As I write this blog, one of my dearest friends stands at the graveside of her father who passed away unexpectedly this week. While she and her family have traveled out of state for the day and a few will return to my home tonight, I am currently catching up on present Facebook postings of photos of friends’ fathers with only positive comments while, at the same time, juggling a hard copy of a dated magazine article about an adult who walked through forgiving her father before he passed away. Two extremes.
There are many who don’t enjoy Father’s Day as the cyber world leads us to believe. I reflect on my own past…
If I were to go back to my origin, there’s the biological father of whom I know nothing. There are speculations, of course, and – in my 51 years of existence – I waffle between sometimes dwelling on who he was (or is) and bouts of never wanting to know. Regarding his involvement in my life – as far as I’m aware – no responsibility, no contact, no search. No conscience? There are many things I DON’T know.
What DO I know?
I know that I was adopted by an American colonel and his bride, my adoptive mom, when I was 7 months old. This is the only father I have ever known. He chose to be tangled with the proverbial red tape in a foreign country to secure my freedom.
He helped me when I was helpless.
I wish I could say he remained engaged and involved in my middle school, teen, and college years. Indeed, during the early years of childhood, he was very much so. Handwritten post cards from military jaunts were personal, warm, and always ended with endearing nicknames. But it didn’t stay that way. A healthy life gradually dissolved upon his permanent retirement from his military and subsequent civilian career, the year of my marriage. Although he had commanded hundreds of soldiers during eight combat campaigns for more than three decades, he had long retreated personally before he walked me down the aisle. The reasons are complicated and no longer important. Our relationship was out of sync just as much as our walk to the altar.
A girl needs her dad.
In 1998, I was dealing with pain of his detached involvement in my life when I became his caretaker. His dementia left him with a dependent, but trusting, temperament. On a cold, winter day in Virginia, I remember driving him to the closest VA hospital (he refused to go elsewhere) when, quite unexpectedly, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was literally in the driver’s seat for the totality of his well being. My mother, unfortunately, was unable to care for him due to physical challenges and Alzheimer’s disease. And in an extraordinarily difficult circumstance of events, the roles reversed.
A dad needs his girl.
I helped him when he was helpless.
Past pain gave way to present forgiveness. Because I chose to forgive, I was given the privilege of honoring him appropriately during the last years of his life by caring, eulogizing, and burying him in Arlington National Cemetery when my mother was unable to do so. I can now say that I celebrate Father’s Day with gratefulness. Oddly, I’m thankful for the biological father who turned his back. If it hadn’t been for him, I never would have learned the beauty of unconditional love from my adoptive dad – of him for me, and then me for him – as well as the eventual act of forgiveness. A hard, but critical life lesson in growth.
If my Facebook friends see a handsome soldier posted on Father’s Day, it will signify a forgiveness process that will long outlive the black and white photo.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you, and I miss you. I really, really do.
And I know my dear friend who grieves today will say the same for many years to come.