My father left home when I was in kindergarten. He went to Vietnam and the next time I saw him I was thirteen years old. My mother never remarried. That is not to say she was ever without a man in her life. My parents married young, before either of them could legally drink or vote. My mom mostly married my father to get out of her house. My dad married my mother because he had never met anyone prettier, spunkier, or more sexy. He was totally taken aback by her, as was half the town where they lived.
At age 25, my mother wrote my dad a Dear John letter when he was away in Vietnam. It broke his heart in a million pieces. For years thereafter she told us children she had no idea where he was living. I believed her.
I grew up fatherless. My mother never spoke of my father so I crafted my own stories about him and why he was not in my life. None of my stories were good and none were refuted. What I did not know then was my father was afraid to contact us. He feared most that getting back in touch with his four children would reopen the heartbreak he carried from his relationship with my mom. It had taken years to get over her.
I became close friends with my father when I was in college. I was the only of his children who fostered a close relationship with him back then. Over time, I began to trust him to be there for me in my life even though he had long since remarried. One Christmas, he either forgot to call me or just didn't call me. Though I was 28 years old, it was just like I was in kindergarten again. My wound opened up and I could feel all the infection that had never healed. I was so hurt and so angry. I felt rejected by someone I had allowed back into my life. Who I really needed to be all in.
Along with my fiancé, I went to see my father to tell him to his face that I wanted nothing more to do with him. I also told him I did not want him to walk me down the aisle. He excused himself and came back with a shoebox. In this shoebox were yellowing letters most of which had been written and not mailed to judges, my mom, and us children. Also in this shoebox were hundreds of moneyorder receipts for money he had been sending to my mom over the years as child support. Through those unsent letters I was now reading, I could tell my father had been trying his best to heal and to be forgiven.
I had a difficult time in relationships. I would sabotage them just to see if "that man" would leave me. Sometimes they did. Then one day my now husband called me on it. He says you are always testing me, testing us. I am not going anywhere and until you believe that you will never heal and we will never be okay.
Seeing those letters began my healing. They showed me my dad did care, he had always cared. In some ways he had never left, at least his heart hadn't. Those letters were just enough to allow me to peel back the covering every once in awhile and let my wound breathe. Eventually I was able to close my eyes, clench my teeth real tight and snatch away the covering giving myself a real chance at healing. What I got in return was a daddy and a friend. Today there are scars but not much memory of the pain.
I have tried to understand the actions of both my parents. As a parent myself, I realize that there are very difficult choices that are made in love, out of love, for the preservation of self-love and for the love of others.
I have chosen not to judge. Rather I choose to love with forgiveness while knowing there may be yet more pain to come. We are not immune to it.
A very big thank you to my loving dad and friend who supports me in sharing our story. We hope it helps someone else through their pain journey.