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The loss of my "real" Father

By fisheroffish ~

My father died last month. Recently, I have been thinking about the irony that losing my real father was somehow easier for me than losing my “heavenly father”. First I want to tell you about my real father and our relationship and then I will get back to this irony.

You see, I had a difficult time growing up and it was because of my father. At times he was both verbally and physically abusive. At other times generous, and fun to be around. He was military sergeant then later become an officer and was quite an imposing figure. I was certain he would kill me or my brother one day. Never knowing when Dad would be mad again, caused me to say as little as possible, hide when I could, stay outside as long as possible, attempt running away from home on a mini-bike, and employ many other avoidance measures. During my early teenage years, my dad pulled me aside and said “David, you can be whatever kind of person you want to be and do anything you want to do. I am proud of you and I love you.” What alien had invaded my father’s body? Was this some type of trick? I don’t know what I said in response, but truth is I wanted to believe it, however, I couldn’t let my guard down. I did, however, repress a lot of the memories of my youth that didn’t resurface until another traumatic event in my life, my christian wife’s affair, but that is another story.

Dad started to treat my brother and a little better, but we both were too afraid to believe him. His angry spells became less and the beatings stopped. In a creative writing class in 9th grade I had my first anxiety-panic attack. When the whole class looked at me as a classmate read what I wrote, it seemed the same as my father asking me a question. I didn’t know how the class would respond similarly as I never knew how my father would respond. I never told anyone about this, but avoidance was my way of handling it. I determined to limit my exposure to any type of public scrutiny.

Dad had a bit of a mid-life crisis about the time I graduated from high school and decided to get counselling. This was a great help to him and the rest of the family. Through therapy it was brought out that, my grandfather had abused my dad, my great grandfather had been an abuser as well. My father was actually quite mild to my brother and I compared to the prior generations. My grandmother generally ignored my father and never told him that she loved him. You might say that my Dad became a new person after the therapy. He softened and became sweeter as the years passed.

The most important thing to my father had always been Christianity. His salvation and making sure everyone around him both new he was saved and making sure they knew “the gospel”. Many people have told me, “Your father should have been a preacher”. He was very strict in his interpretation of the bible, believing it infallible. He remained with this mindset until his health started to fail many years later.

Nine years ago, I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the gospel, the bible, or any other religion. You could say that I lost my “heavenly father”. It had taken me two long years to first question, then study, doubt, lose faith, deny that I was having any issue, be depressed and then finally to reject the notion of god. I was a little bit crazy those two years prior. No longer believing and no longer belonging to the faith or community of believers caused me great mental anguish.

After I became an exchristian, my greatest fear was telling my father. I expected to be excommunicated from the family. I had nightmares about telling him. A couple years later during a visit to Mom and Dad’s, my father told me that he had questioned his beliefs but had returned and renewed his faith. As he began to tell me about this momentary lapse of faith, he said, “Sit down this may be a shock to you”. Little did he know that I had something shocking to tell of my own. I saw this as a little window of opportunity of telling him. I started sweating as I told him of my ex-testimony.

He received the news better than I had ever expected. His response was one of love. I didn’t convince him to turn away from his faith, but that was not my goal. It started a multi-year effort on his part to bring me back into the fold. We had numerous lengthy debates and conversations. Finally, he said “lets agree to disagree, but I see your point, as I am sure you see mine.” He admitted that he didn’t know for sure as no one really knows for sure what happens when we die. He also said that his buddies at church would crucify him if they heard him say that. I told him, “that is sad, but they are blind to hate.” He agreed.

For the last few years of my father’s life, he and I were honest with one another for the first time. He asked my forgiveness for the childhood years, and he asked the same from my brother. I told him, “I forgave you long ago. I may have been afraid of you, but I always loved you Dad”. It’s bittersweet to gain this type of relationship after so many years. I will give you an example.

All my adult life I have had the hardest time buying greeting cards for my father. All those cards that said how wonderful you are Dad or that you were the best dad in the world, just wouldn’t be true. Truth was always important to me, so I would only buy cards that said what I could say truthfully. I have spent hours trying to find a believable card. Some of them were the “simply stated” ones. You know the ones, you deserve a great day, Happy Birthday Dad! I would sometimes buy the ones that talked about respect, or how good a provider he was. Those were truthful to me. I thought that there would be no way Dad would like these, they sucked compared to the ones that talked about how great it was to be your son, and how much I loved the times we spent together. As it turns out, he kept and treasured the cards I sent him. Go figure!

I had a difficult time growing up and it was because of my father.My father died of respiratory failure brought on by advanced heart disease. I was by his bedside the moment he gasped his last breath. My memory shot back to what is probably my earliest one. Ride me horsey Daddy! And the sound of dad trying to neigh flooded back to my mind, as clear as it had just happened. Then I thought, well Dad now you know, or you don’t. This referring to heaven or lack of. At dinner that night my mother asked me to pray. And before I knew it, I had said a prayer. The first in many years. I felt nothing, just some words remembered and recited.

The main speaker at Dad’s wedding was one that my dad had shared the gospel with when I was only a toddler. This man had gone on to be a missionary and pastor of a large church. Before the funeral I was told that he had heard of my disbelief and that his sermon/message was meant to help me regain my faith. I will say that he spoke well of my father and for that I am grateful. I, however, found no supernatural inspiration and some of what he said at the grave site sounded truly delusional. He said all those believers bodies in the grade will rise up some day and then those of us who are still living will meet them in the air. Us exchristians have heard this rapture talk before, sounds stark raving mad to me now.

I have no regrets of anything I ever said or did to my father. I wonder how many people can honestly say that. Most importantly, in the end I knew that my real father loved me and he knew that I loved him back. It was real love between a Father and Son and one of no longer having a fear of saying the wrong thing. Contrast this with love of “heavenly father”. “Imaginary” I think so. Which father is it? old testament or new testament. Clearly these are different, but yet god is supposed to be the same then, now and forever. I think it shows that god is man-made. The god of the bible is not too unlike my real father, having a history of ill temper but when coming of age becomes kinder and gentler. I can understand a contradiction in a human but not a god.