Every Father's Day, I can't help thinking about Christmas -- or what I call the Christmas from Hell. It was 15 years ago, over the winter holiday, that I had left my daughters with my father, Big Terry, and my mother, Trish, so I could take my wife to dinner.
An hour later, I was called home because my dad had beaten my mom -- again. This happened all the time growing up, because Big Terry was an alcoholic. But now he was doing it in front of my kids.
I rushed home and got the children out.
In the years since, Big Terry has tried to rationalize his behavior, whenever I dared pick up the phone.
"Terry," he said once, "I never had a father to show me how to be one. I got a lot of pain, and all I tried to do was give you guys better than what I had. I didn't know what else to do. I knew to give you a roof."
I could hear the truth in that. But there were other times when he deluded himself, and I couldn't stand to let him run off at the mouth like that.
"I taught you guys everything you know," he said.
"No, Big T, that's not how it went down," I said.
In all of these conversations, I always felt dissatisfied. I think I was waiting for him to apologize, to really see how things had been, and talk to me about it. And then it finally hit me that if
he was ever really going to get it, the moment of clarity had to start from me. I had to tell him, honestly, what was up. I'd always looked at my past as this horrible experience that I had to forget, as if it was just a bad feeling that I had to move past.
But no, I needed to sit in it and take those experiences for what they really were. It had been bad, sure, but it had made me who I am. This didn't mean that some of the things that had happened weren't wrong, but they had truly made me stronger, and not just in the fantastical way of superheroes. Life had made me stronger only because I had learned from it. Once I saw Big Terry differently, I was able to identify the aspects of my childhood that I appreciated, which was much different than the way I'd looked back on my past before.
Much like I'd done on various sets, and with various work relationships, I reframed my past, and my relationship with my father: You knew your father. He was at home, and he cared enough about you to clothe you, to feed you. He never beat you. He never left the family. He could have cheated and run off with some girl.
I started giving Big Terry credit for what he did do. He was a good earner. He was a good provider. I never excused what had been wrong, but also being able to see the positive finally changed my perspective. It changed my view of our story.
Finally, it all became clear to me, and I called my father.
"Big Terry, I truly believe this, man," I said. "If I could choose who my parents were, I would choose you."
It took a lot to say it, but it was the absolute truth. I realized if I had Bill Cosby as a parent I could have ended up in a whole different place, and not necessarily a good one, either. I've seen great kids come from terrible parents, and I've seen awful kids come from the best parents. And for me, Big Terry and Trish are how I got here.
"I would choose you all over again if I could pick my parents," I said. "I would pick you."
He cried and he cried. And talk about a breakthrough, as soon as those words came out of my mouth, everything changed. He was suddenly humble.
"Terry, I'm sorry for what I did to you and Marcelle," he said. "I was wrong."
WOW. As much as I had longed for an apology from my father for all of those years, I had never really thought it was possible. But by finding my own compassion for him, I had broken down everything that needed to be broken within him. Before that, I'd always hoped that when he got himself together, he'd come to me. I'd always been waiting for him. When, really, he was just waiting for that from me.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Terry Crews is the star of the Golden Globe award winning series 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' 'The Expendables 3,' 'Blended' and is the new host of 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' The above was excerpted from his new memoir 'MANHOOD,' available now for Father's Day.
Copyright © 2014 Terry Crews. Excerpted by permission of Zinc Ink, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.