Posts Tagged With: Yesterday

Finding and Forgiving Dad

DSC_0038This year I’ve lived forty-nine years beyond my dad’s death. Ironic. He would have turned forty-nine the year he died. Dad passed several days before Father’s Day, 1968. I’ve missed him. Whether I wanted to or not. But he’s been with me every day since, in one way or another. Sometimes a ghost, sometimes a presence, sometimes an ache.

Right after his heart attack, he stayed with us mostly as a ghost. Our mangy dog Pug, carried Dad’s slipper around until it disintegrated. Slept with it in his dog bed. My mom sat at the dining room table, smoking, drinking coffee, in her robe, a ghost herself.

I’d wake in the morning and Dad would have haunted my dreams. Maybe I’d have dreamed about us stringing a barbed wire fence at the horse pasture on property owned by the company he worked for that was then called Martin Marietta. He built Titan rockets.

“Watch where you’re walkin’. You’re so skinny you’ll fall in one of those groundhog holes and I’ll never find you. Or a rattlesnake will bite you.”

I still walk looking at the ground.

Or we were in the garage fixing a car. Dad’d be bent under the hood, knuckles bloodied, droplight glaring on his wrench. I’d be sitting on the concrete floor with an oil pan full of gasoline between my legs, wire brushing bolts or casings.

“Why do I need to clean them?” I’d whine holding my greasy, burning hands out primly.

“You can’t put them back on dirty,” he’d say. “You’re going to grow up and sit behind a desk.”

I did just that. I didn’t realize he was teaching me how to work. He probably didn’t either.

After these dreams, I’d jump out of bed hoping his heart attack had been a nightmare. That he’d be upstairs smoking his Winstons and drinking Folgers. He never was.

But his ghost wafted everywhere. The garage was scattered with his mechanic’s tools, at least the ones my uncles hadn’t permanently borrowed. His rodeo belt buckles hung in the closet. His horseman trophies perched on the dresser. In secret, I’d dig through a cardboard box fingering his Social Security Card, his bolo ties, broken watches, and coal miner lanterns. I still have some of them.

But as a family, we rarely talked about him or his death. My mom sold his Chevy truck and the camper, and worst of all, our Quarter horse, Ginger. She had to. Dad died without life insurance. Still, it was as if to say, “We’re done. We’re moving on.”

We weren’t and we didn’t.

Because our strategy for grief—if you can call it that—was to ignore his death and then when that didn’t deaden the pain, pretend we were better off without him. I was never very good at either of those strategies. But I tried.

Dad was a man of his time, tough. Lord of the house. He disciplined with his belt. And maybe worse with my older sister. So there was reason to speak ill of the dead. Possibly we wouldn’t miss him so much if we painted him with dark colors. When we mentioned him, it was as if he’d run off with another woman rather than died of a massive heart attack.

HCScottHCSCOTT (1 of 8)HCSCOTT (3 of 8)HCSCOTT (8 of 8)I remember when I was about fourteen, brushing my long hippie hair behind my ears, smoking a Camel. “It’s a good thing my dad’s not here. He’d hate my hair,” I said, as if “letting my freak flag fly” was reason to not miss your dead father. Then I’d tell the story about my dad and his friend, the owner of a local Standard filling station, standing in the door of the garage making fun of a hippie walking past on the street.

“Lazy, cowardly hippies,” I remember him saying with his Winston hanging from his clean-shaven lip. Dad served in the Army Air Corp in WWII. But I didn’t remember that then.

This cloaked grief wore me out. When I was sixteen, I drove alone over to his grave in Fort Logan National Cemetery. I stared down at his headstone, sobbing. Slowly, I mastered myself and told him, “These are the last tears. I’m done. You left me. I’m leaving you and I’m not coming back.”

I believed my new-found relationship with Jesus fixed my brokenness and banished Dad’s ghost. Released from the past, I tucked my grief in a different dark pocket, climbed in my truck, and drove away.

The trouble with denial and hiding from pain is it works just well enough. Even though I now belonged to the One who conquered death, loss rumbled inside me like molten rock. I became an emotional volcano.

Jesus did give me a future, though. I married Dee Dee and got busy building a life. Dee Dee opened doors to a life I never dreamed of. We bought a house. We made life-long friends. We decided I should go to college. We had kids. I didn’t know yet that that future included Jesus healing my past.

That retroactive healing began when my dad returned, not as a ghost but as a presence. I was kneeling in the bathroom, getting our toddlers ready for a bath before bed.

“Skin the rabbit,” I said, pulling the shirt up and over the head and off one of their tiny bodies.

Where’d that come from? I thought. Tears burned my eyes. I remembered. It was a hunting idiom and my dad had said it every time he prepared me for a bath and bed. What? He gave me baths and not just belts. A man in the 1950s and 60s who took care of his kids? That didn’t fit my narrative of a cold hard loveless father. I wiped the tears away. Pushed it back down.

But the gate had opened.

“Pull my finger,” I teased my kids just as I remembered Dad teased me.

The memories of the times building fences, wrangling horses, straightening nails, cleaning car parts, sweeping the garage, mowing the lawn—and even being put to bed—erupted and became more than molten nightmares. They became memories of an imperfect father passing on his life and love the only way he knew how.

At age thirty, on Memorial Day, I went back to Fort Logan, believing forgiveness can stretch into the past and beyond the grave. Slowly I had become not only a father but now a son.

A few years later, after I’d become a pastor and “sat behind a desk” as Dad predicted, I was walking back to the office after lunch. I was dressed in a white shirt, dark slacks, and a tie. It was in Illinois and hot. I rolled my shirtsleeves up to mid forearm. As I walked by a storefront window, I noticed my reflection. It stole my breath and the remainder of my false dad narrative away.

I saw my dad walking there beside me. Right before his death, he had been promoted from a missile mechanic to a supervisor at Martin Marietta and often wore what I was wearing that day, sleeves rolled up and all.

I had become my dad. And I was glad.

Years later, for Father’s Day, my youngest daughter had me listen to a rap song by Sean Daley (Slug of Atmosphere) about his dad: “Yesterday.”

“Yesterday, was that you

Looked just like you

Strange things my imagination might do

Take a breath reflect on what we’ve been through

Or am I just going crazy cause I miss you?”

Dad’s presence now permeated my life. And through my grief, once God cracked open the vault, I learned how to reinterpret my life story. Through the loss of my dad, I found my Father. And through becoming the father of my children, I found my dad.

I miss Dad more than ever now that I know the truth about him a bit better.

“You got your love of rivers from your dad,” my mom told me by way of apology the year before she died. Forty-nine years after his death, I’ve learned something else. Jesus most often heals by telling us the truth, even when it is a hard truth. Even when it hurts.CCI13062014

Categories: authenticity, belonging, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grief, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Why Are So Many Fatherless?

By Eugene C. Scott

Sean Daley (Slug) of the hip-hop group Atmosphere wrote and preformed a song, “Yesterday,” that reflects the struggle many of us have after losing our fathers:

“I thought I saw you yesterday . . .

Was that you? Looked just like you

Strange things my imagination might do

Take a breath, reflect on what we been through

Or am I just goin’ crazy ’cause I miss you?”

I too have been looking–in one way or another–ever since my dad’s heart suddenly stopped beating. I remember the day of his funeral sitting on our living room couch, hoping it was only a nightmare, watching for him to reappear. My uncles kept trooping by and, not knowing what else to do, rubbed the top of my head saying, “You’re the man of the house now.” I think they too were still looking for him. In me.

I was eleven then, the oldest boy. I had two older sisters and a younger brother. I tried to become the man of the house but failed. I was not a man and would not be for a long time. As I wrote last week, fatherlessness was to become a long odyssey. Sean Daley’s song goes on:

“Chip on the shoulder, anger in my veins

Had so much hate, now it brings me shame . . .

I thought I saw you yesterday

But I knew it wasn’t you, ‘cause you passed away, dad”

No matter how we lost them, in many ways we’re a culture in search of fathers.

My uncles seemed like perfect candidates for me. But it wasn’t to be.

“I’ll just keep these until you boys are old enough to take care of them,” they each said loading their cars with my dad’s tools. My dad was an airplane mechanic and owned a tool set that would make Tim Taylor weak in the knees. I never saw the tools–and rarely saw the uncles–again. They were incredible tools. Humor aside, however, I have tried to care for some of the fatherless kids in my family. It’s much easier to take care of tools than someone else’s kids.

Since then I’ve noticed more and more men are having trouble even taking care of their own kids. Fatherlessness is epidemic. As I wrote last week, 24 million kids today are growing up in fatherless homes.

Why? What’s going on?

The reasons may be as many as those without fathers themselves. Fatherlessness is a complex social problem with no easy answers. But there is a common denominator: men. As a group we have fallen asleep at the switch. We have lost our courage and forgotten our purpose.

Yes, we are also the victims (I hate to use that word) of the unintended consequences of a changing culture.

For example, I saw in my own family the truth that welfare programs tend to devalue those depending on them. Because food was laid on the table by Big Brother, the men who begat my nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews believed they weren’t needed or wanted and simply walked, or ran away. Yes, these men were often young, uneducated, underemployed, and maybe even fatherless themselves.

But since when do men–or women for that matter–walk or run away from a challenge? When did we men, as a group, lose the courage it takes to look at our own flesh and blood and say, “I will give my all, my life, so that you can live.”

When did we, in such huge numbers, lay down the true courage it takes to father, protect and provide for our offspring and take up the fake bravado it takes to grab a game-stick or gun and mow down those we call enemies?

I remember well the terror and wonder that filled me as I held each of my three naked, vulnerable children. Their every breath depended, in part, on me. What if I turned out to be as much of a failure as a father as I was at being the man of the house? Then God seemed to speak to my heart, “You were made for this. Be strong and courageous. With my help you will do it.”

I have, though far from perfectly.

Another unintended consequence of a social change is that in order to gain God-given equal footing in a patriarchal world, women tore tooth and nail at the definition–not only of womanhood–but manhood too. They said real men aren’t angry, emotionless, distant, driven John Waynes. And they were right. The problem was, in our hurry to demolish straw-men we forgot to replace them with a working definition.

So, I found myself not only growing up without a living, breathing model of what a father was, I struggled to become a man when not many were able to say what purpose real men served. What was my purpose in the world? I wondered.

Again, the answer is forming out of my faith. I was not invented to live for myself, self-discovery, self-fulfillment. These things are crucial signs on the path of becoming who God created me to be. But the end of the journey is not becoming a better me but becoming more like Christ and, like him, to give myself away. First to my family. To show them how to work, live, fail, think, succeed, worship, sacrifice, hunt, fish, and–highest of all–to love God and others.

Men, there may be odds against us, but the root of the problem of fatherlessness is in us and the seed of the solution too.

God is telling us, “Be very strong and courageous.” Father your children; don’t settle for being merely a sperm-donor.

There is no greater gift and purpose in life than to have someone created in your image and then have that Creator say, “Here she is. Show her what it takes to be human. Show him how much I love him.” This takes much more strength and courage than simply being the man of the house.

Eugene C. Scott also writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

Categories: authenticity, belonging, Bible, Christianity, creation, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God Sightings, Jesus, loneliness, love., Meaning, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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