I want to share a story of hope. And love. And forgiveness. But, before I share the happy part, I want to tell you about my dad and our history. For those needing it, *trigger warning for physical abuse*.
My dad hit me, quite violently at times, using a belt most days (the jingle of a belt buckle used to make those little hairs on my neck take notice). I was the oldest of two girls and, fortunate for me, but not my younger sister, I could scurry behind a locked bathroom door before being caught. I would spend my moments of terror, counting dingy white tiles in our tiny apartment bathroom, trying to tune out the sounds coming from outside my temporary safe space.
However, sometimes I was caught. Dad was six foot six, two-hundred and eighty pounds, and angry. At life. At his circumstances. At his alcoholic wife screaming for him to silence the children. At financial woes. At his boss. Whatever it was, he was angry about it. And we were easy prey, my little sister and me.
Sometimes he would throw something. Once he beheaded a statue of Jesus. My sister glued it back on. Another time, he broke my soccer trophy in half. I taped it back together with masking tape. The soccer player looked like she was playing with a cast on. Symbolic really. Keep on striving, even when broken.
When I was ten years old, my dad called me into his bedroom (my parents slept in separate rooms). He sat me on his lap and told me the following: “Teri, I’ve been seeing a doctor. A counselor. And I now realize I never should have hit you. I’m sorry. I promise to never hit you again. From now on you get to decide your discipline.” There was more, but that’s all I can remember.
And he never hit me again. My first lesson in forgiveness. And what a beautifully powerful one it was.
You see, my dad was also my saving grace. He was the one who took us to Burger Chef for a Fun Meal after our soccer games on Saturday mornings. Mom was at work and rarely came to our games. Dad tucked us in with stories of dragons and spaceships and talking dogs. He was the one who taught me how to count with raisins. And sat me on his lap when he would draw. He ran alongside my purple bike with the flowered banana seat as I wobbled around the school playground until he felt safe enough to let go, cheering me on with an exuberant, “You’re doing it!”
He was a good dad. Who was hurt as a child and didn’t know the impact of his violent actions on his own children until someone came along to show him the error of his ways. I thank God he had the compassion to listen. And apologize.
My dad died in January, 2009, of complications resulting from his diabetes.
This morning I went for my morning hike and said, “Dad, you should join me” (he loved his ‘exercise walks’ as he called them). I truly believe his spirit tagged along.
I was walking along a path strewn with hundreds of leaves when I sensed an excited energy urging me to “look down!” Sure enough. There in that mix of decaying brown, yellow, red, and orange tints was a tiny heart.
This continued throughout my hike. I would smile and send out an “I see it! Thanks!”