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Painful Lessons I Learned From My Father; And Forgiveness

I always thought my Father was a great guy. Fun, funny, and…of course, he was my dad. In fact, I thought I was the “bad” one. Then, after years of addiction, codependency, dysfunctional living, and then finally working the 12 steps; I found out that he wasn’t a very nice guy. He was an alcoholic, […]

I always thought my Father was a great guy. Fun, funny, and…of course, he was my dad. In fact, I thought I was the “bad” one. Then, after years of addiction, codependency, dysfunctional living, and then finally working the 12 steps; I found out that he wasn’t a very nice guy. He was an alcoholic, a narcissist, and was abusive. This is an excerpt from a memoir I am working on about addiction and recovery.

Hiding in the Floor of my Closet – That One Day

            My oldest sister had run away two days before, and no one had seen her since.  My mom and dad were so angry and afraid that my other sister and I just kind of stayed out of the way.  We were both afraid too.  I never expected her to come back at all.  There had been a series of overnights where she snuck out of her room, and man did she get in trouble when she got caught. 

            When she walked back in the front door, there wasn’t much time for hugs and relief, because dad went ballistic. He slapped her, grabbed her, and pulled her down to the living room floor.  We all knew that when dad blew up like this, you’d better get the hell out of the way.  I don’t know what happened to my younger sister, but I ran straight to my room, hid in the floor of my closet, and pulled the door closed behind me.  I hid in the dark, behind the toys and clothes, covering my ears.  But that didn’t stop me from hearing or thinking…   

            “Why don’t they just stop fighting?”

            “Please God, make it stop.”

            “Stop talking back…he’ll stop hitting you if you just shut up!”

            “I’ve got to do something…he’s going to kill her.”

            “Please God…”

            “Why did she come back?”

            “I hate him.  I wish he would die!”

            “Make him stop…PLEASE!”

            “I wish she’d just be quiet”

            “Please God, please…”

            “I’m going to kill him.  I hate him”   

            This one incident defined me for multiple years after.  My dad had used a braided lather dog leash on my sister, and afterwards she had welts all over her body.  One of the injuries was shaped exactly like the metal hook at the end of the leash.  In today’s world, my dad would have been hauled off to jail, and we might have been put in some kind of program for domestic violence.  But back then, when I was eight, we never spoke of it again to each other or anyone else

After working the twelve steps, multiple times, I see now that I made a few decisions that day.

  • I had always believed in God, but after that day I made the decision that God didn’t care about me or my family.  I decided that it must be because I didn’t deserve Gods help.  After all, I was only a good person on the outside.
  • I knew that I hated my dad with a passion, and without a doubt.  However, this was very confusing for me, because I also loved my dad very much, and I wanted him to love me…so badly.  I knew that a good son should never hate his father.  I decided that I must be the worst human in the world.  I even wanted to kill him…so I must be an awful person. 
  • I also knew that a brave person would have done something to protect my sister.  I decided that I was the worst kind of coward—to allow that to happen so my own sibling.  I was completely useless.
  • I knew that I couldn’t talk about what had happened to anyone-ever.  Hell, we didn’t even talk about it with ourselves.  I decided that I was on my own, and I better get used to it.  My parents would never be there for me, and neither would anyone else.
  • Also, I saw that part of the reason that my sis got beaten so badly was that she just kept talking back to him…so I decided to stay quiet, and never to talk back; ever.  Confrontation was painful and standing up for your self—hurts…a lot! I spent decades of my life avoiding confrontation at all costs.
  • I also decided that I had to get out of there as soon as possible, any way possible.  This event happened just before my second attempt at running away, and a year before my first thoughts of suicide.  I wanted out!

Oddly enough, this event also triggered something in my Dad.  I think it must have scared him, just like it scared the rest of us.  From that day forward, he never hit any of us again.  He didn’t make promises and he didn’t apologize for what he had done, he just stopped beating us.  That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t prepared for him to erupt and start hitting us at any moment for the rest of our childhood.  But…the truth was that part of our lives got better.  We just didn’t know it.  We all lived the in fear of the explosion; it just never came again—physically. 

About Forgiveness

As I was working my steps again this time around, I began to see all of the pain that my father inflicted on my life (not just physically), and I got very angry at him…I wanted to lash out and hurt him back for a long time. I knew that I had to work my steps and at some point (the 9th step), I’d have to make amends to him for my part in our relationship. I told myself to just wait till that time, because I was too angry to start any conversation before…and then, just as I was working on my 9th step letter to him, he died. I was too late, and I never got to say what I wanted to say.

A few months later, I wrote him a different letter. I wasn’t so angry any more, and I realized that all the things I was mad at him about (except for the beatings), I had done to him also. The withholding of love and intimacy…was something that I did to him. The dishonesty…was something I did by just not sharing with him what was going on for me. Basically, I did have a part in all the distance I felt with him, and I would never have gotten to that understanding if I had approached him when he was alive.

Since he had passed away, I could be completely honest with him, and I was. I told him everything I always wanted to say in that letter, and I read it out loud to him. And…then I was released from my own grip of pain, hatred, and anger. Forgiveness just came after that.

Now I can remember other parts of our lives fondly. There was one period of our lives when he would wake me up at six in the morning on Sunday morning, before everyone else was awake, and he’d take me out to breakfast. It was just he and I, and we did that for about a month of Sundays in a row. It’s my fondest memory of him. He and I, alone together, sharing eggs and bacon, and talking about anything…

My dad died addicted to alcohol, and never faced his demons. Freedom for me came from doing just that. Today, life is good. I am grateful for my journey, and I couldn’t experience the joy I’ve felt, without the painful lessons as well.

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Dune Johnson aka Looney Dooney is the foremost family-fun expert, and has devoted his life to bring joy, laughter, and togetherness to every event he does.  This has been an excerpt from his latest book, “The Timing of Chicken Feathers.”

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