Posted by on Jun 21, 2009 in Encouragement, Family, Fathers and daughters, Parenting, Personal, Photos | 7 comments

{Originally published as a three-part series in September 2007, this is one of those posts that “someone” needs to read; I just wish I knew who….  If you’ve struggled with the relationship you share with your father (or mother), it could be you.  Also, you might want to read the original posts if it resonates with you–comments were poignant and raw.

** lyrics Mike and the Mechanics, “In the Living Years”

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door**

Fathers and daughters….

It is through a father’s eyes a young girl first believes she is a princess, she is beautiful, and she is capable of anything her unbound mind can imagine.

In her return gaze, without the words to express it, she sees him as warrior-provider, hero-protector, and first love.  Some would suggest it is in her father that a daughter will construct her first impressions of God.

What a powerful relationship…what opportunity…what potential danger.

 

I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
 

Because, understandably, parents want the “best” for their children, they teach and challenge and encourage them.  They provide opportunity through education, the arts, athletics, and in a best-case scenario, there’s balance.

Along the way, these babies grow and mature, each day and month and year marking an increase in independence, sometimes quite noticeable–the emphatic exclamation of a three-year-old, “I.do.it.MYSELF!”–other times imperceptible–the subtlety of a 14-year-old wearing lip gloss, but no longer just to balm chapped lips.

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got
 

I had several moments of “childhood interrupted”, events that would alter and determine, at least in part, who I would eventually become:  the divorce of my parents, which many sources would tell you is blighting to a child, but for me, strangely, wasn’t a horrible thing (we continued to see my father every day and at least my parents’ arguing was silenced); most likely that was over-shadowed by the truly devastating death of my mother when I was nine, and my paternal grandmother’s death the following year (with whom we were very close).

These things facilitated an accelerated maturity for me and my siblings, and we learned to cope with adult fare at an early age.  I’m convinced that is a skill learned early in life which has served me well, and although certainly I would rather my mother have lived, I’m thankful for this tiny piece of seen redemption from such a great loss.

When I celebrated my 39th birthday, I realized I had out-lived my mother. When each of my three children reached their third grade year in school, I was thankful, and to some degree, relieved, at its completion; not so much for my own life and health, but that they still had their mom.  It is not “normal” to not have a mom when you’re a kid; to this day, I never presume any child I meet has both parents living…  residual wake with no apparent ending, I suppose.

 


You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defense

The way I viewed my father changed often throughout my life; I think he was more consistent in how he saw me.  He always thought I was smart and beautiful and could accomplish just about anything I set my mind to; he was always proud of me and he found ways to express his love, sometimes verbally, more often not.

That being said, it was far from a “perfect” father-daughter relationship, and in my young adult years, I found fault with him.  There was never a real friendship, he wasn’t the adviser from whom I sought counsel, he rarely shared my confidences…we never allowed each other in to our private worlds.  He didn’t know how to express his; I wasn’t willing to share mine.

It was loss for both of us.


Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

There’s a certain beauty in all this, though, learned at great cost to him and to me.  A lasting impression–adult interrupted?–that will, once again, shape who I will become, especially as a parent myself.

 


So we open up a quarrel

Between the present and the past


We only sacrifice the future


It’s the bitterness that lasts

The role I assumed in my family was one of peace keeper.  We weren’t a particularly quarrelsome family, but whenever conflict of any sort arose, I’d try to mediate the situation and smooth things over.  This naturally bled into every area of my life.  I think peace keepers are necessarily people pleasers–conflict avoidance and the desire to please others make ready bedfellows.

For most of my life I viewed my peace-keeping, people-pleasing inclinations as virtue.  Then God, in the sometimes subtle, sometimes sledgehammer ways His Spirit can work in your heart through His Word or through study or through circumstance (and in my case all three simultaneously), revealed to me how these were idols of mine.

Ouch.

In our well-intentioned-but-flawed state, we can make an idol out of
anything when it becomes the thing we “worship”, even good
things–work, volunteerism, children, marriage, busyness, and in my
case nice.  The god of Nice.  I was much more concerned about “you”
liking me (whether it be family or friend or co-worker) than I was
about pleasing God.  That meant conflict, real issues between people,
weren’t dealt with; instead, they were conveniently swept under the rug
and forgotten.  The problem with that is the dusty point of contention
was still there.


So we open up a quarrel

So don’t yield to the fortunes

You sometimes see as fate


It may have a new perspective


On a different day


And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in


You may just be OK.

I was working through the Beth Moore study “Living Beyond Yourself” when God smacked me with this revelation…the difference between being a peace keeper (not so healthy) and a peace maker (very healthy).  Moore suggested (and keep in mind I studied this several years ago and my memory and notes are imperfect!) keepers try to maintain peace at any cost, but there’s no completed action, no resolution of the conflict; in essence they’re keeping something (a false peace) that doesn’t really exist (because there’s no resolution).  Peace MAKERS on the other hand, deal with the issue, work through to resolution.

For me, these ideas were revolutionary.  I began to see in retrospect how my peace-keeping role in family had perhaps, ironically, created a chasm in my relationship with my father, not bridged a gap.  There were a lot of little somethings in between us, preventing a closeness I longed for.

I never dealt with those things.  There was never true peace made with Daddy.

You know why?  Because I wanted him to be the initiator of peace (but I’m sure he never even realized there was division); as my father, it was him who needed to pursue me, not me, as his child pursuing him.  I wanted him to be the grown up.

Say it loud, say it clear

You can listen as well as you hear


It’s too late when we die


To admit we don’t see eye to eye

It’s important to note we loved each other, there was no doubt about that.  This isn’t about loving–invisible threads that tie parent to child, where shared blood flows with forgiveness and long-suffering and affection.

This is about knowing each other.  I never got to know him, I never really let him know me.

Because I wanted to please him, because I would rather have kept peace with him than make him uncomfortable, I never tried to know him.

As I began to understand these things about myself, about him, I began to extend to him a kind of generosity…I no longer found fault with him or blamed him for not trying to know me.  Truly, I’m inclined to believe a fair amount of this lies with his generation and his general guardedness in sharing his emotions; part of it lies with him wanting to protect me from things I “didn’t need to know”.

And then, in a twisted turn of fate in God’s sovereign mercy, Daddy’s health began declining.  Dementia and early Alzheimer’s began to surface, at first, excusable (don’t we all forget where we put our keys or the name of someone we just met?), eventually impossible to ignore.

How could I possibly find the good in that?

 

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

 

Looking back, my father was sick for a long time–years–before diagnosis.  I use that word loosely because with Alzheimer’s, and more specifically with him, Lewy Bodies, the early symptoms are subtle and excusable.   Interestingly, I’m convinced he knew better than anyone else that his mind was escaping his body in pieces, and he did his best to open lines of communication that had previously been closed.  We observed him trying to bring closure to business affairs, controlling the things he could with a sometimes frantic desperation to bring order and resolution.  Many of these things would have future impact on us (his children and his wife); I think he was attempting to simplify those effects.

As I read…re-read…and eventually read again the comments from the prior two “Living Years” posts, I was moved; my heart ached after hearing the incomplete stories you began to share.  When you’ve lived unresolved relationship, you hear with a clarity not accessible to the unacquainted.  Not only did I hear what was said, I heard those unspoken, sometimes broken thoughts you dared not utter.

Speaking them can bring them to life…it gives them a strength you’d rather not allow.

After my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, Daddy changed.  In his own way, he began reaching out to his children in a way he hadn’t before.  He was scared–the thought of losing his first-born must have been horrifying!

Sadly, I think I was somewhat hardened towards his overtures; throughout my college years I  wanted him to be interested, invested in my life.  Now that he was making more of an effort, I didn’t respond in kind.  I certainly wasn’t disrespectful or discourteous, but there was a learned detachment that was slow to dissolve.  Walls of self-preservation had been erected long ago, and to avoid putting myself in a position to be hurt or rejected by him, my life was easily filled with my husband, children, friends and activity. It’s important to note that his rejection was more a sin of “omission” (things you should’ve done, but didn’t) than “commission” (things you shouldn’t have done, but did).

 

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

 

One day about two years ago, overnight my father’s health took a catastrophic turn for the worse.   He went from being able to function independently–driving, dressing himself, eating normally, etc.–to not being able to do a thing.  Although we’ll never know for sure, we have reason to believe it was an adverse reaction to a drug he was given.  He was in the hospital over two months, near death on more than one occasion, but eventually came home with 24-hour care.  He was confined to bed for 14 months and during that time there were only hints of recognition.

Because we wanted to give his wife a much-needed break (and because around-the-clock care is not only expensive, it’s unreliable), my siblings and I took turns traveling to their home to help care for him.  Without going into the horrific details of parent-child role reversal, it was a blistering living hell–for him and for us.   If you’ve lived it, you know what I mean.

This is the saddest truth:  I spent more time with Daddy his last year and a half of life than I have for the past 20 years combined…and the man was out of his mind.

 

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

 

There is a beauty in this brokenness…slivers of redemption among shards of regret–

I looked at my father for the first time in a long, long time.  I looked at him, I watched him,  I saw things I hadn’t seen before.  He was 75 but had amazing skin, very few wrinkles.  How could I have missed that?  Without remembering I was his daughter (which was the case more often than not), he told me I was the “prettiest thing he had ever seen”, in his own way, still telling me I was a princess.  When he thought of something funny, the twinkle returned to his eye and his laughter transported me back to happier times in his life.

Mostly, though, it was opportunity to just be with him, serve him, and learn what it meant to honor him when it wasn’t particularly pleasant to do so.  I thought of all MY sins of omission where he was concerned and realized that in spite of both of our emotionally-protective walls and unmet expectations, we loved each other, and for us, that has to be enough.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I don’t live with a lot of regret, but are there things I wish, in retrospect, I would have done differently?  Absolutely.

I would have pursued him, I would have endured uncomfortable conversations to forge an intimacy of knowing each other we never found.  Because intuitively I knew he didn’t want to “go there” (and “go there” meant a thousand different things), I never pressed, I didn’t ask…and he didn’t offer.

It’s not that I have it all figured out or have all the answers–I don’t even know all the questions (wink)!  But…but…I KNOW there are a million daughters just.like.me.  Little girls living inside a woman’s steel magnolia frame who simply want to know their fathers, to share life, and for HIM to be the one to initiate it.

And I write this to tell you…gently…it probably isn’t going to happen that way (if it hasn’t already).

But it can happen, I believe that.

It’s gonna have to be you in the driver’s seat.  And it’s worth it, it will be worth it.  Of course there are damaged, abusive relationships between father and child–I can’t begin to speak to that type of estrangement :(.  For those who are like me, though, I think there’s a way to intimacy; it takes courage and determination and initiative.  It requires a sacrifice of your “rights”, it demands forgiveness, it means loving in a way that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.   Because I hold scripture in esteem and believe it to speak truth and to reveal the nature and character of God, it seems this is certainly a way to honor your father (parents).

For a few friends of mine IRL who’ve admitted some of what I’m sharing here–I practically beg them to take the first steps towards a deeper relationship with their parents.  Consider this a “beg” to my cyber friends….I wonder if someone had kicked me in the behind five years ago if I would have heard…and responded….

Daddys_hands_2
This is the last picture I took of my dad…it was taken with my cell phone a few weeks before his death; I knew it would be the last time I photographed him and it seemed important.

I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with the closing
words of “Living Years” and to share the music with those of you who
are unfamiliar.  Enjoy~


Say it loud, say it clear
Say it loud
Don’t give up
Don’t give in
And don’t know what you can do next