In 1984, my Dad took me and my 2 brothers to our first NFL game. The Giants and Eagles faced off at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. I was 11 years old and although I was a Cowboys fan, I was so excited to be able to attend an NFL game in person. The stadium was so big! Fans were cheering and screaming for their favorite teams; lots of green and lots of blue as I remember it. Spending time with my family and going to my first NFL game ever with my Dad should have been my most vivid memory, but it wasn’t. Instead, the part I remember most is the ride home. The Giants had lost the game and my Dad had a lot to drink. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen my Dad drunk but when you’re 10 years old, you process things on a much different level. It becomes a sort of unhealthy normal. I remember a lot of things about that drive home. The screaming, the fear I felt, asking myself if my Dad was ok. He swerved and weaved through traffic for 4 hours until we somehow made it home safely.
I remember at 14 years old, locking myself in the bathroom at my grandparent’s house crying because I came home that day to find that my Dad had been drinking. We were supposed to take a trip to Shea Stadium the next day to see the Mets and Cardinals.
I remember at 19 years old in college getting a phone call at 2am that he wanted to end it and how much he hated life.
I remember being at work in 2003, getting a call at 10pm to hear him swearing, cursing and screaming at me.
I remember having to write him a letter in 2006 telling him I needed to isolate my family from any communication with him. His verbal abuse was really taking a toll on us.
My Mom and Dad divorced in 1979 when I was just shy of my 6th birthday. I grew up with a Dad who tried so hard to love, but never knew how. I grew up with a Dad who came to our little league games and our high school games under the influence, often leaving us ashamed and embarrassed to be associated with him. I grew up with a Dad who missed my high school graduation, my college graduation, my wedding and the birth of my daughter. All because of his struggles with drinking and later depression.
Hate is such a strong word, but there was definitely a time when I HATED my own father. A Dad is someone who is supposed to be there for his kids, be there for his grandkids, and to love them unconditionally. It’s supposed to be someone who you can call on and lean on and rely on during tough times. My Dad wanted to be that support but never knew how. He chose the bottle over his relationships.
In 2001, I got serious about my faith. After reading the bible more and more, I began to learn about the power of forgiveness. I started to gain knowledge about what Jesus did on the cross. About God forgiving us and loving us even at our most wretched state. That was powerful knowledge and really started resonating with me. I was thankful to be forgiven for all the wrong I’d committed in my life. What an amazing gift.
I’ve always thought I was the type of person who didn’t hold grudges in almost every aspect of my life. The one exception was the relationship I had with my Dad. As he continued his struggle with drinking through his 40’s and into his 50’s, I had moved on with my life. I married Dawn, became a Dad to Sarah, and had a great job. I came into a great church family and an unbelievably blessed life. But beneath the surface, there was so much anger inside of me and it seemed to come to a boil every time I spoke to my father. That is until last year.
The inability to forgive is such a poison to the soul. It keeps us trapped in bondage and doesn’t allow us the freedom to love. It gives us false power in controlling our relationships by keeping track of all the wrongs the other person did. Instead of thinking of the other person, it brings out selfishness in our own souls.
My Dad needed to know that his son loved him no matter what. He needed to know that his son cared about him and wanted him to stay sober and overcome this terrible disease. But most of all, my Dad needed to be forgiven.
My father hasn’t had a drink since June of 2013. He’ll be 66 in December. He’s battled demons for the past 40 years; demons of alcohol, depression and suicide. But he’s fought through it and continues to fight every day. I admire him for that. He’s literally been through hell and lived to tell about it.
Dad and I speak about once a week now and have seen each other 3–4 times over the past year. At 42 years old, I feel like the relationship I was not able to have with him when I was 10, 15, 20, or 30 is something I’m able to have now. I pray that God continues working in him and allows him to live the rest of his life sober, with a joy and peace that surpasses his own understanding.
Dad I love you, I’m glad you’re my father, and I forgive you.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you had a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” — Colossians 3:13