Forgiving My Father
I've been thinking a lot about my dad lately. Not just because Father's Day was approaching, I've been remembering how much I learned from him and how grateful I am that this man had it in his heart to choose to be my dad. You see, I was adopted when I was only a few months old.
To say my dad was strict would be an understatement. There was only one way to do things, and it was his way. He didn't know how to give constructive criticism, he only knew how to be critical and his criticism was rarely positive. Whatever it was you tried to accomplish, it didn't measure up and he made sure you knew how disappointed he was in you. I don't recall my dad ever telling me he was proud of me or congratulating me for a job well done - even when I would come in 1st place at a music competition or get an A+ on a school assignment.
I was born with a deformity in my hips although no one knew that at the time that I was put up for adoption. When I was 10 years old, a surgeon told me and my dad that I would have to undergo multiple orthopedic surgeries in the hope of avoiding a wheelchair for life. The surgeries were scary and painful and my dad was not exactly the nurturing type. He didn't like hospitals, so he didn't stay long when he would visit. He would get angry if I cried from fear or pain or both and call me a baby if I cried. He would tell me to keep moving whatever it took, and not to give in to this 'hip problem'. After every surgery he would be angry that I still walked with a limp and accuse me of not working hard enough in my physiotherapy. He worried that my hip problem would prevent me from having children, which in turn would mean no man worth his salt would want to marry me. When my dad found out that I had been molested by a family member, he blamed me even though I was only 10 years old when it had started.
My relationship with my dad was turbulent to say the least. We fought a lot. I didn't like how he treated my mom, and I didn't like how he treated us kids. He was controlling and manipulative. I didn't like him calling me a spoiled bitch because I wanted to pick out my own clothes at the store, and I didn't like him calling me a slut when he found out the doctor put me on birth control. Everything seemed to me to come with a cost. I learned very early on never to ask him for anything unless I was prepared to pay over and over and over again. After my mom passed away, my dad was never the same. He was miserable when she was alive, and he was even more miserable when she died.
My dad had a heart attack a year or so after my mom died. He didn't tell me that he had a heart attack, but he described to me the pain he felt in his chest and I knew right away that he had had a heart attack. I urged him to get to a doctor and sure enough, he had six blocked arteries and damage to a small portion of his heart. Despite the anger and resentment I felt towards him, I nursed him through his bypass surgery, and then again a few years later when he developed bladder cancer. Eventually, the cancer spread and ate away at his 6 foot tall 200 lb frame until he was so weak he couldn't walk more than a few feet at a time and spent the majority of the day laying down. He refused to let palliative care come to his house or have a day nurse, so I moved him into my house so I could care for him. The cancer caused a mixture of tissue and blood to leak out the end of his penis, so I had to bathe him several times a day. I can't imagine how difficult it was for my dad to have me bathe him.
I administered all his medications, drained and changed his urostomy bag, and made sure his bedding was always clean and dry. It reached a point where his care was 24/7, so I arranged for him to go into the hospital in palliative care so I could get a full nights sleep. He was furious that I was sending him away to 'that place' where strangers would have to care for him. He glared at me when the ambulance came to pick him up and told me how disappointed he was in me and how awful of a person I was to be treating him this way. I can still remember him refusing to allow the EMT's to help him get to the gurney. He walked out the front door and onto the deck in his diaper to get on the gurney himself. He had lost so much weight that his ribs stuck out. He was a proud man and he wasn't about to let anyone carry him. He died the following day in palliative care.
It took me a lot of years to get to a place where I could forgive my dad and actually feel love again towards him. It's sad to me now to think of how many years were wasted being angry, bitter and frustrated. I had no idea what it was that I had done wrong, or why I never measured up to his expectations. I had accomplished more than either of my siblings, and right up until the day before he died he made sure I knew how disappointed he was in me. No matter what I did, I couldn't seem to please him.
The following year my life was turned completely upside down and I experienced my first Dark Night of the Soul. I thought that I had forgiven my dad, as well as many others I felt had 'done me wrong' when I worked with a therapist many years before, but it turned out I hadn't forgiven anyone. Forgiveness, I came to understand, was not just a statement, but a process where the anger, resentment, bitterness and judgement became feelings of understanding, compassion and unconditional love.
My life took a turn for the better and in the next few years I finally figured out who I really was. I went back to school, found love again, and met some members from my birth family. I was convinced that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do and God was shining a light on my life. Then, on January 8, 2011, shortly before his 52nd birthday, my brother committed suicide. My world was completely shattered and the anger, resentment and bitterness that I thought I had dealt with came back with a vengeance.
Even though my dad had been dead for several years, I blamed him for my brother's emotional state and his suicide. All those negative feelings I had towards my dad that I thought I had healed came right back. My mind was filled with all the stories of how abusive he was and I regurgitated it in my mind over and over again. I blamed him for my sister's alcoholism. I blamed him for everything that went wrong in all of our lives. I blamed him for my mom's death. I blamed and blamed and blamed.
Shortly after my brother's funeral, I moved to Calgary to start a new life. In my grief and anger I gave away most of my belongings. I wanted to leave this place that held so many hurtful memories and get to a new and better place where I could finally be happy. I was trying to develop a relationship with my newly found younger half sister who oddly enough - behaved a lot like my dad. I didn't see it at the time, but there were so many things about her that were so similar to my dad that my behavior around her was the same as it was when I was around my dad. I resented her controlling and manipulative ways, but I was seeking approval from her at the same time, in the same way I had sought it from my dad. I knew it was happening and I couldn't seem to stop it. This, along with grieving my brother's death, taught me that intellect and emotions don't work together. Knowing something intellectually doesn't prevent you from reacting emotionally.
My hips gradually deteriorated to the point where I required extensive reconstructive surgeries again. I became so physically, emotionally and Spiritually ill that I actually wanted to die. I had gone deep into an abyss that I wasn't sure I'd get out of. This was my second Dark Night of the Soul and it was much, much darker than the first. I prayed to God every single day to reveal to me what it was I needed to know to get through this and to help me heal. It took thousands of dollars worth of various types of therapy before I finally healed my body and my emotional state. I prayed every single hour of every single day. I could finally connect with my Spirit and I was healed.
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and I think the reason I met my half sister was so I could heal the wounds of my past and finally forgive my dad. That act of forgiveness led to a lot of other forgiving that I didn't think would ever be possible. I forgave the family members responsible for my molestation. I forgave the man who raped me when I was 13 years old, and most importantly, I forgave myself. I learned the truth of my past and in that truth was the healing.
When I think of my dad now, I remember the good times and all the things he taught me. The most important thing he taught me was to be independent and to stand up for myself. He made sure I knew the importance of having a job and my own money, and to never depend on anyone for anything. He taught me to question everything I saw, heard and read, and to never just accept what someone tells me no matter who they are.
My dad taught me how to make soup from bones and how to change a tire on the side of the road. He taught me to use natural therapies like herbal remedies, and to not be afraid of alternative medicine and to learn as much as I could about it. My dad taught me how to push through pain and fear and to not give up.
My dad did the best he could to prepare me for whatever might come my way in this life, and I know for sure that I wouldn't be the person I am today had it not been for my dad. I know now that my dad was afraid for me, and his fear drove him to push me so I would be as strong as I could possibly be both in mind and body.
I know now that my dad had been abused by his father, and that he tried not to be as abusive to us as his dad had been with him. I know that inside, my dad just wanted to be accepted for who he was and loved for who he was, and I know that his need had the opposite affect for all the people around him.
I wish I could have told my dad before he died that I loved him and that I was grateful for all the things he taught me, but I have faith that he knows it now anyway.
Forgiving requires Divine intervention. Forgiving requires dedication to learning the truth, and the willingness to completely let go of blame. Forgiveness requires a miracle. Today, on this Father's Day, I can finally say - Happy Father's Day Dad! I love you!