I have two dads.
No, I’m not the product of a same-sex relationship, or part of bad sitcom, but when I was about four years old, our father left us. Mom later remarried, and a few years later, my stepdad adopted my sister and me, and our last name was changed. My biological father also remarried, had several children…and his wife insisted they not be told about us. (i.e., I have half-siblings who don’t know I exist.)
I have sketchy memories of my biological father, mostly from grainy B&W photographs. One day, when I was about 30 years old, I looked in the mirror, and a memory of him flashed in my mind. (I’d always been told how much I resembled him.) I decided I wanted to reconnect and contacted a cousin on that side of the family who promised to ask him. I assured her I only wanted to get to know the man that apparently shaped so much of who I was.
A few weeks later, she told me he’d declined my offer.
My relationship with my adoptive father has never been “warm and fuzzy.” With me, he was stern, strict and had a volatile temper that usually included the use of corporal punishment. He seemed not able to express positive emotions. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the same limitations with negative emotions, and he regularly taunted me with insults and name-calling. I think he could tell he’d “inherited” a boy who was different from other boys, and he was determined to make a man out of me. (Today, it’s called verbal abuse. Back then, Mom shrugged it off as “just his way.”)
There's an old joke about a wife who made fried eggs for breakfast, and set the plate down in front of her husband. He looked at them and said, "I wanted scrambled eggs." The following day, she scrambled the eggs. "I wanted fried eggs," he growled. She came up with a solution, and the next day there was one fried egg, and one scrambled. The man looked down at the plate. "Wouldn't you know it. You fried the wrong egg."
That was my relationship with my Dad. No matter what I did, he found something to criticize; I could never do anything right in his mind. Regardless of my successes, he offered no praise, or even acknowledgment. Mom repeated told me that he loved me, but if he did, he was never able to say the actual words. And I always knew I was a disappointment to him.
After learning of my second cancer diagnosis, my partner and I felt it was best not to tell my parents until we had more details. The first year was spent “watching” the cancer, so there wasn’t much to tell. Once it was determined I needed treatments, we arranged a trip home. We waited until our last day to give them “the news” so we didn’t put a damper on the entire trip.
“We wanted you to hear it from us in person, but there’s nothing to worry about” was how I began the disclosure I’d rehearsed in my mind. Later that day, before we left for the airport, he pulled me aside to let me know that he did not appreciate the way I’d told them. (Even in sharing I had cancer, I did it wrong. Yep, that’s his way!) After that conversation, he has never once called to check on me, to get an update on my treatments, or just to ask how I'm doing. Yep, that's his way!
A few weeks before beginning my treatments, while waiting on an appointment, I learned my biological father had died. (Thankfully, it was an appointment with my therapist!) I felt a rush of mixed emotions, and cried uncontrollably. I’d still held out hope that one day we would have the chance to meet. Now I’d forever be without the answers I wanted.
Sitting in the car, it occurred to me. I have/had two fathers, but neither of them were ever there for me. Neither cared about Who I Am...as a person. Both rejected me. And now, they were absent during a time when having their strength and emotional support might be helpful.
Side Story/Update: Several years ago at Christmas, he accused me of saying something rude to him, then got angry when I insisted that I didn’t. (Growing up, Dad was allowed to talk to me like I was worthless, but if I got angry, or defensive, I was also punished for “backtalk” or being disrespectful.) Everyone in the room tried to correct him, but he refused to back down. (I’ve never, in all my life, heard him admit he was wrong or say “I’m sorry.”) He began one of his verbal assaults on me—in front of all the family—and I refused to sit quietly and acquiesce in order to “calm him down,” as was my habit. I stood up, literally and figuratively, and told him I did not appreciate being falsely accused of something I did not do, I resented him calling me a liar, and I informed him that he was not to speak to me in that tone of voice...ever again. I’m not sure why I waited so late in my life to stand up to him, but years of therapy probably helped. These days, he won’t even speak to me. (Therapy has also helped me be okay with that. Even grateful!)
As the saying goes, we are the son of our father.
For me, I'm the son of a father who genetically imparted (I'm told) my appearance and disposition, but abandoned us and refused to ever see me again. I am also the son of a father who abused me, and emotionally withheld love and affection.
Personal Note: In an earlier entry, I shared that we are the products of all our past experiences, good and bad. We can't change what happened to us, but we can learn from it. I made sure my children never had to wonder if I loved them; I told them every day. I held them, hugged them, kissed them. They are adults now, and we are still openly affectionate express our love to one another.
I have scars and wounds inflicted by two "fathers." Both absent.
I think this is why I love and embrace the idea of God as Father/Parent. God offers love and acceptance for who I am. God provides me with Presence and Comfort during the emotional struggles of this disease. God extends grace, mercy and forgiveness when my pain brings anger and fear. God does not abandon me when I express that anger, patient when I am not. God is a Constant Parent to me.
I want to be the son of God, my Father.
I want to emulate those qualities.
Author’s Note: The "Father" image is what people are probably most familiar with (“Our Father, which art in heaven…”) but the Bible does present God as both Mother and Father, with many maternal images as well. (cf: Numbers, 11:12; Deuteronomy 32:11-12; Isaiah 49:14-15; 66:12-13; Hosea 11:1-4; Psalm 18:8; 36:7; 57:1; 91:1,4; Matthew 23:37)
God is Father, Mother…Parent.
P.S. By way of context, this post was NOT planned, but I made a trip last week to visit my family. That can sometimes bring up lots of past...stuff. Especially when my dad sees me at my sister's, scowls and asks, "What are you doing here?"
Guess the scars are not quite healed.
(Let's see, when is my next therapy appointment?)
DISCLAIMER: Portions of this post were originally published elsewhere; it's been revised, augmented and updated for this entry.