I've considered doing this in 2 parts but it would steal the gist of it. (This is an unedited part of my memoir. (c) July 2010
The Day My Father died I was over a thousand miles away probably taking my daughter to ballet or some other normal life activity. I didn’t even know that he’d passed until over two years later, when lying in bed last week, I had the strange urge to Google his name to see if I could find him. What I found was his obituary, the fact that he had been married for 23 years and had two young adult children. Strangely I’d thought of him over the last couple of years with a side-thought of “what if he’s dead?”
I’d often imagined what it would be like to meet him in a public setting, maybe with my husband, and let him know who I was, what he’d missed out on and what I have become. I’ve dreamed of extending forgiveness and hearing about his life and perhaps finding out if I ever came to his mind. Of course, I thought of him the day I walked myself alone down the aisle at my wedding, the day each of my three children were born and then later baptized and other major successes and failures in my life. But perhaps more painful was the need to have a father whom I had history with and could tell by the tone of my voice if something was off or I could let my “hair down” with on a bad day and not worry about being judged. Mostly I just needed to know I was wanted, loved or for crying out loud, even remembered.
My father was in my life until I was a bit over two, when he went to prison for brutally abusing my sister. I then saw him on one other occasion when I was five and visited him in a maximum security prison so that my sister could be assured that she was safe.
I remember the excitement I felt that I was meeting my dad and the confusion with the tension everyone else was giving off. I remember my mom saying, “This is the first and last time you will ever meet your dad.”. From this meeting I had a vague remembrance of his face, complete with mustache and long hair and an orange jumpsuit. I specifically remember the sound of the clanging of the doors when shut. Then nothing… there was never even one picture or much talk of him. I do remember overhearing my mom saying that I had an “evil streak” like him when I was young. I didn’t know what that meant, but did know he’d been a bad man, so I knew something was definitely wrong with me.
Though I knew he was the "most horrid of convicted felons", a drug addict and had been continually violent, he was still my dad and I longed to know where I’d come from, what I’d gotten from him and why I felt so different from my mom and half sister’s whom I’d been raised with as true-blood sisters. When someone is your dad, well they just are….
When I was sixteen my mom took me out for lunch once and I asked her about him and she said, “There were a lot of great things about your dad. He loved life and threw his head back when he laughed like you do and you have his long strong legs and move like him.” That was really wonderful to hear that there was something redemptive about him as I’d always felt like I was a bad seed and that a vile DNA strand somehow ran through my soul.
With my mom being a drug addict at the time herself, married many times and having lots of other felons for boyfriends, I felt much like an orphan my entire life. I often wondered if the bits and pieces I'd stitched together were a real picture of the man that gave me life.
Around that same time I'd talked with my mom, I went in to rent a movie at a small store in my town and a woman asked me if So-and-So was my uncle. I responded with, “No, he’s my dad.” She then said, “Yes, I see the resemblance. He lives such-and-such and carries a gun.” I said, “Yep, that sounds like him.”
After a futile time of trying to find him when I was 22 after I had come to know Jesus, I gave up and thought that maybe the future would hold a meeting with him.
Fast forward 14 years, and I find myself weeping at 1 in the morning with the fresh news of his death, the hopes of meeting him and the regrets of not spiraling through my heart. It would and could never happen. I found a five minute slide show tribute to him and watched it several times seeing myself in his face, specifically his smile. I also saw the new life he’d created with a wife and children and scratched my head.
I wept that I wasn’t at his funeral, that I was mentioned in his obituary and wallowed in the rawness of feeling alone in regards to having a father. I cried out to The Father giving him permission to come and heal the hole in my soul that I’d resisted allowing before. I'd never known until this very moment that I had the need to that depth.
Well, I cried for three more days until we left for a three day camping event called Worship at 8500 with our spiritual family. Everything felt so raw. The loneliness and alienation I thought was mostly dealt with in my life was rearing it’s ugly head. It seemed like everyone was talking about how so and so was there spiritual father and what it meant to have a spiritual parent. This type of talk was like nails on a chalkboard for me.
See when I was 22 and had come into the family of God, I’d worked with a ministry almost from day one. The talk of having spiritual fathers was thrown around like candy and our “mandate” was to parent the youth of the nation… I know puke right?- slightly facetious.
What I didn’t know at the time was what a healthy family was like. The environment was controlling and manipulative, lording over and down-right spiritual abuse. Even our personal time was monitored and controlled and scripture was often used to keep us in line. Among certain leaders there was a tremendous amount of sexual perversion. Additionally, I worked 90 hour work weeks but it was never enough and when I left, just like those before me, my name was slandered to all those I’d poured my life into across the nation. Those of us who “got out” have spent the last 12 years putting our hearts back together, trying to love Jesus and heal those who got out after us. (Side note: There were some lovely people and times associated with this time in my life).
Those two years were some of the greatest life lessons I’ve learned thus far and made me go back to the basics of Jesus. However, it also tainted certain words, like ‘father‘, ‘daughter’ etc. in light of following Jesus.
Fast forward to last week, when I found myself grieving the permanent loss of my father, in the midst of this camping weekend around all of these really free people using terminology I had banned from my vocabulary. However, I sat in one of the light teaching sessions and heard a plethora of people I know quite well talking about what having a spiritual parent was and more importantly wasn’t. I was in a quandary. I wanted and needed this in my life, but never wanted someone to lord over me again. I didn’t want to lose what I felt was the peer relationship with those around me. (My husband and I took to calling people that spoke into our lives “mentors” or said stuff like “he’s like a brother or an uncle” and other such terminology that felt safe. Yet I saw how free these people were and how their faces literally glowed.
God even brought one of them into my life through the back door by having us work together on publishing my first book. Over the course of months, I saw this particular leader as honest, humble and genuinely interested in my well being and not just saying it to lure me in like I’d experienced in prior ministry.
I spent a lot of time pondering and praying before I took the step of asking a man that was this particular man’s spiritual father, to give me a 'father’s blessing'. (meaning praying over me like a father and speaking words of blessing over me). This was a huge step for me but so worth it as he asked me to renounce verbally judgments I’d made against God and people and then blessed me like only a Father can. It was quite nice if I am honest.
For the next day I ruminated over what I felt like God was asking me to do. I was trying to stay off the open mics and away from any area that would require me to publically declare my need for what was being freely offered. I sat in the group discussions and kept 100% mum. However, on the last night, bam, right in the middle of the worship set, this man I’d walked with for several years casually and then closer for months on my book, stops and opens the mic for anyone to share.
I found myself pulled to the mic, confessing my need, hurt and desire in regards to family and being fathered, giving permission for this man and others to speak into my life. I think the stronghold was so huge in my life that a public declaration in humility was the only thing that would have allowed me to be free in this, though, I must say I was so embarrassed. It was extremely comforting to have countless people come up and share how they struggled with the same concepts and needed to hear this too.
After leaving the event, I felt like a wrung out rag emotionally and came home to find an email from my half sister. I’d found her on Facebook on a whim after seeing her name in the obituary and she asked me if I was the daughter of her father. She went on to say that he’d tried to find me for nearly 20 years.
In the course of our messaging I discovered not only did he remember me, but he had pictures of me and had showed them to his children. He’d missed me and loved me and had hopes of finding me. He even had tried to pursue me after the friend who saw my driver’s license had told him about our encounter. He’d been gone for a week trying to locate me, but was in the end unsuccessful because I was enrolled in the school under a step father’s name, even though I’d never legally taken the name on.
I wept as I read these words from this girl, who may never know how much I needed to hear them. She mentioned that he was a talented artist, which gave me such a tremendous sense of knowing where I’d come from and why I have the creative bent I’ve always had. I find myself driving down the road with the words, “He wanted me.” or “I was wanted” rolling around in my spirit. There have been few days that I haven’t shed many a tear just knowing that my dad knew my name and thought enough about me that he told others about me.
I’ve been able to form a new picture of my father as well. Among other things, he’d never had a job when he was with my mom and for almost 20 years he held the same position. And from what my half sister says, loved life and was good to them.
Most importantly, I have been able to move past the slippery sense of the Heavenly Father’s love for me. By that I mean, it always has been slightly allusive to me, surely never free and never quite “sticking”. In my asking publicly for family and Fatherhood, I received this precious gift of knowing my earthly father wanted me, remembered me and sought me out. When I heard these truths the questions that haunted my life in the natural and in my relationship with God have been answered in a way I’ve never been able to experience. I’ve always secretly questioned my existence, my worth, whether I was wanted or not, thought of or not, important and so on. When I received the truth of my human father, a greater reality took over.
For the first time in my life I know I am longed for, desired, wanted and sought out. I have a picture in my head of the Heavenly Father waiting longingly to release this gift at just the right time, not unlike me as a mom when I have saved, plotted, eavesdropped and otherwise scavenged for the perfect gift for my children for Christmas morning just for their delight.
It is difficult to put into words something so new and not fully processed, but being a writer, a lot is worked out in me as I put pen to paper and allow my mind to go on auto pilot and the "real me: share the inner thoughts. Even still, how do I put physical words to something that is invisible? One way of saying it is this: If I could have asked for anything in life, it would have been this.
I have such a sense as I write this of His overwhelming desire for us, His hurt when we are away from Him, and His perfect, unconditional, unchanging love for us. We are His and He is ours. We are not mistakes that have been redeemed, but instead we are planned in the heart of a loving Father and that will not and cannot change.
I am sure more is coming… thanks for reading. Would love to hear your comments or personal stories.
To find out dates were I will be doing book signings for The Real-Life Princess and Beetle Hunter go to www.rebeccadunning.com.