It’s Father’s Day, and I’m watching as all the tributes to wonderful Dads fill the Facebook world. I expected them, and celebrate with my friends whose dads passed down remarkable legacies. But some of us had very broken dads, and we inherited a different kind of legacy. Part of my legacy is that, thanks to broken parents, I have learned to love broken people very well.
When we were young, my father was stable and left for work each day meticulously dressed in a business suit. At night, he would forego children’s books and instead made up vivid stories with recurring characters that he dramatically presented to us before bed. He coached Little League and joined us at the beach. He came home each night for family dinners around the kitchen table for the first seventeen years of my life – until everything fell apart. He lost one too many jobs, his marriage fell apart, and he no longer could afford a mortgage or rent. In the last years of his life, he lived out of his car.
But I will always remember who he wanted to be, and the relationship he wanted with his children. In honor of my dad who never found healing for those fractured places in his soul, I’m posting an excerpt from a longer piece I wrote and published a few years back called “Dooms of Love.” This is an actual dream I had shortly after my father’s death, filled with imagery and details from some deep, subconscious place:
I dream that night, eerily and vividly about my father. The view outside the window is rolling hills. He has a business that he works out of our home. In our yard, three dogs are tied up with chain leashes and two of their leashes get caught together. One is being pulled down the hill by the other dog with the chain around his foot. There is no way to escape. They are tied together permanently. When one runs, the other runs. When one falls the other falls. They stay connected.
Dad is working on some equipment—like farm equipment—in the living room but it’s broken. Finally I hear him say with patient defeat, “Well, I guess it’s over. This equipment is dead and there’s nothing left I can do to keep the business going.” He is preparing to close up shop. Something has happened and his business will never run in the black again. I hear him wondering what else he’ll do for a livelihood. I look out the window at the green, lush landscape, wondering too how you make a living in this rural area. In the dream I feel hopeful that something always can be bought or sold, a service performed, or a repair made. He’s creative enough to find something to do.
I go to the living room where he is packing up his equipment, defeated. I stand before him, looking up into his face, noticing how much taller he is than me. He’s wearing a green plaid shirt buttoned all the way to the top and I like the pattern on him.
“Dad, it’s OK the business didn’t work. It takes courage to start a business to begin with, and it especially takes courage to start another one after one has failed. You’ve done well.” His expression is familiar to me. He wants to turn away and dismiss my encouragement as “nonsense,” but his face stops between dismissal and a hope of finding truth in my words. Was that a hint of comfort in his face?
I wake at 4:30 in the morning going over the dream. Some rare dreams have that feeling that you’ve really spoken to the person—like it was more than a dream. I know there was truth in those thoughts and images. We were tied together, too, like those dogs on their chains; and when he fell, I fell. When he hurt, I hurt, too. I’m the true product of a broken home and hurting parents, always dreaming in my most longing of dreams that I could’ve made all of his hurts go away.
As the memory lingers, I wonder if it is ever too late to offer words of comfort to a person who has left his tormented life. If a person is dead, where do words of encouragement go?
Like everyone else honoring their father on Father’s Day, I loved my dad, too, despite his issues. I pray today he knows the truth of that love and that he’s found peace. Happy Father's Day, Dad.