This is not a “feel good” father – son story. But it is an honest story. It is my story, and it has a good ending!
I had a poor relationship with my dad.
While I lived at home, we had very little to do with each other. While still a very young boy I had decided my life would be better with my dad. He was emotionally neglectful and abusive, he was spiritually absent. Although memories are sketchy, I have enough memory to know that his abuse included sexual abuse. (I was also sexually abused by other relatives.)
I did not feel comfortable around him. I felt safest when he was working on the “back 40” of the farm or working away at his public job.
As I grew, dad and I lived under the same roof without speaking to each other for days at a time. Thinking I hated him was easier than facing the pain that I needed a good father.
Dad began showing me more acceptance.
In my twenties, I began to build more relationship with him. He was getting along in years, his health was declining, and I wanted to have some good memories.
He responded to my initiating relationship. When I moved into my own house, he surprised me by making me an oak plant stand (which I still treasure). He invited me to test drive cars with him, when he was shopping for a new vehicle. He valued my impute when he selected a suit for a family wedding.
I moved far away. When I would come home to visit, he would hand me cash, “to help put gas in your car.”
His health broke, leaving him an invalid. Since I had never told him I loved him, I started concluding our weekly phone conversations by saying “I love you”. It took three years, but the day finally came when he spoke those same words back to me.
Eventually my life went through a major change and I moved back home to help care for my dad.
In 2005 I lost my job. That’s a story in itself. I moved back home to care for my parents. A couple years later Mom died. Sixty years of marriage ended and I wondered if dad would survive. He did. For over three years.
He started going to church with me, (something that never happened during my childhood). He spoke the words “thank you” more than ever before. Every night, after putting him to bed, I would take his hand and pray over him the scriptures promising God’s love and redemption. And dad would give my hand a tight squeeze in response. We’d exchange the words “I love you”.
I cried a lot during those years. Being full time caregiver to the dad I’d feared and even hated was the toughest job I’d ever loved.
One day I sat beside him, and asked his forgiveness for not appreciating the ways he’d demonstrated his love. But there was something deeper, something far harder, that I needed to say. These were the hardest, and perhaps the most honest, words I ever uttered to my dad:
“Dad, I forgive you for not loving me in the way that I needed.”
And then I hugged him. He was almost 90 years old and was very weak, but he embraced me like a father should embrace a son. It was the first time, and the only time. But it counted. It still does.
A few weeks later dad died. That night I heard God whisper to me, “You did a good job”.
I still have a Father.
I’m not rewriting my history to try to create a father-son relationship that never existed. I’m still healing from the wounds that occurred between dad and myself. But I am also experiencing joy in knowing that the relationship healed more than I ever imaged.
That healing continues to happen to this very day because I know that God is my truest Father. He is the one who planned for my existence before time began. He is the one who has created me and given me life.
He is the one who takes the pain of my relationship with my dad and turned it to point me towards Him as my Father who will never leave me, never betray me, never abuse me.
And that is a very good ending to this story!