whole time watching him and his friends getting high. He was belligerent and obnoxious most of the time. But yet I kept hanging on. I craved the relationship that only a father can give his little girl. But when I was 16 there was an episode where he became over-the-top nasty and verbally abusive towards me. He said things to me that made me tell him that he might as well scratch my name out of his brain because he would never see me again. And he didn't. At least not until I was about 28 and I found out that he had done so many drugs that he had a stroke and was in a nursing home paralyzed and could hardly speak. The only word they could make out was my name. He kept begging to see me. So through my aunt I worked out the details of going to see him. I made sure that it was clear to him that if he even thought about saying anything rude, crude or hurtful to me or my children that it would be the last time he ever saw me. I was so afraid that getting close to him would hurt me. Again. Well, I went. He was wonderful. It was heartwrenching to see him so broken, but we made peace. After that I was ok with him. I even entertained the thought of trying to get close to him at times.

What actually happened, though, is that I realized I no longer had all of that anger in my heart towards him. I figured out that he just didn't know how to be a better dad. He didn't have the resources when he was little. When you know better you do better, and unfortunately it was too late for him. He could barely speak, couldn't move. I learned a big lesson from that. I began to honor him in my heart as my father and release him from his debt to me. I didn't want to be a debt collector anymore. I wasn't going to make him pay by punishing him with my resentment or anger. I forgave his debt and released him. Releasing him, though, didn't necessarily mean allowing him back into my life on a regular full-time basis. I had been happy without him there. I had a step-dad that loved me and had treated me like his own. He was the only grandfather my kids ever knew. He was the one who walked me down the aisle at my wedding.... not my real dad. I realized... big time... that family is who you choose. DNA is a biological fact, not a relationship.

Staying away from him (not hating him or being bitter, just releasing myself of the responsibility I felt to have a relationship with him and accepting relationships from the people who actually wanted to be there) was actually the best thing I ever could've done for myself. I certainly wouldn't even be a shadow of who I am today. I doubt that I would be a Christian. I know I probably wouldn't know any of you. The legacy of that dysfunction had to stop, and I decided that was one tradition I refused to pass on to my children.

My Dad died two months ago at the too-young age of 57. Parts of me still ache so bad for the loss of the relationship that was my birthright. But it was so much better to not have any relationship at all than to have a wounded, dysfunctional one. I mourned for him so much harder than I ever thought I would. It's really hard to explain, but for the first time in my life I could get even the slightest glimpse of what it would've been like to have a "normal" relationship with him. People that didn't know him or our story would call me or come up to me and say "I heard about your Dad and I am so sorry." or "I saw your Dad in the paper... how are you holding up. I've lost my Dad too." On and on. They didn't know we weren't close. They didn't know the wounds he had caused. They just knew that a little girl had lost her daddy and they wanted to mourn with me, and for the first time in my life I didn't have to explain. I always got the questions... "why don't you have a dad?", "wow your dads bad", etc. I was in a nearly constant state of embarrassment about my relationship with him and for the first time in my life.... I didn't have to be anymore. People didn't know the ugliness behind the obituary and they simply mourned with me. They allowed me to mourn. Without conditions or excuses. Without making me feel like I didn't have as much right to mourn because after all I wasn't all that close to him anymore. As I looked at him laying in the casket I felt so many things. My heart broke. I wept. But it also made sense to me. He was just a broken little boy. That day I saw him in the nursing home and could see the love in his eyes towards me showed me that he did truly love me.... he just didn't know how to love me. He didn't know how to be a good dad and he didn't (when I was growing up) have the resources to know how to change.

Before Pastor Hughes died he went to the nursing home to visit my Dad. Because of the stroke he could barely speak, but they were able to have a conversation about my dads salvation. He shared how he had come to know Christ in the nursing home and I know that the new light I had seen in his eyes when I visited was because of that. Only Jesus gives that light.... if you're a Christian you know exactly what I'm talking about.

So my point is this.... Don't hate your real dad... honor him, forgive him, release him. That does not in any way mean that you need to have a place for him in your daily life. It really is better to have no biological father in your life than to have an unhealthy relationship with one. Not only for you, but for your husband and your children. Accept as gifts the men that God has placed in your life that actually have a desire to be there. Men who have taken you in as their own and treated you well. And be good stewards of those gifts too.

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