Why Didn't I Have a Daddy?
Why Didn’t I Have a Daddy?
Mourning, Anger, Forgiving, and Praise
BY ROY THOMAS
It is hard to understand the filth that some people live in until you spend an hour or two cleaning dishes for someone who has allowed floating mold to accumulate in half filled glasses left near the sink. If you step back from that sink, you can imagine the condition of the couch that lies within a few feet, the unwashed bedding just twenty feet away, the stack of newspapers, the tin cans half filled with tobacco juice, the mildew in the shower and the stack of Playboy magazines stuffed under the damp mattress. Yet there I was at the age of eleven thrust right into the middle of it. I would clean it. I would live in it. I would grow to resent it for the next two months. This was my second visit with my dad since he had walked out on me, on us. The first visit two summers before we didn’t live in such a grand space as this 60’s twenty-eight foot trailer. No, in that year it was a dirtier and smaller truck camper lighted upon pallets at the back of a friend’s property; the Playboys were there then, too.
I’ll never forget the night he left. He and my brother, who was nine years older than myself, were in a tremendous argument. My brother stormed out slamming the door behind him. My eight year old self raced to the front porch to call after him. Tears raged as I screamed for him not to go. The intensity of the argument led me to believe that my brother would never be back, the thought caused me tremendous panic. I screamed, I pleaded, I begged. He told me to go back in the house. I remained on that porch until he walked out of view, leaving Grand Street and turning right on Pacific Avenue. It was a grand mess and there was going to be no peace. My brother returned that night, my father did not. He walked out on his wife of twenty-three years, his seventeen-year-old son, and his eight-year-old little boy. The older sisters had already escaped the mess.
So the pattern was set, every other summer until the age of seventeen I trekked to a remote mill town in Alaska to hang out in filth and spend hours and days alone as my father worked rotating shifts, slept, and made trips to the bars. In Alaska you can bring your child to a bar, so often we would spend time together there. I would sip cherry cokes and he would sip his whiskey and we would shoot pool. Good times existed, but they were few. Eventually, my father would go on to live a greater hermit existence. My sisters strove together to get him in a better situation, but a fresh trailer and regular supervision couldn’t rescue him. He died when I was thirty, years of grief, self-loathing, and unmanaged diabetes ended in a massive heart attack at the age of sixty-three. I was two thousand miles away when it happened. He walked out on me again, and I had no control. I grieved, but I think I may have been closer to anger than bereavement. Why couldn’t he take care of himself? Why couldn’t he have taken care of me?
When the narration of our lives is not sufficiently clear, God will often change the setting to bring clarity.
At the age of forty I finally finished my teaching degree. I was the father of three beautiful daughters, the husband of an exceptional wife and the adoptive father of two boys in need of rescue. I was anxious to get my teaching career moving I took a temporary position at a remote Alaskan logging camp. I was so excited to be moving forward as a teacher, my wife and I would soon have the same schedule and retirement benefits; all was in place for success, I relished teaching. Then one night I walked across the mud street from the trailer that was the school to the trailer that was the housing. This trailer was all too familiar. The smells, the size, the loneliness, a gentle whiff of dampness, of mildew from the window hit me as I was doing dishes. I was eleven again.
I pulled it together sat down to a simple dinner alone just me, a meal, and a good book.
The Shack. Though I question its theology, I was enjoying the book. I could see that the main character was going to need to walk through forgiving of his daughter’s murderer. I know the scriptures, I know forgiveness is required, the plot lost a little of its savor. Mindlessly reading on, I had no idea I was about to be overrun by a speeding train of grief. Suddenly there was a new character in the book. The protagonist’s father. Wait what is he doing here? This is a book about forgiving the unforgivable! I tumbled through the words until I reached the place where one word sliced through my heart. Daddy. Oh how I wanted a Daddy! Damn it! Why didn’t I have a Daddy? Why, why did he leave me? Why was it so lonely, dirty, foul? Why? My chest heaved I could hardly breathe, the exhales of lament exceeded the inhales of joy. I shook and I wept, I raged and I cried.
Daddy, Abba ... I cried out to God, finally finding the space to grieve my lost father.
Through my broken lament and rage I realized I had a Daddy and eternal perfect loving Abba, Daddy God. Suddenly, I realized I could forgive my broken father. He was a man who had left the bashing fist of my grandfather behind, and done his best in his own brokenness to love me. He was a man who broke the cycle of physical abuse though he could never get passed self neglect.
The lament over my broken father gave way to forgiveness which in turn led to praise.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1 NIV).