My Dad didn’t live with us. My sisters and I were raised by our mother. My father was a shadowy figure I created in my own mind. My mother did have a photo of him in his Army uniform, which gave a face to my imaginary Dad, and there were two visits during my childhood. These were brief and did nothing to dissuade me of the Dad I created in the image of Andy Griffith and Lorne Greene.
This Dad was created, in part, because of an information vacuum. In my later years the pencil sketch of him was colored in by his sister, my Aunt Christine; by my elder sisters, who remember some of the awful times and had contact with him as teens and young adults; and Daddy himself came to visit us in the early days of my marriage. He had gained sobriety with the help of AA. One of his steps in recovery was to ask forgiveness of those he injured through alcoholism. Thus the visit.
He came here on the Greyhound bus from Texas and stayed a few days. He told us about meeting Mama. He told us he had been married once before her. He told us about his boyhood in Texas hill country and about his descent into alcoholism. During those very drunken days he would randomly call my sister who was in college and cry, or rant, or whatever. She didn’t talk about it. She didn’t ever tell us what it cost her to share her absent father’s emotional baggage.
When it was time for him to catch the bus back to Texas, this sister phoned me and said she just couldn’t drive him to the bus. Would I do it? And so I picked him up at his motel and drove him to the station. I cried all the way back home with great, keening sobs. I grieved for the Dad he never was; I grieved because I was suddenly a small child again, saying good-bye again, with no guarantee of another hello. I grieved for my wounded sister, who knew she wouldn’t be strong enough to endure the simple act of saying good-bye.
I’m remembering all this because I went to a funeral this morning. As I sat and listened to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren honoring a man they obviously knew well, I considered that these people were waving good-bye. But they were waving good-bye with hope. They knew they would see their grandpa again – they had no doubt of it. Yes, there were tears because of the separation. But the despairing grief of an endless loss was just not there.
As for my dad, he did come to a saving faith in Jesus. The orphan I was has been replaced by the heir that I am now. The disconsolate child is consoled.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” I Thessalonians 4:13-14