Thirty seven minutes and fourteen seconds.
I had to check it again.
I had accidentally hung up around the twenty minute mark when I switched ears.
My dad and I talked.
And we talked. And we talked.
At first it was mostly me crying and telling him that I loved him and that I hope he knew that… After assurances that he did, my father said more words to me in one paragraph than he has all year.
For thirty seven minutes and fourteen seconds we talked not only as a daughter who felt estranged and a dad who didn’t mean it that way, but as a dad who considered his little girl the greatest miracle he’d ever seen to a daughter who had no idea.
In my last post I delved into the hurt and rejection I felt from my father’s distance after I sent a letter informing my parents that there was a good reason behind why I was such a terrible teenager. I had told them the root cause of all of my anger, frustration, and acting out, of the bizarre behavior and violent mood swings and insistent reclusiveness. No parent wants to hear their child was harmed or violated – and while I understood that it might take some time to process, I confess that I was wounded that my dad’s need to process meant avoidance.
I also wrote in that post that I hoped this experience would start a dialogue with my parents about my childhood and how we talk about it: “I share it because I hope it’s the start of the greatest comeback ever – that it kicks off amazing restoration for all members of my family, that other long held secrets would be brought into the light, and long standing grievances would be resolved.”
I received a lot of feedback after I shared that story. By and large were words of support and encouragement to give it time, that I had done the right thing, that it was part of a healing process. For many it was the first time they had heard me talk about what had happened to me as an adolescent, and the significance of sharing such a personal experience was not lost on others. Some even told me it inspired them to be honest with things that had happened to them and that they joined me in hoping that it would be a catalyst into a stronger relationship with both of my parents.
I also received one scathing barrage of comments from a member of my extended family, someone I used to have a relationship with – a close one, at that. In fact, she’s the only member of my family I even considered sharing my deep, dark secret with during my early teens – but I backed out after she entrusted me with her own big secret. But then time happened and now we interact possibly once or twice a year for holidays, but even then there’s often no actual connection… just family gathering for the sake of family gathering.
At any rate – after a few platitudes about how terrible the whole past event came a searing criticism about how I had treated my parents in that blog post. In the name of Christ she accused me of hate and anger and bitterness and malice, claiming I had no right to dishonor them, treat them so horribly by talking about their shortcomings in a public forum, that I was blaming them for ruining my life and that I was probably doing all of this for attention, for people to feel sorry for me.
Tears were shed.
Now I confess that not everything I’ve written about my relationship with my parents in the course of this blog has been the most positive or rose tinted – but that’s because I’m telling the story as I understand it, as I thought and felt and believed throughout my life. I cannot change the facts of the matter that my parents were never available growing up, that their absence opened the door for all sorts of problems, that they fought, that they had their issues…. But never have I written out of spite. In fact, my hope is that in writing about my sometimes difficult relationship with them is evident that God is still doing work in us – that we try! That at the end of the day I know they love me and they know I love them!
The story I share about my life happens to include how I relate with my parents and those stories testimonies are ultimately about healing and restoration and how God has been at the center of my ability to love them.
I have never written with an intent to harm them. Indeed, some of my writing has been therapeutic and instrumental in changing how I go about loving and honoring them!
This relative and I went round and round via texting online, which of course is always the best way to have a highly emotionally charged conversation about a sensitive topic. While I tried to defend, or at least explain myself some through the chastisement and warnings to never write about my parents again, it sort of fell flat. I apologized that they were so upset (to be told ‘I’m not upset’) and scolded that my parents deserve an apology.
Over the course of my life I have apologized to my parents over and over and over again. And my mother and father have apologized to me over and over and over again. My parents know that I know I was a difficult child – and am not exactly an easy child even now. They know that I know I’ve hurt them, and they know that I am sorry and that ultimately I want relationship with them. I don’t doubt this.
While it is sometimes strained, the fact of the matter is that, despite all things against us, I do have a relationship with them. My mother and I talk occasionally on the phone and we swap Facebook memes that make us laugh and handwritten letters and cards regularly. Up until I sent that letter, my dad and I would chat every so often – but he’s never been much for phone conversation anyway. What’s more is that my parents know that I write about them – and while they haven’t read a good portion of what I’ve written, I believe they know that I would never intentionally harm them through my writing. (And it’s worth noting that my mother now has a copy of all but my private blogs to read).
As for blaming them for ruining my life…
My life is far from ruined. I love my life. And yes, I do in a way put some blame on them for how I turned out – but I turned out to be a survivor, a problem solver, a self motivator, someone who feels deeply and intimately, who can empathize, and someone who inspires. And they played a role in that.
Eventually I gave up with this person because they weren’t willing to look at the bigger story that my blog entails which, overall, features my family very little… I also decided that if I do decide to publish one day, I better get used to criticism.
But then something kind of interesting happened.
I wanted to talk to my parents, to remind them I love them, to be reassured that they knew it and that they knew that I believed they loved me (no small thing when I spent much of my life wondering that).
Unsure of whether I could take the sting of the possibility of my father not answering, I called my mom first. She answered as though it was a pleasant surprise, and I lost my composure.
We talked through the entire situation and half an hour later hung up the phone knowing where we stood.
Then I called my dad – and he answered. Then he did most of the talking.
For almost forty minutes my dad and I spoke. I think he was a little surprised at the tone of my voice, at the concern in it as he immediately delved into a long story about how he could never stop loving me because I was his big miracle, that I was proof that God was listening when he prayed. He acknowledged (and has long since apologized) not being the greatest father and expressed his sadness that it caused me so much harm.
Then it was a misunderstanding – he didn’t mean for me to take his silence the way I had.
Then it was appreciation that I not only understood (and have long since apologized for) my culpability in difficult family dynamics, but that we shared the same outlook on our dysfunctional family reality: we are five very broken people who still love God and love each other. We all recognize that we have baggage and issues stemming from generations of secrets, whether it was ignoring real, physical ailments or through ignoring and never discussing psychological issues… and we were in agreement that we’re all working hard to be healed from it.
Then we talked about movies and computer games, because that’s what me and my dad do. He’s holding out on Skyrim and I can’t figure out why.
By the time I had to hang up due to a dying battery and a friend taking me out to dinner to work through the anxiety the conversation with my cousin had caused, I recognized that it was one of the healthiest and most loving and enlightening conversation with my dad I’ve ever had in my entire life.
See, here is why I tell my story… because it’s a testament to God’s goodness. Because it’s a story of healing and reconciliation. Of coming to terms with bad things and hard things and scary things and coming out the other side victoriously. It’s about loving when you don’t always feel like it and how it’s always worth it. It’s about forgiveness and love triumphing.
I told the story of my abuse. I told the story of how I revealed it to my parents. I told the story of how it was received… and now I tell the story of how this mess has been resolved and resolved in the best way possible.
… it’s the start of that comeback…
That is a story worth telling.