"I have never seen anyone truly thrive who has not forgiven their parents, even for awful things. This is a call to very hard, but very vital, work of the soul."
-Dr. Henry Cloud
Last Thursday I was walking down the hall, preparing in my mind and heart for my Gender Communication Class. I knew full well that Father's Day was on the horizon, and I couldn't in all conscience ignore mentioning the important role fathers play in the lives of their children.
Yet as I made my way to class, and thought about Father's Day and specifically my father, I could feel the pit in my stomach. The same pit. The familiar pit. The pit that has never gone away.
I could talk more objectively about it now though, the hole in my heart about my father. I have learned a great deal over all these years. I have studied about father-daughter relationships. I know about stereotypes and that just as all mothers are not the same, all fathers are not the same either.
What I knew for sure on Thursday was that I did not want to leave those men in my class feeling like they might turn out just like some of their fathers. Not everything trickles down. Some patterns are changeable. Or at least that's what I believe.
Suddenly, when I was almost to my classroom, a song crept into my mind... an old, old song..."Daddy's Little Girl." How it popped up from the recesses in my 67 year old brain I'll never know. That happens more and more as I get older. Yet there it was, right before class started...not to be ignored. The lyrics were there. The tune was there. I felt nauseated. My goal was not not be sick in the hall.
In my home growing up we had lots of records, beautiful vinyl records, carefully tucked into paper and plastic covers, locked inside of treasured record jackets. You were never, ever, ever supposed to touch the record with your fingers, only balance the dime-thin-black-round-disk by its outer edges. Your job was to gently guide the hole in the record toward the tall spindle that would hold several records and drop them accordingly, when the last song had played. The delicate arm of the phonograph player had to be gently placed so the needle would fit perfectly into the record groove. An exacting art so that the record didn't get scratched. Whew! Just thinking about the pressure of records and grooves and scratches and record jackets sends a chill up my spine.
We had one large victrola in our living room in an ominous cabinet and a smaller more portable version in my bedroom so I could endlessly replay my favorite records. I listened to records for hours at a time. I knew all the lyrics by heart. I pretended I was singing into a microphone as I held my hairbrush upside down. I put on plays with old records and sang songs from the likes of South Pacific and Gigi. Records took me away to another place and time. They transported me into a new world.
I played some records of ours until my Mom almost lost her mind. She'd say, "Linda Marie, you are going to wear that record out if you play it one more time." She always had a twinkle in her eye and a lilt in her speech when she said that. And then she'd wink at me, and I'd smile right back. And then I'd put my favorite record back on...one more time.
I'm not sure how often I played and replayed my absolute favorite song "Daddy's Little Girl," by the Mills Brothers. I was born in 1947 and the record became famous in 1950. Here are the original lyrics:
You're the end of the rainbow
My pot of gold
You're Daddy's Little Girl
To have and to hold.
A precious gem
Is what you are.
You're Mommy's bright
And shining star.
You're the spirit of Christmas
My star on the tree
You're the Easter bunny
To Mommy and me.
You're sugar, You're spice
You're everything nice
And you're Daddy's
I remember hearing Daddy's Little Girl" and thinking fondly of Dick Clark, my best friend's Daddy. The words applied to him and how he treated Linny. That's how Daddies were, I thought. If you had a Daddy... they loved you, adored you, cherished you and took great care of you, care like we took of precious records.
However, I knew early on, in my deepest heart of hearts, that there were two types of men who had children. There were fathers, and then there were Daddies.
I also sadly knew that I had the former, rather than the latter. I loved my Father with all of my heart, and I know that despite some of what happened in my childhood, he loved me. I truly believe in my deepest heart of hearts that most of us do the best we can with what we have to work with. My father, Mark McColm, did that. He did the best he knew to do. He didn't set out to not be a Daddy to me.
He was a product of his own story. After all, at age eight he was put on a train, all by himself, to go live with a father who didn't want him. After a gruesome divorce, my Grandma Edith couldn't tolerate having three boys to raise, so she unloaded my father, the oldest son, onto his father. His father didn't want him, neglected him, screamed at him, ignored him and beat him. My father never had a birthday cake until he was an adult, and my Mom made one for him. I heard the horror stories of my father's childhood neglect and abandonment until they were sealed into my consciousness. Just like those records with repeated melodies, my father played his stories, recorded in his deepest heart, over and over, reliving the alcoholic, verbal, emotional and physical abuse he suffered.
And then, despite all of his best efforts and intentions, my father perpetuated some of that same abuse on my mother and on me.
No one I knew growing up had any idea what went on in our home. It was a horrible, well-kept secret. And until I went to Linny's home, and believe me I spent lots of time there, I had NO idea how husbands and Daddies were supposed to treat their wives and children. I secretly wished I could be adopted into Linny's family.
It didn't help that my father, already abandoned as a small child, was in World War II. It didn't help that he had no role models for fathering. It didn't help that I was born with a small hand, a birth defect. It didn't help that when he first saw me, he left the hospital and didn't come back for three days. He went on a drunken binge instead of holding and consoling my Mom.
Daddy's Little Girl...not so much!
I've worked hard during much of my young adult life, adult life and older adult life to empathize with my father, to see life as he experienced it, and eventually, with some help from some counseling angels, to forgive him. To let go of the old hurts, the wish I hadas, the shoulda-couldas.
I know that I am not alone when it comes to feeling somewhat mystified and confused when it comes to my own father or how when Father's Day approaches, I have such mixed feelings. If our fathers weren't fathered by healthy fathers themselves, then many of us grew up without a Daddy. It's not about blame or shame... it's about understanding.
For any of you reading this who have struggled with your relationship with your father, there are resources out there to help. Here are a few:
1) Read the book Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers by Leslie Leland Fields.
This book is a life-saver for many of us. It gives us new understanding of how
to break free from the anger and bitterness we might have regarding our dads.
2) I have saved photographs I've found where my Dad is happy or smiling. I often laminate some of them and use them as bookmarks. As I open the book, I can see a smiling Mark McColm. These photo-bookmarks frame my Dad in a new light. He is no longer alive, but in one picture of my Mom kissing him, I can see my dad's hurting heart. I see the little boy in him, before he was so deeply abandoned himself.
3) My Dad passed away years ago, but every Father's Day I write him a letter. I say the things I needed to say then and what I need to say now. I tell him that I am so sorry for all the hurts he went through. Doing this helps me to keep my own heart open.
4) We have a beloved counselor that has worked with our family on and off over the years.
From time to time, if I get stuck, I just make an appointment to work on my dad.
Forgiving my father is an on-going process.
5) I am grateful for what my father was able to give me, do for me, and the life-lessons he taught me. My father worked so, so hard to make a living. He gave his time and energy and love to put a roof over our head, food on the table and save for a college education for me. My father taught me about having a great work ethic and that you can be anything you want, if you are willing to work for it. Later, after the shock of my hand wore off a bit, my dad was my greatest advocate in learning how to do almost everything- play golf, snow ski, horseback riding and more. I focus on gratitude and I am grateful for the many blessings he gave me.
6) Most importantly, when I became a Christian I learned that I had a Heavenly Father, a Heavenly Daddy, if you will, who loved me just the way I needed to be loved. He loved me just the way I am, and He loved me unconditionally. I was "Daddy's Little Girl" to my Heavenly Father, even though that didn't happen with my earthly father. Once I knew God loved me, I could feel deep compassion for my own dad. I could forgive him and feel sad for him. Hurt people... often hurt people. But I also knew that legacy of hurting would stop with me.
Finally, I have several candid photographs where my father is holding me. His guard is down and you can see love in his eyes. He looks like a Daddy in all of those shots.
As I work on my own soul, I am also continually working on having compassion, love and forgiveness for my Dad. And because of that work, I can celebrate all of the healthy Dads out there. Men like my beloved husband, Bert. Men who adore their daughters and sons.
Men who are a real Daddy, in every sense of the word. And seeing how they love their children, well it restores my own heart and soul. It makes me smile. It gives me buckets and buckets of HOPE!
and to my own Dad...
I love you Dad. I've forgiven you and I know you did the best you could.
I miss you and on this Father's Day I wish I could give you a hug.
God Bless and Happy Father's Day
"If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old." ...