Imagine, for a moment, a little girl all snug in her jammies on a cold, winter night. Book in hand, she approaches her father as he sat, relaxing in his arm chair. "Can you read to me, daddy?" She'd ask in her sweetest voice. The fathers heart melts as he scoops up his precious bundle, sets her on his lap, covers her chilly feet with a blanket and begins the story.
To those of you who have experienced this, imagine now that this was merely an image, a mirage, something that wouldn't happen even in your dreams. That is my reality.
Some good memories of my father, I do have, but for the most part.. my memories of him are chalice, un-loving, cold and painful.
No, I'm not talking about the kind of parent that 'ruined your life' by making you do homework or embarrassing you in front of your friends or wouldn't give you that $20 and the keys to the car. I'm talking about a man that took the word of God and twisted it into an unrecognizable pile of rubbish. He used these made up laws to control, torture and beat his family.
We did not tip toe up behind him to cover his eyes with the 'guess who' game. We did not tip toe up to him to start a tickle war. We did, however, have to tip toe around him to make sure we stayed unnoticed, stayed on our best behavior and to make sure we did nothing to disappoint or anger him.
We were required to raise our hands, wait to be called on before speaking to ask permission to do the most basic, human deeds… get a drink of water and even go to the bathroom. Yet, we had to earn the right to these things and my father yielded the right to deny us permission.
We received no empathy, pity or understanding when it came to our common child like falters and the clumsy, gauche behavior that most children display.
When I was 4 years old, we had just moved into our new home, when the upstairs, that was later turned into three bedrooms, was my parents room. My father had a pile of hangers laying on the floor while he hung up clothes in the closet. Also in that room, on the floor, was a small register that would serve as the only heat source to the second floor. My father had firmly instructed me not to step on that register. I was a four year old girl and had a lot to say and a full imagination to act out.
“Daddy, look at my new dance.” I excitedly said, looking for an ounce of reaction from him.
“You stay off of that register!” He growled back at me.
Despite the negative response and lack of attention, I started to prance and twirl around the room. For a fleeting moment, I was a graceful ballerina. My fingers pointed up and over my head. I imagined my tutu floating around my waist as I whirled around in a swift spiral motion.
Lost in my recital dream, the crowd about to explode into a standing ovation.. I stumbled. Something caught my feet and would not let go. As I hurdled toward the floor, I was able to free one foot and quickly pull it out in front of me catching my fall.
I opened my clenched eyes to see what had grabbed me. I noticed behind me the pile of hangers. Instead of a neat, stacked pile, however, they were scattered throughout.
I looked up at my father with apologetic eyes.
I wanted to see a soft and forgiving face, his arms extended to cradle me making sure I was not hurt. Instead, I saw fire.
I didn’t understand, at first.. until I glanced down and realized that in my attempt to catch myself, I had stepped on the register.
An innocent mistake but I knew that my father took that as a deliberate show of disobedience.
I wanted to plead my case to him but I knew better. There was no way to convince him that it was not disobedience, it was an accident. Before there was a chance however, he angrily grabbed one of the scattered hangers off the floor and proceeded to ‘punish’ me, beating me on the backside with it.
These are the memories that plague my mind. The life long imprints on my brain of the 'Bible teachings'. The statements that the world was going to blow up next year. Every year, the world was going to blow up the next year. The frightful waiting, the tears. Not wanting to wake up in the 3 o'clock hour for we knew what would be there for us. Our father let us know that it was certain we'd wake up to the devil sitting on the sides of our beds waiting to grab us and rip us into the fiery pits of Hell.
My youngest sister was scared of the dark well into her 20's.
The memories of my father are not all ominous, however. Sometimes, he was great fun. We were allowed to make forts out of blankets underneath the dining room table and he sometimes would go outside with us for snowball fights or to splash around in the yard after and even during a heavy rain. We had a ritual where we all got together and made a homemade granola that was 90% sugar and sweets but delicious. He did occasionally have a sense of humor and would crack jokes with us.
As grand as these memories are, they seemed to be shadowed with the memories of having to tell him our favorite song or movie and sit quiet while he explained to us how evil and immoral they were. The good memories seem to go into hiding when remembering the paddle hanging in my dad’s bedroom, strategically drilled with holes to prevent wind resistance when he beat us with it. The most disturbing part of this paddle was that after our fulmination, we were required to sign our name to it. Needless to say, my sister’s name littered this paddle. She was the oldest, after all, and knew better. It was not tolerated to do wrong even at her, still, young and tender age.
Although his physical existence is not a part of my world and hasn't been for the last 20 years, I still think of him often. Mostly the thoughts of what could have been. The reflections that I could have been that little girl snug on daddy's lap. The longings of what has never been and what never will be.
I have struggled with myself and with God to allow myself to forgive him. What seems to hold me back is the thought that if I forgive, everything he did to us is now, somehow, OK. My stubbornness and pride refuse to allow that to happen. On the other hand, however, the forgiveness I crave is to set myself free. Free from these plagues and free from the empty feelings I continue to carry.
*Excerpts added from my biography 'The Pursuit for Gray'. To be published soon.*