What I Learned About My Father & His Absence In 2011
Editor’s Note: I have no words for this post. It was written by Trish Palac, who also wrote a great post on verbal abuse in dating relationships for us several months ago. Trish tweets at @trishpalac. – Lauren
I sat eagerly next to my dad as he entertained me in a way that only a six-year-old can be entertained. I begged him for the third time that day to please, please peel my orange for me. He could almost always peel the entire thing off in one piece. And it thrilled me. It was magic that only my daddy could possibly possess.
I sat again, eagerly, next to my dad in his big 12 passenger van as he drove me 180 miles up to Michigan to see my boyfriend for the weekend. I was sixteen and giving him gray hairs on a daily basis. But he faithfully drove me up there and made sure I was safely deposited at my boyfriend’s family’s house. He always bear hugged me before he drove away.
And again, I sat next to my dad this past summer. I was 22. It had been a year and a half since I’d seen him and almost a year since my wedding. The one that he couldn’t attend to walk me down the aisle. He smiled, but his eyes were empty. He wore all khaki and his clothes bore his name and inmate number. He bear hugged like he always used to, but today it was in the visiting room of a federal prison in Ft Worth, Texas.
A father is always his daughter’s first love. He is always the man that she grows up wanting to make proud. My dad was no exception – he was my world. But on that day in the court room when I heard the judge sentence him to 180 months in prison? That was the day that my world stopped. My dad was being charged for a crime I couldn’t never even imagine him committing. This couldn’t be my dad being taken out of the room in handcuffs while staring at the floor to avoid the tear-filled eyes of his family. This couldn’t be the same dad that patiently taught me how to drive in that big 12 passenger van. This couldn’t be happening to my family.
I have spent a lot of time angry. Angry at my dad. Angry at God for letting this happen to my family. Angry at the I.C.E. agents that came to my house that morning and took my dad away from his family. Angry that I was too embarrassed to tell my own friends and family why my dad wasn’t around anymore or why my heart was breaking. I was always the girl that was lucky enough to have the coolest dad in the neighborhood. He homeschooled me and my seven siblings, he taught me to ride my bike, and he always provided constant laughter. Now he was being taken away for the next fifteen years of my life with no chance of an early release. Now his name was in the local paper.
Then, I spent a lot of time forgiving. My dad was always a people pleaser by nature. He put other peoples happiness first and rarely did things for himself. So during the ten months between the beginning of the investigation and his sentencing – he always acted like everything was okay. By order of the authorities he wasn’t allowed to be near our home or allowed see the kids that were still under eighteen, so he stayed in an apartment on house arrest. When I went to visit him he acted like everything was fine. Like the most important topic to discuss was the weather or the current book he was reading. But my heart ached and I felt betrayed. I felt like the truth was being hidden from me. Like a child being kept in the dark. I was encouraged, by my then-fiancé, to ask him to tell me what happened. Why he did what he did. What was true and what wasn’t. In asking these hard questions I saw I side of my dad that I had never seen before – a raw, authentic, broken man that made a mistake. I had never seen him express something so real before. He was always just my dad. Always happy, always laughing. Never broken. But this broken man in front of me was left empty-handed and discouraged. It was in that moment that I had more love and respect for my dad than I had ever had before.
Now I’m spending a lot of time learning and understanding. After this turn in my relationship with my dad is when he was taken to prison halfway across the country. My world was left with a huge hole that I couldn’t fill. That piece of my heart was left with marks of the pain lived over the past year and those still healing scars. I was always aware of the almost tangible absence of my dad. And I was constantly devastated thinking about the pain he must be going through. His family was his life, his identity. And he was stripped of that. It hasn’t been until recently that I am beginning to understand that God has greater dreams for us, my dad included, than for a return to a pleasant life. He wanted more for my dad. He didn’t want his identity to be his family. As great of a dad as he always was, God wants more. He wants my dad’s identity to rest in Him. He wants my dad to be a reflection of His grace. And He knew that for my dad to find his new identity in the grace of Jesus, to have no other choice than to fall into His arms – he had to lose everything. He had to fall apart. He had to become the shell of a man that broke my heart so fiercely to see. God has to prune and reshape my dad to use Him in the way that He has always intended.
My dad will always be my hero. I may still have moments where I mourn the loss of what was – the loss of having my dad and best friend in my daily life like I always thought I would. But I know that I can hold onto the hope of greater things for him. Things that he was divinely created to do. People’s lives that he has already touched in ways that only he could. I know that there are big things in store for him – plans that are so much bigger than what we had our hearts set on for our own little world. The joy that God will reveal through the pain of this nightmare will be incomparable to anything that we could ever plan for our own lives. What I pray for my dad is that he sees that we are more than the mistakes that we make. We are more than the tragedies that invade our lives and we are more than that which we cling to so dearly to only have ripped away from us. We don’t know what God is doing or why we feel the heartache that we do. But what we can cling to is the promise that, yes, the pain may not go away, but it will always do its work in us.
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