To my father, at Christmas
An open letter to my father, at Christmas.
I saw what you did there, of course. Which is to be expected because it is what you fully intended. I need not describe, in this space, the details of what you did. You and I and a few others already know but others who read this letter need not know the details to hear me out. It is enough to note only that it was a slap you intended to deliver with full force, and that I have understood your intention.
The slight itself does not matter nearly so much to me as you no doubt hoped it would. I have long since learned to insulate myself from the shifting winds that represent your opinion of me. Obviously they have blown steadily in the same contrary direction for over half a decade now, but long before then I understood that even favorable winds were no sign of smooth sailing ahead. But we all are less noble than we imagine ourselves to be, less noble than we ought be, and it seemed good to not be more antagonized than circumstances required. In hindsight, even some of those occasions I let go unremarked, and at least one or two I’d love to have done differently.
No, it’s not that the act itself caused hurt to my own heart, because I’ve long been immunized, but rather what the act says about you in the eyes of others whom your choices neglect, and the curiosity I feel that you have always seemed so obtuse to the disconnect between the things you say you believe, and the acts which flow from your heart. On the former, I can only wonder – did it never occur to you as you were writing down the names of your grandchildren whether or not they would take offense at your choice? Do you yet arrogantly assume that every right-thinking person would make the choices you’ve made? What about the other person you named? Does that person think, in your estimation, more or less of you having been made party to your act? Did you even think on that? Do you even care, really, about any of them? Or is it enough merely to make an empty gesture to sooth your own conscious that you have done the right thing? An act of making yourself look good in your own sight?
On the latter point, there is more that I could say than would fit into the space allowed, or would be appropriate to the venue. What I intend to say about that, however, I will save until the last paragraph. First, however, I find irresistible the opportunity to indulge in a moment to say some things that I may never have another chance to say.
I am aware, of course, what you think of me. That I have, in your view, disgraced and shamed you, that I am unworthy of your presence, even. An attitude shared by almost all who share your blood. It’s easy, is it not, to look down on those dealing with that which you never had to struggle with? To condescend to consider beneath you even those whom you might be expected to love unconditionally, when you fear that you might be knocked off your own perch of respectability if they were to come too close. When I screwed up my courage and drove up to your house in order to show you the respect of telling you honestly, to your face, what was about to happen, I really wasn’t under any illusion that you would hug my neck and say “you are my child no matter what and nothing could make me love you less.” I expected you to say, pretty much, precisely what you did say.
But I have come to wonder in the years since, if that attitude explains much more about the previous 50 years than I had at first surmised. I know that you know this thing is not new. I know that you could not have forgotten the obvious evidence that accumulated in your home some (almost) 40 years ago and I cannot help but suspect that such knowledge accounts in large part for the lifelong sense that I could never completely meet your expectations. Underneath it all, I was a known disappointment and it was only in those times when you allowed yourself to believe I had beaten, or been cured of, the affliction which offended you so that you could see any good in me at all. On the day when I told you my truth, it was simply a final affirmation that I was not good enough to be called your child.
Moreover, though, I suspect it goes even further than that. I suspect, at your age, your memory may be somewhat unreliable about events of almost fifty years ago, and I am certain you would deny these suspicions even if you do remember. Kids, you know, pre-school kids – they often speak innocently things that older children and adults learn to keep to themselves. There are several mild mysteries about my childhood which make much more sense when I consider the possibility that I told you, even then, how I felt about myself and you employed your #1 solution – apply whatever force was necessary to make me comply to your will. Perhaps that is how I came to so completely submit to shame about that which my heart knew to be true. Maybe that is why I spent most of my lifetime hating myself for things I could not control – because I knew not even my own father could accept such a thing as me.
In the end, I was right – he could not. Some people had rather alienate a son, even bury one if need be, as love an unexpected daughter. To this day I wonder, would you be happier now if I had mustered the courage, all those years ago, to end the pain and let you bury me? Far better to have everyone console you in your (apparent) grief than to be shamed in their eyes by embracing a daughter neither you nor they understood, yes? As I said, all this comes as no surprise to me. I have refrained from much comment about it for these six years and more because I had no illusion that to speak of it would lead to improvement. You and those who have followed your lead have cast your lot. In order to save my own life I had to accept the loss of my father, my brother, and others who would – in other circumstances – say “family above all.” So I have kept quiet, gone my own way and left you to your (so you suppose) only child. What good would it have done me to do otherwise?
But perhaps just for a moment the scales have tipped ever so slightly and so briefly in the other direction, thanks to your tiny, spiteful, effort to rub my nose in it. Maybe just this once I’ll put the foregoing words in writing so that you can never say they were not spoken. Perhaps even that is not reason enough to speak them, but here they are, nonetheless.
Christmas is, as of the moment of this writing, mere hours away. The season set aside to honor the birth of the person whom you, quite loudly, proclaim to be your Savior. The person poets have called The Prince of Peace. The man who would spend His days upon their Earth saying things like “by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” The man who called his followers to be people of compassion, empathy, and above all love. The season of which we sing songs with lyrics about “peace on earth, good will to men” (as did the angels). That time of year when our culture makes it’s greatest show of people laying aside their differences and showing love even to their enemies. In THAT season, you thought it wise to slap me in the face with the fact that you had disowned me? Seriously? Well let me respond, father, in the only way that seems good to me. I will not say that it satisfies my baser emotions do do this, but it is the right thing to do. Your daughter my not always like you, for you and I are both exceedingly difficult to like on frequent occasion, but she loves you. For His sake, I can do no other.
Even as long as you insist on denying her existence.
Photo: Karen Roe