The Dad I Never Had

Dad and me

 Father’s Day is almost here. Sons and daughters will stand in line with cards and gifts in their hands. Cards that tell their dads how much they mean to them.

Others will barely make it through the day, thinking about how they no longer can give their dads a Father’s Day card. Just wanting the day to end as well as their grief.

There will be some people who never had a dad they could remember. Year after year they endure the day and basically wish it never existed.

And there’s yet another group. A group that had a dad, but didn’t. He was there. but not in the way a dad should be.

Our Dad was absent though present. I have memories of him sleeping in his chair in front of the television set.  My more vivid ones are of him whipping out his belt and taking off after us. I’d him yelling things no person should ever hear. My siblings would be crying in their bedrooms and I cried knowing I was next. It never occurred to me that he had a problem. He was a rage-aholic. I honestly thought we were bad.

Then our mom died when I was sixteen years old. That’s when our family fell apart. She was the glue.

One month after mom was gone my brother Gus sat having lunch with my dad.

“Dad, did you know the night Mom was sick she called Anne and Anne didn’t go?”

I froze as my father’s eyes narrowed. With his finger extended he said, “It’s your fault your mother’s dead.”

And at sixteen, I believed him.

It’s hard living with someone who blames you for your mother’s death. Impossible really. Eventually my guilt was too much to bear. I left home and lived with an aunt.

Then months later, maybe even a year, my sister called.

“Anne, you need to come and see Dad. He’s got cancer.”

I managed to get the words out,” I can’t come.”

“Anne, you already regret not going to Mom. Don’t do it again.”

As impossible as it was to imagine seeing my dad, she was right.

So the next day I walked the long hall at Veteran’s hospital. What would I find when I got there?

The years had not been kind to him. He looked a lot older than fifty-two.

“Annie” he said with a smile when I walked in his room.  ” You came. But why do you look so mad?”

“It was not my fault she died,” I stammered.

“I know,” he said quietly.

He knew? He knew but didn’t bother to tell me?

I let him talk and was surprised when the words came, “I’m sorry I wasn’t a good father to you.”

The images of him chasing us with his belt, his eyes wild with rage flooded my mind. But instead I pushed those images out and instead saw the man before me.

There was no belt in his hand now. And he was beaten himself, by this cancer.

At that moment, God softened my heart.

I looked at my dad and responded, “You did the best you could.”

Words I had not planned on saying. But words that nonetheless needed to be said.

Reaching down I kissed the cheek of my dad. The one who said to my sister and me when we were little girls, “Make your legs stiff,” as he lifted us high into the air. With our dresses tucked in out underpants we felt like we were beautiful ballerinas that owned the world. With arms out to the side we smiled so big.

I wish things had been different. I wish I felt loved and nurtured by this ballerina lifter, but I didn’t. And yet, God gave me an opportunity for reconciliation.

My dad apologized for the first time ever. Our last conversation was our best.

The next day my father died.

So on Father’s day I hold onto the memory of me lifted high in the air. And like others I miss my dad. The dad I never had.

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10 thoughts on “The Dad I Never Had

  1. Anne I feel sad reading this and am amazed at your forgiveness I some times wonder why so many people as children go through such pain. I am glad he admitted to you he was wrong it must have been a heavy burden for you. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you have a wonderful sunday.

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  2. Kath,
    Thanks for reading. I had spent the morning writing a few poems about dads and I noticed I was slipping down emotionally. Then I saw a blog someone posted about their dad and there it was again more sadness. I think writing it was facing it. God was gracious to have let me hear the words my dad told me. Honestly, there have been layers of hurt I’ve had to go through and will go through as far as my dad. But the more I try to understand his side, the easier it is for my heart to soften. It’s when I hold onto the belief that what he did was intentional and deliberate that I have a harder time. Our image of God is connected to our image of our earthly dads. And that would prove to be a problem for me.

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  3. Anne, this is so sad and yet so lovely all at once. Sad that you didn’t have the love and nurturing from your father that you should have, yet lovely that there was reconciliation in the end. Only our Lord can bring us to the place of forgiveness and/or understanding where healing can take place. May you hang on to the memory of the daddy who lifted you high. And may you allow the Daddy who continues to lift you high heal your heart completely. Grace and peace to you this weekend.

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  4. Sorry Anne, for commenting only now. Maybe it’s for the best. I don’t have words to say I’m sorry. That cute little dark haired girl in the swing. The little girl with the serious eyes, poised for flight. Did you notice? And the man with her. Who I now know did what he did. I will never understand, how could he.
    You are a thousand times better than he is. Because the love of God shines in you.
    It’s much better not having a dad then. Sad as it may seem.
    Know that your tribe, family and friends are there for you and they love you.
    Pxx

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  5. Patricia,
    I think our fathers teach us. Some teach us by the good example they set. They show us how we could be. But the other fathers teach as as well. By providing a picture we never want to duplicate. And God steps in. Someone who sees us as we are and loves us just the same. If our father loved us then we gravitate towards this one who reminds us of our earthly father. But if our earthly father for whatever reason did not treat us well. Then we struggle to trust. And we are puzzled by this heavenly Father who says he loves us. But if we do decide to trust God. He draws us so close and holds us in His everlasting arms. I want people to know how much God loves them. There are many people out there who have a hurting child inside.

    Thank you for your comment and even more, for your friendship. I value that so much.

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