My dad was the guy everyone loved to be around. The one who laughed almost too much and told funny stories and jokes and acted like a goofball. He was the one who noticed someone all alone and made them smile, or was the first to brighten an elderly person’s day. He had talent pretty much oozing out of him, and could play anything on the guitar–entirely self-taught. He was pretty much legendary for his fingerstyle playing that patterned Chet Atkins. He had an extremely high IQ and could fix anything. Give the man a roll of duct-tape…!
When I was little, he took apart an entire engine in the garage just to learn how to put it back together. He built a new exhaust on one of our cars from my old swing set!
He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks to parents already in their twilight years. Somehow the stigma of not being worth much began early and stuck. His dad was a well-loved alcoholic. According to my dad, back then, my grandpa was so drunk he passed out in the alley that my dad and his friends walked in to get to school. Shame started early.
At my grandpa’s funeral I’m told there was standing room only. He was the guy everyone loved. This was the year before I was born.
The saddest part is that my dad chose the same path.
What very few people know was that my dad was a very well functioning alcoholic for as long as I can remember. When I was about five he shared a beer with me. Later, I would try many different varieties of hard liquor as ‘our little secret.’ “Don’t tell your Ma, Kid,” he would say. I didn’t know the extent to which he was drinking then, but I knew dad was a lot nicer with a couple beers in him.
I will not elaborate on the way that his marriage kept him in a perpetual state of failure. I will say that my heart broke for him as he did his obvious best to provide for his family, but it was never enough.
There was a lot of anger in our house. It was scary and out of control and seethed and grew until it became almost another member of our family. There was no affection, no real warmth or laughter, but it was all wrapped up in a pretty, “perfect family” package, bow and all, and presented to the world with a big smile. My sister took the brunt of the anger. Somehow, I was relegated to the observer position. And the worrier position. I just wanted to be so good that I made no waves so everyone could be happy.
I followed my dad around like a starving puppy looking for scraps. I did whatever it took to be noticed by him, and to try to win his approval, from being the other member of our little performing team (he on the guitar and me the little singer), to eating chicken gizzards (YUCK!), to asking how engines worked. Never would I have done these things on my own, but for my dad’s smile, I would’ve walked through fire.
It wouldn’t have mattered if I had, and it really didn’t. He just didn’t really see his little shadow no matter how hard I tried.
I was a pretty needy girl by the time I met Christian. By the grace of God, he needed me just as much, and he helped as much as he could to give me the attention I so desperately craved. But, there’s nothing that can fill a little girl’s heart like a daddy’s love.
As a grown, married woman with children of my own, I started to see some things. That Coke bottle didn’t really have coke in it. His drinking got much worse as he became more unhappy. There were times that he behaved so very badly in public, I had to apologize for him, and then had to drive him home. Words cannot describe those moments and the shame and helplessness I felt. My kids were seeing things they never should have seen, and being scared in ways that have no words.
The worst part was that to the rest of the world, there was no problem. My dad was active in church and working hard, and his life looked great. I tried harder than anyone will ever know to help him keep all the pieces of the dam duct-taped shut. I fed him, and covered for him, and loved him until the inevitable happened and the dam burst.
The scariest night of my life involved too many pills, a gun, a ridiculous amount of vodka and more evil than I can describe. I had to commit my dad to the authorities as he screamed my name and begged me to help him. I couldn’t, though I tried. I begged him to do the work and get help. He chose differently. He became someone I didn’t know. So consumed with bitterness and so eaten up by alcohol that he was threatening and frightening, and the dad I knew was gone. He lived alone and in filth and loved and hated me. Hated me because I drew a line in the sand and said that the legacy that was mine would not pass to my children. That if he couldn’t get help, I could not be a part of watching him die. For about two years, I remained separated from him. It broke my heart. I knew the risk I took. He was hospitalized several times and I was told he would die. Could I stand strong with my choice if he did?
All I knew was that God had told me through a vision and His very words out loud that it was not my burden to carry. God told me there would be a victory in the end. I held onto that like a lifeline.
And I chose to praise through the storm. And praise I did. No matter who came against me for the stand I took, I praised God. No matter how much I wanted to call my dad and try to fix his mess, I didn’t. I just praised God for how He would surely deliver me.
On April 7, 2008, I got a phone call from my husband who said he was on his way home from work–that something had happened. I made him tell me what even though he was hoping to be here with me when he had to tell me that my dad had died.
For a few days my world stopped spinning. Grief became a physical pain in my chest and my eyes would not stop crying. This was NOT the victory I had waited for. My dad had died virtually alone in his filth and hating me. Never understanding my need to protect my children, and I guess myself, from the darkness that was my dad. The future with him that I had longed, and waited, and prayed for was no longer even a vague possibility and was gone.
But, in the meantime, something had happened.
As I lost my dad, I found my Daddy.
There is a Daddy Who had loved me from the very beginning of me, and had held my hand when my dad didn’t know how, and always had time for me. He had listened every single time I cried, and kept each tear in a bottle. He had taught me how to climb into His lap and be loved. As I praised Him, He responded and showered me with attention and good things too numerous to count. He provided a husband to protect me and to love my children the way only the best daddys can and who loves me beyond my wildest expectations. He became the Keeper of my heart, the Lifter of my head. He vindicated me to those who had judged me without me having to say a word. He washed me in His peace and restored my joy. He filled each hole in my heart; no duct-tape required.
That is the victory that He had promised me from the beginning. It took me a while to see that. What looked like the end was just the beginning. I have a Daddy. He calls me His own.
Now, on an average day, I can smile when I hear something come out of my mouth that my dad always said. I can tell his corny jokes and they are funny all over again. I spot him, the amazingly great parts of him, in the shape of one of my children’s fingernails, or the way they make someone’s day brighter. I watch his hands reborn in my daughter who somehow inherited the very unique talent on the guitar that was my dad’s though he never taught her even one chord.
I know he would be so very proud of me for standing in a way that he didn’t have the strength to.
I see things we have learned as a family that we couldn’t have learned any other way.
Alcohol will never be worth the risk (our conviction–not preachin’).
Secrets destroy relationships. Let them out!
Forgiveness is sometimes a day-to-day process.
Taking a stand makes you strong. It may make you different and not well-liked, but popularity is over-rated.
As you finish reading this post, please know that whatever pain you are going through, there is One Who longs for you to know that you are not forgotten and never alone. I would love to talk with you if you need an ear. I know others live similar pain and need hope.
A verse, and a quote, and a song that move my heart…
Forget your people and your fathers house. Listen, O Daughter, and give ear: The King is enthralled with your beauty. Honor Him for He is your Lord.
“Daddy, did you get loved enough?”
“My question is, did you?”
“It’s never too late…”