Tag Archives: dad

A Safe Place to Rest (I Waited)

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A Safe Place to Rest (I Waited)

Originally written December 30, 2014, immediately following the event.

She huddled on the floor between the nightstand & the wall, bathed in the soft glow of the touch-lamp set low. I waited.

Not yet 3 yrs old, she has me trained well. Her emotions are too big for me to be anything but calm.

“I don’t want you!” she told me, most emphatically. “I want my daddy!”

“I know,” was all I offered. I waited.

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What About Sex?

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I’m excited to share this essay from my good friend & fellow-gentle parent, Alanna. She is someone for whom I have deep respect & love. Having known each other for the last 5 years or so, we’ve seen each other through a lot of things, both joyful & sorrow-filled. She is also a book author, a teacher, & an associate pastor. And she wants you to have more sex! ;-)

Please enjoy, & leave comments & questions for Alanna below. If you want to see more posts from her, be sure to mention it! Maybe she will consider writing for us again.

Alyssa

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Letter to My 16-year-old Self

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Dear 16-year-old me,

You’ve already gone through some hell, & right now, you’re trying to cover up the heartache. I know. It’s ok. Things happened. The people who were supposed to treasure & protect you, well, they failed. It wasn’t your fault. It was theirs. Don’t let it define you, b/c you’re so much more than any of those things.

And that feeling you keep having, that desire to be part of nature, listen to it. It’s legitimate, it’s real, it’s worthy. And so are you. You were made beautiful. You were given a light that shines through your darkness. Don’t let anyone snuff it out.

Oh, the boys. I promise you, their opinions aren’t worth even half what you think. What happened to you 7 years ago, that thing you don’t ever allow yourself to remember, it changed your perceptions. It made you think that a boy’s opinion mattered. It defined you. It stole from you, your family, relationships, self-worth, & dreams. It wasn’t your fault, & it really is as bad as you think. Deal with it now. Remember it, feel the anger & pain, talk about it with your therapist. I promise that nothing bad will come of talking about it. You will cry & rail & break down, but you will heal so much faster, allowing you to recapture your dreams & let go of the fear that haunts you.

Don’t let your mother’s disregard stop you from pursuing your dreams. Fight for them. Her problems do not have to be yours. Some day you’ll understand what’s wrong with her, & you’ll be able to forgive her.

And whatever you do, don’t cut your dad out of your life. I know he scares you. I know you don’t understand him. But I also know that he loves you so very much. He will die before you’re ready, & unexpectedly, at that. And your heart will break, b/c no matter everything that’s happened, he’s still your daddy. Let the hate go. It will poison you & steal your light, your love.

The truth is that your parents are afraid. Your light intimidates them, casting out shadows they hide in, unintentionally illuminating truths they don’t want to see. You are their mirror, & they fear you doing what they’ve done. They struggle to see you as you are, free of their self-imposed filters. They are wounded & have wounded you without knowing. They will grieve this. Do not punish them. Forgive them. Heal.

Try harder. Do your homework. Help around the house cheerfully. Be home by curfew. In only a few years, you’ll be free. If you can learn how to discipline yourself  now, you’ll succeed when you leave. Learn how to make a budget & manage your little income. This will save you a huge lesson & tons of money when you’re 18. Go to college, & try harder. If you don’t, you will find yourself in your 30s with no degree & few options.

Finish what you start. No matter how insignificant. If you can discipline yourself to finish things now, you will be able to look back  on it with self-satisfaction. If it matters to you, then it matters, period. And it is worth finishing.

Worry less about what others think of you & worry more about what you think of yourself. You’ll have to live with yourself. They won’t. And they probably won’t be around in 5 years to have an opinion anyway. Don’t live for them.

Listen to your gut. It’s a lesson you’ll learn eventually anyway, but it will save you so much grief if you can learn it sooner. You can trust yourself, young though you are. Despite what others say, your youth is not a handicap. You are trustworthy & intelligent. You’ll still make mistakes, but you’ll make fewer of them & learn more quickly in the process.

You are worthy of love. You don’t have to earn it. You do not have to be someone or something you’re not to have it. You do not have to compromise your values or beliefs or your very self to deserve it. You are already loved by your Maker, although you probably won’t really grasp what kind of love that is until you have children.

And you will have children. Two amazing, beautiful girls who will benefit from all the things you have gone through. You will be better able to protect them, love them, & cherish them b/c of your past. But learn from it first, so you’ll be ready. These girls will completely alter your view of your life.

Throw the damn cigarettes away. You don’t even like them. They will take over your life & leave you feeling guilty & ashamed. Save the drinking for later. Otherwise, your 21st birthday will be kinda lame. Go ahead & smoke pot when you’re offered it at 17, tho. That’s the only one you won’t regret.

Don’t do the Lupron treatment!!! You’ll understand when you get there.

Save your virginity. It is valuable, & your heart will crack if you give it to someone you don’t love with all you have. Remember, you are worth loving. You don’t have to sell yourself out.

You’re not fat, no matter what your parents say. You have an amazing body that can do amazing things. Dance. Your body loves it, & your soul thrives on it. Focus your energy into creating what is beautiful. Your body will respond to & exceed the challenge, & you will be amazed. Try belly dancing. You have a natural affinity for the sensual. This is not wrong. It is a gift that was given to you from birth. Use it wisely.

Be kind. Do not make fun of others or worry what others will think of you. Just be kind. Stand up for the underdog. You have a passion for justice. Do not let it be smothered by your need for acceptance.

Love openly. Love freely. Love everyone. You understand them, better than most. Learn how to channel your empathy, otherwise your heart will grow hard. If you allow that to happen, you will lose a large part of who you are. And you will miss yourself.

You will meet a man. I won’t tell you when, b/c I don’t want you to focus on it. I just want you to know that it will happen. And you will bring him hope. Tread carefully. He’s a beautiful, f’d up man. You will recognize him instantly, & he’ll own your heart. Love him. Take care of him. But see him for who he really is, not who he could be. Accept his flaws & forgive him. Be real. And be honest & up front with your demands & expectations. He will rise to them, if only he knows them. But don’t expect too much. He’s only a man. He’s your other half, & your souls knew each other before you met. Wait for him. He’ll make you his.

But more important than anything else I’ve said here, please love yourself now. Not what you’ll be, not what you can do, just for who you are right now. The beautiful, loving, funny, busy girl who’s dreaming big, impossible dreams. This confusion you’re lost in will pass, & you’ll remain. Sift through the influences, & toss out the bad advice. Whatever does not resonate with your spirit is not worth holding onto.

Your family has hurt & betrayed you. You’re still here. The church has failed you. God is still here. Your friends will come & go. There are a few who will always be here. Cling to these truths. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are worthy. So be at peace with your present, & look with joy to your future. It’s going to be amazing.

Love, Me (age 31 years & 11 months)

Children need to be liked

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“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

That’s what my dad told me when I was in my early teens, & it still rings in my ears to this day.

I don’t remember why he said it or how the conversation came about. What I took away from it is that my dad didn’t think I was a good person. When I’m feeling insecure as an adult, which is more often than I like to admit, his voice & those words still echo in my head. They make me question my value, my worth.

If my own dad couldn’t like me, why would anyone?

“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

Especially as I’ve gotten older & had children of my own, I think I can understand what he was saying. He didn’t like choices I was making. He didn’t like attitudes I displayed. He didn’t like how I treated others at times.

But what he told me is that he didn’t like me.

So obviously, there is something wrong with me. I am defective in some way.

He never told me why he didn’t like me very much. If he’d tried, I’m not sure it would have mattered. The fact is that, according to him, anything likeable about me was negated by the rest of me.

“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

Those were his exact words. I still remember his exact words. They’ve defined a part of me that I’m not sure will ever change.

Most of us take our parents love for granted. Most of us assume that they like us, too.

Can you imagine if your parent(s) didn’t like you? What kind of hit to your self-esteem do you suppose that would be? Would you wonder how in the world they could love you if they couldn’t even like you? Would it make you doubt their love? Would it make you wonder if anyone ever truly liked you if your own parent didn’t? How important would it be to you, then, whether or not other people liked you? What would you do to get someone to like you?

“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

As parents, we are the creators & protectors of our children, from their physical bodies to their emotional development, even down to influencing their personalities. We help them define who they are and how they see themselves.

We wield so much power.

“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

Even though I now think he really meant that he didn’t like certain things I was doing or saying, a part of me can never say for certain that my dad actually liked me. Since he died seven years ago, I can’t ask him either.

I try to consider how he treated me to give myself some perspective. That’s a tough one, since he crossed over to the dark side (in other words, physical & verbal abuse) on several occasions. It’s hard to not believe that he wouldn’t have beaten me if he’d liked me.

What did I do to make my dad not like me?

I’ve answered that question in a hundred different ways over the years. None of that made me feel any better, nor did it “cure” my battered self-esteem.

“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

I’ve spent most of my life since that day trying to fix myself. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of in order to “earn” someone liking me. I’ve changed my personality, altered my physical appearance, participated in risky behavior, all to earn that elusive “like” of which I’m so undeserving.

It affects almost every relationship I’ve had since, even my marriage. I doubt almost every person’s claim of love. I analyze every compliment. I worry any time someone is “busy” & can’t spend time with me. I question whether people really want me or just want something from me. I accept every criticism in complete & utter humiliation as just more proof of how worthless I am.

“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

It became the defining statement of my life.

“I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

I’m now a mother. I look at my children. I’m filled with the most ferocious, overwhelming love that often threatens to swallow me whole. I would do anything, ANYTHING, to preserve their physical safety, their emotional health, their mental development, their sensitive spirits, their very souls.

And I like them. A lot.

I like their inquisitive minds. I like their questions. I like that they call for Mommy when they’re scared or hungry or lonely or bored. I like their intelligence. I like their smiles. I like their view of the world. I like that they don’t fear me (or much of anything else, for that matter). I like to be there for them, to calm them down when they’re overwhelmed, to share in their simple triumphs, to watch as understanding dawns across their beautiful faces.

I like them. I like who they are. I like who they will become. I like how I feel when I’m with them. I like that they came from me. I like that I see the future in them.

I like them, & so I tell them.

“I love you, and I really like you, too.”

It’s the only way I know how to quiet my father’s voice. Whenever I sense its presence, I pull whichever child is nearby and handy into a big hug and whisper those words. The words I wish I’d heard instead.

“I love you, and I really like you, too.”

I say it often. No one ever sees us. No one ever hears it but my girls. Sometimes, they don’t even hear it except in their dreams. But I’m imprinting it on their souls.

To me, they’re the most miraculous part of life. They are a wonder. No matter where they go, what they do, who they become, they will always amaze me. I will always love them, & I will always like them, too.

“I love you, and I really like you, too.”

If I don’t like something they’re doing, then I have to look at myself & figure out what I’ve been teaching them.

If we don’t like our children, who learn from & mimic us, then really, isn’t it possible that we just don’t like ourselves? And is that really their fault? And are we really so unlikable? Really?

“I love you, and I really like you, too.”

Our children take our love for granted. I want my children to take my like for granted, too.

Because ultimately, while we all want to be loved, don’t we all really want to be liked, too?

I like my girls. I bet you like your children, too.

You should tell them.

Dad’s Final Lesson

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With Fathers Day upon us, I’m sure the Interwebs will be filled with daddy accolades, as well they should. Bright, cheery, happy memories & thoughts & plans & poems & wishes. What a wonderful day to have a daddy!

Maybe I should write a blog post like that, but although my dad was a huge fan of fun & silly & happy, I think he’d prefer that I remember him today with the clarity he left me. It’s entirely possible that my father taught me the greatest lesson of my life by dying.

You see, I didn’t know how to forgive. Not only did I not know how, I simply didn’t want to. I enjoyed wrapping myself in blankets of bitterness & self-righteous anger. I cozied up with hatred, keeping judgment & reproach as my bedfellows.

I held on to every injury, real or perceived, & tallied them up in a mental journal which I tucked onto a shelf deep, deep down in a hidden, dark place of my psyche.

There were the major, obvious injuries that most people didn’t know about but me – physical, mental, & sexual abuse and rape. There were the minor offenses, like when my childhood best friend ditched me for someone new. Let’s not forget the petty injustices of being denied things I wanted as a teen, like a later curfew.

I gathered each & every one, & I kept them safe. Kept them close to me. Used them as guides to avoid ever being hurt by someone in that way again. Pulled them out to remind myself of how people are unworthy, why I should never let anyone get too close. Compared entries & told myself, “See? This person did all these things, so you don’t need to love them…to care what they think…to worry about them. They’re nothing. They don’t matter.”

I don’t know when I started doing this, but I recall entries from as early as grade school. I don’t know for certain exactly why I started doing this, but I think it has something to do with the guilt & shame that’s dogged me much of my life. Perhaps as a way to redirect anger from myself. Maybe victim mentality.

We could probably analyze the whys & hows for days…but that’s not why I’m writing this.

My dad had not only made my list, he was a headliner with many entries & his own section in the glossary. There were plenty of things he did to get on the list himself. He’d definitely earned his spot. He was abusive toward both my older brother & me, verbally & physically. Add to that my mother’s contributions to why I should hate him (& then that I shouldn’t hate him…talk about confusing), & his place in my log book was guaranteed.

I have two distinct, early memories of his abuse, & I’m not sure which one happened first. Both occurred before age 5, though. Both involved him beating my brother & screaming insults at him. Both times, he didn’t know I was watching. Both incidents instilled mind-numbing fear in me.

It was only a matter of time before that fear incurred his wrath, and so my childhood became a cycle of fear, avoidance, humiliation, anger, & abuse.

I mentioned sexual abuse, & there was, but not from my father. I’ll not have the man maligned for something he didn’t do.

But he did strike me in anger, resulting in bruises, bloody lips, & one time, a bloody backside when he spanked my bare bottom with a hairbrush. (That burns incredibly badly, by the way.)

If I was still keeping my aforementioned journal, I would keep listing injuries & recounting horror stories of my father. But I’m not. My dad taught me it wasn’t worth it.

After he & my mom finally divorced when I was a teenager, I saw him minimally & talked to him only occasionally. Quite frankly, I was terrified of him. And I was still angry with him. But mostly I was terrified.

I got married but didn’t have him walk me down the aisle. He was only asked to be in one of the photos. The last time I ever saw him was at my little sister’s high school graduation the Spring after my wedding. I feigned a confidence I never had & spouted positive cliches & blow-off phrases to every depressing comment he made. “He’s so negative,” I told my new husband later.

Then I cut my dad out of my life altogether.

For three years, I told my family not to give him my address, phone number, email address, or anything else. I wanted nothing to do with him. I hated him. Here I was, a grown adult with a husband & a career, & I was so incredibly broken…and I blamed him.

The lyrics from an Everclear song (Father of Mine) sum it up painfully well.

I will never be safe / I will never be sane / I will always be weird inside / I will always be lame

I didn’t realize then how little he had to do with it, actually. Or rather, how many other things combined with his abuse to create that broken girl-woman. It was impossible for me to see it, because I was so angry with him. I couldn’t forgive him. I didn’t know how.

Oddly enough, the thing that brought him back into my life was genealogy. I had started researching my ancestry, & my mother could only answer so much about my dad’s side of the family. She encouraged me (again) to call him & ask my questions. My curiosity outweighed my fear (which had had three years to settle down), so finally, I did.

And we kind of, sort of, picked back up again where we’d left off. And suddenly my dad was telling me things that, had I been able to forgive him & stop being angry with him, I could have countered. Like six months after we started calling & emailing each other when he told me that, on the failure of his third marriage, he didn’t believe anyone could ever love him & no one ever would. In the face of his brokenness, it was pretty hard to maintain the anger, & the words hovered on my lips. A part of me wanted to be a little girl with her daddy. But I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell him that I forgave him. I didn’t tell him that I loved him. I chuckled nervously & said that lots of people cared about him. Not loved…cared. Not me…lots of people.

You & I both know what he was really saying. Or rather, what he was really asking. And we both know I failed.

That was my last conversation with my dad. He died of a brain aneurism a couple days later.

Despite all of the things he did, I also have memories of riding on his shoulders & laughing as a little girl, his hilarious Donald Duck impression that hurt his throat to do but that he did anyway because it made me laugh, the story he used to tell us of when he was a teenager & dove into the public pool from the high dive only to have his swim trunks explode, the way he told me he was proud of my work ethic, the old 45s he’d pull out just so my sister & I could listen to them, the times I overheard him bragging to friends about my awards for music & theater (but never for sports…I don’t know why).

But when it mattered most, I clung to my anger. When I had the opportunity to heal a part of me without even knowing it, I blew it off.

My dad died, & for the very first time, I understood the finality of a truly lost relationship. Something beyond repair. Irrevocable loss.

When I received the phone call about my dad – that he was in a coma & it didn’t look good – the forgiveness was instantaneous. Suddenly the fear I’d always harbored toward my father was overwhelmed by the fear that I wasn’t going to get to correct that heinous mistake from our last conversation. And sure enough, I didn’t get to tell him how much I loved him.

My dad died, & in that moment, I learned what my refusal to forgive actually cost me.

And it haunts me.

No, I don’t romanticize it & think we would have had a perfect relationship or that I would have trusted him completely or have been incredibly secure or whatever else “normal” daddy/daughter relationships look like. But I know I would have had an extra three years of trying to rebuild something that mattered to me.

I tried to cut out people & relationships whom I blamed for my pain…& some of them definitely were responsible…but because I couldn’t forgive, I couldn’t discern which relationships should go & which should stay.

My dad died, & I finally understood how forgiveness wasn’t for him, but it was for me instead.

I’d always thought it cliche, but it’s true. My lack of forgiveness hurt my dad, but it hurt me more. Not only did I cheat myself out of any kind of relationship with my father for three years, then condemn myself to a lifetime of wondering if he knew how much I loved him, but the refusal to forgive him carried over into other relationships, including my marriage. It affected how I viewed men in general while clouding my ability to remember history accurately & making it impossible to see the man who loved me despite his incredible flaws. It prevented me from understanding him, or even trying.

When I think of someone who has hurt me, whether I care deeply about them or not, I see it from a completely different perspective now. As a Christian, I’m commanded to forgive, so obviously there’s that to play into everything. But I also have the understanding of how fleeting life is, how easily breath leaves, & when I see my time here as finite, it serves to shift how I view the offenses of others.

I think of my dad, whom I had always feared & eventually despised. That fear prevented me from seeing how sad & broken he was. I couldn’t have healed him…but I could’ve loved him.

How many people need to be loved?

As a Christian, I’m commanded to love God & to love my neighbor. How can I love them if I can’t forgive them? Quite simply, I can’t.

The Bible says that I can’t love God, whom I can’t see, if I can’t love my brother, whom I can see. I can’t love my brother if I can’t forgive. Simple.

So how does one forgive? Simplest response: choose.

It is your choice. It is my choice. It is a choice.

I might need divine help in the matter, but I must still choose to seek the help I need to forgive someone. I must choose to be free from the chains my unforgiveness wraps around me. Keeping a log book of others’ sins is a choice. It’s all about choice.

No, I’m not going to give some easy formula or quick tips or whatever. I don’t have any. We all have to figure it out, & there are people out there who can help. My first recommended source is the Bible, of course, but I’m sorry to say, I can’t help you.

However, I can encourage you, & so I will. On this Fathers Day, try again. If you’ve tried every day for the past five years, try again today. If you’ve refused to acknowledge the need to forgive at all, try it, just for today. Tomorrow is another day. It has no bearing on today. Today, try again. Today, try for the first time. Today, just try.

Especially if it is a close relative, whether or not you take them back into your life, forgiveness is for you. It will set you free. It will allow you to release the angry, bitter feelings those memories cause you. Those feelings & fears which chain you & keep you from reaching for & enjoying your fullest life.

Try.

So blessings to all of you today who get to spend the day with your dads. Peace to those of you, like me, who are missing that special man, for whatever reason. And to you daddies, may your day be truly wonderful, & may you set the example of grace & forgiveness for your children now, that you may reap the benefits later.

Happy Fathers Day, Daddy. I miss you, & I love you.