Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bridges not bombs

I haven't seen my father in 20 years. (Oh no, here she goes again. I've found Mary and her new Witness Protection Identity is my blog.) The last time I saw him was for 5 minutes in the Vice-Principal's office at my high school when I was 16 years old (no, I was not in trouble). And that was the first time in 3 years. Up until I was 13 we had seen each other fairly regularly since my parents' divorce when I was 5.

About 5 years ago, I contacted an aunt and uncle (on his side) I had been close with as a child. They gave me occasional news of my father. I had pretty much written him off, going through phases over the years - anger, indignation, sadness, disappointment, detachment, relative indifference, although not necessarily in that order. Then I had kids.

It didn't bother me that my children wouldn't know him, his loss, I thought. My sweet mother used to say that to me. When he didn't (ever) call or when I didn't see him for years she would say, "It's his loss." I remember thinking, yeah sure maybe, but it's my loss too. When Boy1 was old enough to start asking questions, I began to wonder how I was going to be able to explain all of it to him. And what my attitude would tell him about relationships and family.

I have a dear friend who makes bridges for a living. Once, years and years ago, he wore a t-shirt that said "Build bridges not bombs." Or maybe it was, "Make bridges not bombs." Anyway, those words have stayed with me all these years and I never knew why (I'm neither an engineer nor a bomb-maker person nor a peace message sign carrier) - until Boy1 started asking all those questions about family and feelings and forgiveness for wrongs, real or imagined. I realized that it was my responsibility as a parent (only speaking for myself here, please find no blanket statements where there are none) to build bridges. To show him an example of forgiveness and to let him watch me learn to love someone again.

So, while pregnant with Boy2, my aunt and uncle told me that my father had cancer. Maybe it was that, maybe it was Boy1's questions, maybe it was hormones - anyway, I sent him a birth announcement when Boy2 was born. He wrote back. And a tentative correspondence began. Let me be clear. My father is not someone, in any other circumstances, I would choose to correspond with. We are thousands of miles apart in every way possible. Seriously. And yet.

I have forgiven him for all those wrongs I felt so strongly about, real or imagined. I love him again, but differently, without the expectations and conditions I guess. Because, quite frankly, he would only disappoint me again. He cannot give what he does not have. So I love him, simply as my father. Not the father I always wanted, not the father I would've like to have, but as the father I had. Straight from the heart, bypassing the head, as a gift. For my kids, for me, and for him.

9 comments:

beth said...

It takes a big person to go where you've gone with your father, it's much harder to fogive and get past things than it is to hang on to them. Sounds quite healthy and somewhat healing. I have one memory of him - he was using an electronic hand trimmer to trim around that Willow tree in your front yard and he cut his fingers pretty badly and was bleeding - and Wuffy and Dukey were going crazy! That is my only memory of him.

Nicole said...

Beth - Believe me, I am not a big person. You have a great memory. I don't even remember that day.

charlie said...

Unqualified love is the greatest gift, Nicole.

Anonymous said...

Here's to healing in more ways then you'll be able to count. The best part (well one of the best)about forgiveness is that it is a gift to yourself.
tanya

christi said...

i think we had this very conversation in your kitchen last summer. do you think curiosity plays any part in your decision to keep in touch with him again?
pretty weird that i have not a SINGLE memory of my grandfather...

Anonymous said...

I was sexually abused by my father from a very young age. I've been through stages of in which worshipped him, hated him, blamed him, saw him as a sick & vulnerable old man, forgave him, and loved him.

I don't know what it's done for him, but getting to love did amazing things for me. I wish you well.

Nicole said...

Charlie and Tanya, thank you for your comments.

Christi - Curious about what? I know who he is and the life he leads now. Certainly not about the past, I lived through it, nothing can change that. And while understanding his choices is important for him, it is not for me. They are what they are, just his choices. My past and his role in it have made me who I am and I have to be ok with that. Or I will cease to be ok.

Anonymous - Well wishes right back at you. You father is lucky to have had your love.

zeb said...

Beth you have an amazing memory about all those memories from Bailey drive.

Tom said...

among the many things that are discarded over the years, that t-shirt remains with me, soft and worn. i usually use if for sleeping. Sarah and i bought two when we were living in albany while i was working on the new Schoharie Creek Bridge in up state new york. She told me she has regretably lost hers. But, in recent years, our friendship has returned in a way that is close and enduring as we bridged our own small river of lifes changing currents, and recalled what was essential to us both. You do (as you always reminded me) have an amazing memory. And, I tip my hat to you in regards to your new relationship with your father. I always had my dad at home, well mostly, but still have memories that hurt a lot, and wish i was better at forgiving or forgetting. I do love and miss him in so many ways, yet i long for understandings that do seem bridgeable.