Monday, February 18, 2008

Goodbye Stranger

I don't know how they do it, or how they live with the decision, once they do. Parents who just up and walk out on their kids, and never look back.

I've never checked into it, but it does appear that it's far more common with fathers than with mothers, but I know mothers certainly do it too. In my own little world, I know (and have known) people that grew up without the presence of a dad, or a mom, because that was the situation in their own family. A parent that just walked out the door one day, and didn't come home.

It does something to the mind of a child, to be in that situation. Somewhere deep down they struggle with the "why" and they never really get an answer (or at least not one that ever makes them feel any better). Young children will often make up wild stories to explain to their friends where the parent is, and privately console themselves with an often equally wild excuse. The truth of the matter that the parent is just so self-centered and put their own dreams, desires and interests above the child - that truth is too painful for the child to handle so they just don't. Not until they're older, anyway.

I can count myself among those children who's parent walked out one day and never came back. After my parents divorced when I was three, the last time I saw my dad I was six years old. I remember it like yesterday. My best friend Terry and I were sitting under the pear tree in my front yard, playing with her dolls. We had a blanket layed out in the grass, and her "baby" and my "baby" were all having a picnic. A car pulled up and a man got out. He walked across the grass where we were having our picnic and stopped. He said to me "Carla, do you know who I am?" I didn't, and told him so. He then said "I'm your dad". Well, that was news to me.

My friend Terry knew my dad didn't live with us, and at seven years old somehow she knew enough to make herself scarce in such an awkward situation. She picked up her dollies and headed across the street to her house. As for me, I just turned and ran to the back door yelling "mom!" to tell her that he was there. I think she was just as much in shock as the rest of us, if not more.

I don't know how long he stayed in town, maybe a day or two. I do remember thinking somewhere in my little brain, that maybe he'd stay forever and everything would be like my friends who had dads in their houses. I also remember feeling very uncomfortable, and tense. When he left life just went on like life does, and that was that. That was the summer of 1970 (maybe 71, I'm not exactly sure), and I never saw him again.

It never really occured to me before today (probably because I've never really given a whole lot of thought to it) that if I were completely honest with myself I'd have to admit that a significant contributing factor to my insecure nature (always feeling like I don't fit in anywhere, and I'm too complicated for anyone to bother with getting to know), would have to be layed at the feet of my dad. When one of the most important people in a little kid's world betrays them and leaves them, it does things to the thinking process of a child. Some kids grow up and learn how to cope with these thoughts and ideas, where other kids never really do. I think for myself I just never really took the time to look closer at it, and set it on the shelf. I don't really have a lot of time in the day to be sitting around analyzing my personality quirks, so I just don't bother.

In a most ironic course of events today, something (completely unrelated to this - and in an online context) was said to me that hurt me and insulted me a great deal. In talking to Kevin about it, it occured to me that the reason it hurt so much was because I'm just not nearly as thick-skinned as some people think I am. Kevin advised that I just let it go and try hard not to take it too personally. I knew he was right, so that's what I tried to do. It did leave me in a state of introspection a little bit, since I was trying hard to both figure out why it upset me so much, as well as truly just let it go.

Not long after this, while still in that horrible mood that I get in that leaves me thinking "folks don't like you anyway, this shouldn't surprise you", I got some news that pretty much blew me out of the water. I learned that my dad has passed away. The dad I never knew, the dad I always wished was a good dad, the dad I never had any connection with, other than DNA.

When I first got the news, one of my very first thoughts was sadness that a dad I never knew, was gone. Not long after that thought, was "I wonder if he ever came to know Jesus?" I will never know, in this lifetime.

As I write this, my nose is starting to itch and my eyes are welling up. I believe I'm grieving for the parent I never had. I think it's also a reality-kick-in-the-head that whatever it was that caused him to walk away when I was a little girl, kept him away the rest of his life. He did contact me once when I was 21, and we talked twice on the phone. Both of those were the strangest phone calls I'd ever had, since I was talking to a complete stranger. After those phone calls, there were no others, and I never heard from him again - just like the whole time I was growing up.

As I sat here and thought about this tonight, the old cliche "children learn how to be parents, from their parents" came to mind. In my case, it's absolutely true. I learned from a fantastic example what it looks and feels like to be a dedicated mom, from my mom - and I learned exactly what never to do as a parent, from my dad. My mom doesn't like it when I go on about her here (and yes, regular readers know that she reads and comments on this old blog), but the truth of the matter is, she was and still is, my hero. She raised three little kids alone, and no doubt did it with many tearful nights hidden away where us kids couldn't see her fall apart. Growing up, we had a "cool" mom who not only made us follow the rules, but laughed & played with us, and worked full time (and a lot of over time) to make sure we had what we needed. She was both mom and dad to her kids, and we thought (and still do!) the world of her.

I talked to her briefly tonight after learning that my dad had died. I think part of the reason I have watery eyes now, is because when we both got the news, we didn't have watery eyes. We both felt a very real sense of detachment at first, like you do when you read some stranger's obituary. A sense of compassion for the family, but no personal reaction at all since you had no connection to him. I think I cried tonight because there was nothing to miss, to cry over. It's a most surreal feeling.

While I've made my share of parenting mistakes (who hasn't?), I just hope my own kids never write about what they learned how not to do from me, like I did about that man who had to tell me he was my dad. He was an example allright, but an example of how you never treat your children. For now, it's simply goodbye stranger. Maybe it's emotional, maybe it's somehow biological, maybe it's spiritual or maybe its all of the above, but I have never experienced a feeling quite like this before.

I do sincerely hope however, that he heard the gospel of Christ and came to know Him in a very real and saving way.