|Posted on August 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM|
Last week I received a birthday card from my dad. In most cases this would seem like a fairly normal occurrence - except for the fact that I haven't seen or spoken to my father in over 20 years. In fact, I haven't gotten a birthday card from him since I was around 11 years old. Years ago my mom won a bitter custody battle over my brother, and my father disappeared from my life.
Holding that card in my hands was like holding onto a little piece of my childhood that I'd lost. Looking back, I remember the times when I longed for my dad to acknowledge my birthday - or even my existence. I remember friends asking me what color my parents' eyes were and how I always felt awkward that I couldn't remember my dad's face.
Over the past few months my father and I have started writing letters to each other. Bit by bit, at age 32, I'm finally getting to know my father. It's been a strange, sad, happy and interesting experience reconnecting with a man who I lived with until I was 7 years old but who I know relatively little about.
I learned several lessons from my father's birthday card that I feel are important to share.
The Beauty of the Cycle of Life
When I was 8 years old, my mom met my stepfather Paul, a man who ended up being my true father in every sense of the word. Paul was completely blind due to a gunshot wound that he suffered in his early 20s when someone tried to kill him. My relationship with Paul wasn't easy at first - he was downright cruel and verbally abusive to me at times - but over the years we began to accept each other and our relationship became quite close. Growing up with someone who had been through such hardship really taught me a lot about life.
When I was 28, Paul died suddenly and unexpectedly from complications due to his over-use of the painkiller oxycontin. I was devastated. Two months before he died, my mom had left him because she couldn't handle his addiction anymore. So in essence I was experiencing a second father figure who had given up on his family and then disappeared. Two weeks before Paul died, I had an opportunity to pay him a visit and confront him about his addiction, but I figured I would just see him the next time I went home. Instead, I wrote him a letter explaining how I felt. But the letter didn't arrive in time. My chance never came.
After Paul died I remember thinking about my biological father and wondering how I would feel if I found out he died and I'd never gotten a chance to see him again or tell him how I felt.
I now see that the universe has brought my father back into my life so that I don't make the same mistake twice. I've realized the importance of telling people how we truly feel - no matter how awkward or vulnerable or uncomfortable it makes us. Because you never know when you might lose your chance.
This illustrates so beautifully the life/death/life cycle and the natural ebb and flow of life. In nature, there is a perfect cycle of birth, growth, decline and death, which then becomes birth again. In my life, as one father leaves, another arrives. All in perfect timing.
The Power of Forgiveness
My birthday card also made me realize how important it is to forgive. What my father did was wrong - and he knows it. In his first few letters to me, he apologized and explained himself as best he could. What he put me through was hard - I have many mental scars that I spent years in therapy trying to heal. I ended up in dysfunctional relationships, and behaved irrationally in many of my relationships, partly due to my fears of abandonment and loss. In my youth and early 20s, I wanted so badly for men to acknowledge me, to love me, to pay attention to me that I lost myself in the process.
Despite all of this, forgiving my father was relatively easy. Some people might think, "How could you forgive him? Look what he put you and your mom and brother through!" But early in my life I learned an important lesson in forgiveness from my other father Paul. After he went blind, Paul actually approached the man who shot him, hugged him, and told him he forgave him. I always thought to myself that if Paul was capable of forgiving a man who had tried to kill him and who caused him to live in utter darkness for the rest of his life, surely I could forgive anyone.
Besides, what good does carrying a grudge do? The only thing that anger and hatred do is eat us up inside. These feelings serve no useful purpose and don't have any effect at all on the person who wronged us. I know that what my father did was wrong. He knows it too. What's the point of harping on the past? Each new moment, each breath we take, is a chance to start new.
The Resilience of Relationships
In our lives, it seems as though certain relationships are able to stand the test of time. Last weekend I had the opportunity to catch up with several old friends who I hadn't seen in awhile. With each of these friends, it doesn't matter how long we go without speaking or seeing each other. Somehow, when we're face to face, it's like we can just pick up where we left off.
I truly believe that our souls are connected with the souls of these special people. It's like some part of us is dancing with each other, no matter how far apart our physical bodies are, and when we see each other again, we fall right back into step. We don't even miss a beat. These resilient friendships and relationships are powerful. These are the relationships we want to nurture and hold dear to our hearts. These people are in our lives for a reason. Sometimes the reason isn't apparent for years - but it's always there right when we need it.
I don't expect to have the type of relationship with my father that we would have had if he'd been a part of my life growing up. That time has passed. We will never be the father/daughter duo who spent fathers day at a fancy restaurant or who waved to each other at little league games. My dad didn't attend my graduations or my wedding. He missed out on many of the major milestones in my life. And we can't go back. But what we can do is move forward. We can get to know each other now, in this moment, and accept whatever type of relationship ends up developing between us.
In reality, 20 years is a small blip on the radar of eternal time. It might have felt like an eternity to me when I was younger, but I now realize that everything about my relationship with my father has happened in perfect timing. It's the same as seeing an old friend that you haven't seen in years. True friendships and strong connections transcend the boundaries of space and time. You are connected to the important people in your life - no matter how far away or how long it's been.
Our precious, sacred relationships are what give us the most joy and connection as human beings. So my advice to you today is to tell someone you love or appreciate them. Give your partner and children an extra tight hug before you leave for work. Call or email an old friend and tell them how much you appreciate their friendship.
Don't take these people for granted, because any of us could truly leave this earth at any time. You never know when you might lose your chance.