It's been 9 years now.
Father's Day didn't used to hold a lot of weight for me, just another Hallmark holiday really, but it's been 9 years since my dad chose not to be in my life. The most defining moment came when he wasn't at my wedding.
My brother walked me down the rose covered aisle, and I fought like a warrior for joy as Pachabel Cannon in D filled our ears. God showed up in that old church and gave me greater peace than I have ever known before or since. We took our vows and I could feel the presence of every guest supporting us on that muggy June night. And as the reception wore on, I rested with the beautiful joy of the life before me. My husband held my hand and candle light danced on my skin, but even then I allowed a small seat for grief too.
I have gone back and forth on when and how and if I would ever publicly tell this story. As I have wrestled, I always come back to the belief that maybe someone else needs to hear about this pain and shame. There are parts to this story that I can’t share, because frankly, not all of it’s mine. But I’ve decided, I want to share the parts I own.
Sometimes in life, you are the one who is different.
Maybe you have waited for years to meet a spouse or the pregnancy test is always negative or your marriage feels impossible. Maybe you have a life that should make you happy, but you feel shame it doesn't. It can hurt when the things people glorify all around don't connect for you. Having a healthy relationship with a dad can be like that, lots of people have it and when you don't, the pain is searing.
That’s what it felt like, when I realized he really wasn't coming to my wedding; when I realized he didn't want to be part of my life.
It felt like grief I’ve never known, a ripping in my internal identity. I felt like every time he said he loved me it was a lie. It caused me to question every true thing in my life.
And when he sent the abusive letters to me and the incoherent voicemails, demanding back things given as gifts; I questioned reality and mostly blamed myself. I slowly owned the identity that it must be my fault.
Because why else would a father blame their children and family for all their hurt and toxic choices?
And so the critics in my head began their mantra on repeat: I am bad. I am at fault. If I were a better daughter, a better Christian—whatever— this wouldn't be happening.
There was a time I couldn’t answer the phone or walk to the mail box without my full fight/flight/freeze mechanism going off. Much of my childhood like that too, so many out of control fights between my parents, and my response just below red alert.
Initially, my husband didn’t understand how I could be so triggered. I tried to explain it, but really how do you explain a feeling that is so visceral you can cut it with a knife? You just feel it, as your nervous system seems to explode; there isn’t any rationalizing it.
Little by little, days to months to years, I have begun to heal. Relational trauma is real and I have learned it's okay to honor that truth. With distance, boundaries, counsel and personal growth I have begun to take off the identity that I am at fault for his decisions.
It wasn’t my fault he made choices that hurt our family.
It wasn't my fault his lifestyle was more important that my siblings and I.
It wasn’t my fault he chose not to be at my wedding.
It’s not my fault.
The reason I know I’m healing is I feel love toward him again. My first instinct is no longer fear.
These days I look back with empathy at the little girl, and now woman, who has walked a road that marked me for life. I look back at her questions and her fears and I think; of course you feel that.
Of course it hurt.
Of course it caused you to question every love you have experienced in your life, including your heavenly Father.
Now we are coming up on Father’s Day again, and as I sift through the wounds of my relationship with my dad I still feel grief. But I approach it from the posture as one who is fully loved by a Father who is more complete and good than I could have imagined.
I do not and will not carry the shame of another. I have given myself permission to be loved and love-able and to be imperfect.
I think I like it.
This story is far from over and it's even now being written, but I hope and pray that if someone reads this account and has experienced this grief, please know you are not alone.
As we walk this messy and sometimes uncomfortable road to healing I am encouraged to know that embracing our grief and pain often opens doors to redemption. Whatever your story, I pray you find courage to allow yourself to be loved.
Originally published on Bravely Imperfect.