Dad’s birthday was September 8th. In my memory, summer ended and school always started on that same day. Which is, of course, totally impossible. Still, each year, there are sights and smells and sounds that bring me right back to Dad’s side, a carefully and horribly wrapped present extended for his inspection.
The first morning each year I step outside with the dog and the air which, just yesterday was heavy and warm, is instead cool and crisp, I think of Dad. Standing at the kitchen window, warm mug of coffee cradled in my palms, watching the neighbor kids troop off to school, book bags unstained, clothes perfectly creased and painstakingly arranged to appear casual and cool, I see Dad’s smile. Glancing up as I pull out of the driveway on some errand and noticing the ring of fiery orange leaves at the very tiptop of the neighbor’s sugar maple, Dad’s with me in the car.
These yearly events drop me back inside my child’s body and mind and I’m right there, arms extended with my gift, waiting on, hoping for Dad’s approval and love. Of course, Dad died almost ten years ago. Some would say it’s too late to receive the blessing of his love that I spent my childhood seeking.
People are entitled to their opinion.
I grew up with a bighearted, insecure, narcissistic father. A father for whom every event, be it a rainy picnic day, the small successes and failures of his daughters, the results of a wrestling match on TV–every single thing that occurred in life revolved around him, the center of the universe. I loved him. But never figured out how to be the person he wanted me to be. How to be lovable to him. Oh, I don’t mean he didn’t love me. Of course, he did. As a satellite that circled around him.
It wasn’t until Dad died, not until after the guilt trips and demands for attention and persistent manipulation ended, that I came to recognize and luxuriate in his love.
A few days after his death, Jesus brought Dad to me in a dream.
The two appeared at the crest of a green hill, strolling side-by-side. I ran toward them, got close enough to see Dad’s sparkling blue eyes, Jesus’s love. Dad shook his head, made me understand I couldn’t come any closer. Not yet. He told me his heart had been healed, the fear and anger and pain of his own childhood, wounds that had clouded his love for me, were simply blown away by the breath of God. Dad said he came to say that he was finally able to see me, to know me as I am. He said he loved me. I believed him.
Then Jesus and Dad, strolled away. They turned toward me once from the top of the hill. Jesus smiled. Dad raised his hand in the air in one, final goodbye.
So, why am I sharing this with you today? Because with the release of My Life with a Wounded Warrior, the story of living with my Vietnam veteran husband, Jack, some have asked how on earth I come by the loyalty and commitment to stay, to persevere and triumph and grow in a marriage to a man so wounded by war.
This is my public thank you to Dad and to Jesus for teaching me the meaning of true love and thus enabling me to survive and glory in the adventure of a lifetime.