I recently had an opportunity to reconnect with a friend from my college years. During one of our conversations, she explained the beauty in my ability to forgive my father, which got me thinking.
Growing older comes with many advantages, including affording us an opportunity to look back on history much differently. “Older and wiser” the saying goes. Over the course of time, we likely encounter different personal struggles, the catalysts to changing our opinions and viewpoints. And so it is now that I can look at my father’s life through the lens of my own.
While it is easy to get upset with him for holding our family hostage all those years, for dangling the promises of recovery and happiness in front of us like a carrot on a string, I am no better than my father. I have made a mess of my own life in far different ways. And who’s to say that his addictions were any better or worse than the mistakes I have made?
I’m often depressed.
I like being alone, yet I’m lonely.
I’m sarcastic to a fault.
I’ve never claimed to be perfect, but I compensate for it by being a perfectionist, both a blessing and a curse.
I have a tough time being positive but have no problem seeing the negative in things.
I have failed in every romantic relationship.
I declared bankruptcy at an early age (although I’ve since recovered to the point that I’m financially stronger than ever).
I have hurt those I love.
I am neither great at meeting people nor excelling in social situations.
I’m often selfish and wish I did more for other people.
I suffer from a lack of confidence.
I have my own addictions, like exercising to extremes, something perpetuated by low self esteem.
I often get bored with life because I’m so scheduled, so structured, so OCD, that falling into ruts is commonplace, yet I fail to take initiative to change my routine because I’m equally comforted to know where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.
At 32 years old, I thought I would have made much more of life by now, pushing me down a slippery slope of regret, what ifs, and wanderlust.
I’m moody and show little emotion, making it very challenging for others to read me and whether I’m happy or sad.
I suffer from anxiety, meaning I can never shut off my brain from its natural inclination to over analyze.
My faith has suffered.
My anxiety is the reason I’ve suffered from insomnia for nearly 10 years, leaving me dependent on medication that saps my emotional and creative energy like a black hole and makes me a shell of the man I used to be.
That is who I am. On many days, I consider myself a mess, living a life that is far from what I want it to be.
Knowing this about myself, flaws, imperfections, and all, what would a relationship with my father be like, had he not overdosed on drugs?
Let me reiterate that our relationship had been rather rocky in the years leading up to his death. If you recall, I became fed up with his games, responding by growing protective of my family. I began to push him away, enforcing “tough love” with the hope that he’d awaken to the situation’s reality and make a change. I had grown into a man, an adult, and saw a life that had to be lived rather than a life spent cleaning up his mistakes. When I finally went to college, my absence did more to stabilize our relationship than if I had been an ever-present observer. When I’d come back to visit, we’d enjoy one another’s company, a glimpse into what a normal father-son relationship should be.
Even if my dad hadn’t died so tragically, I’m not sure he would have ever ended his relationships with alcohol and drugs. While I want to think that my father and I would have fostered a healthy bond, I have reservations. I struggle because he wasn’t perfect, neither am I; however, in the end, I could not tolerate his games then, and I surely would not tolerate them now, a lifelong crusade to prove a point.
Truth of the matter is that it’s easier for me to look back on all this because my father is gone. I don’t have to live it every day. In some respect, his sudden death left me with so many doubts and unfulfilled questions, yet it simultaneously filled me with much-needed closure (if that makes any sense). In some regards, his passing was a blessing, a slight sigh of relief, because we could move on after decades of hitting life’s proverbial pause button.
When I was younger, I played a practical joke on my mom and dad by hiding under my sister’s bed. It was the most obvious of places to hide, but no one thought to check. In what seemed a lifetime, I hid and kept quiet, while my frenzied family (even the neighbors got in on the action) searched and searched, from the backyard to the basement. They were legitimately worried, and not the pretend kind of worry when you fake running away, only to circle the block and return home to “worried” parents. When I emerged, relief and serious anger filled their faces.
In life, I wanted to hide from everything. Now there is no more hiding under the bed. My father’s death has helped me emerge, confront my own life head on, as well as look retrospectively and inwardly. It has helped me mature, find peace, reevaluate myself, as well as come to terms with who he was and who I am. And only with time, the great healer that it is, have I been able to truly forgive.
That’s what this entire journey back into the annals of my childhood has been about. For so long, my father was problem #1. His story touched mine in so many ways; today, those brief overlaps cannot be my excuses, my reasons to hide. They can only be my perspective.