Last week, Chef got super angry with me because my writings were used against him in court when he accompanied his new girlfriend to a custody hearing. I found it a little hard to believe that a court would just take the random word of some blogger out there as the truth, with little else to back up what she was saying. I stand by that. I don’t really know how everything truly went down, but I doubt I had much to do with anything.
I had no intention of writing about the episode at all, except something else happened today. My father called me upset. He was upset enough to make me cry.
My brother posted a snarky “wisdom” about learning about being a good father by having an absent one. It was a barb at our father, and an unfair one at that. I listened to the pain in my dad’s voice, as he tried to understand why a person he’s been trying to get to know for 40 years now would intentionally write something so misleading and completely false. For the record — our father was absolutely NOT a dead beat dad. He tried for years to gain custody of us. He spent every dime he had trying to find us. He flew us to his home; he bought us presents; he called us. He just couldn’t break past Mom. What you said, Michael, was a lie.
I’ve written about my complicated childhood before, but I’ll refresh your memories. My brother, Michael, and I were born to two people who met in the USMC during the Vietnam war. The marriage only lasted six years, and then my mother left my dad. I was old enough to remember him, but Michael was still a baby. For two years, my father fought my mother in court, trying to secure a father’s right to be involved in his children’s lives. My mother, happily married to Next Husband, did not want to share her kids, and we moved from place to place, state to state, always hiding from my dad. He would send child support, and she would send it back. Then, in court, she would lament that he did nothing to try to support his kids. Of course, he easily disproved her allegations, and even the judge got annoyed with both her and her pastor. They would spout a lot on nonsense from the Bible, twisting it for their purposes. It was truly a crappy period of time in both my Dad and my life.
During my entire childhood, I had to field off lies Mom would tell about Dad. She needed people to sympathize with her, and I listened often to her spin stories that simply were not true out like cheap scarves. I even had her and a pastor sit me down and try to force me to lie to the court. I did not lie to the court, because Mom moved us again before that day came. I can still remember being horrified by their suggestions.
Michael is a lot like my mother. I love my mother, but I love her while acknowledging that some of her flaws were really rather damaging in my life. I forgive her. I just don’t edit the past like Michael and Mom do.
I left home and never looked back, setting my feet on my own path. I found my Dad again, and while the damage of a lost childhood sometimes rears its head, I am still very happy to have him back in my life as a full-time father. Michael took a different path, and it was one that got him as far away from his own painful childhood as he could get. He wrote off parents, siblings, old friends…everyone. He built his own life, and none of us that were in his past were ever welcomed in it.
Michael was told complete lies about abuse my mother supposedly suffered at my father’s hand. Mom used Michael’s lack of coherent memory to paint the picture she hoped others would believe instead of being honest about the crashed marriage she had with my dad. Mom was as much to blame for the failed marriage as Dad was, yet she never once said that out loud. She had her own trauma that lent a hand in all of this, but when all the crap has been cleared away, the truth is, Mom “edited” her stories to influence the audience she was performing for. It sounds harsh, but I think we all do this to some degree. Nobody was better at painting a sympathetic heroine than my mother; unfortunately, it was at the expense of the truth. And because the truth is so paramount to me, it caused a real riff between my mother, my brother, and me. I was the one who would not fall into line. I’m okay with that because the reason is, I don’t embrace lying.
Michael has done well for himself as a pastor, author, and father. At least, from where I can see, he has. Michael and I had a couple of arguments about my dad, my kids, my husband, and my religion, back when we were barely able to vote, and he has never allowed me anywhere near his life again, not that I was ever allowed to be in it, really. And it was for the exact reason Mom kept her distance. I can’t be lulled by a good story. I remember my dad as a kid. I remember how we left. I remember how the stories changed, becoming complete works of fiction. I remember moving, hiding, and I remember all the lies.
I have stayed out of Michael’s life as much as anyone possibly can, and I’ve cautioned my father about not getting his hopes up about ever having any kind of relationship with his son. I haven’t really known how to convey to Dad just how much he has no idea who Michael is or what Michael cares about. I have prayed about Michael having a change of heart, but deep down, I knew what the real problem was for Michael. Like Mom, you don’t want someone around who can give a different perspective that calls into question some of the stories you’ve told people were true. Michel has built an audience and he doesn’t want to have any of his stories questioned.
This is why you should always stick to the truth. Eventually, someone who was there always pops up again.
I have no intention of calling Michael out on the specifics about what I know he’s said, wrote, or otherwise that I know were complete fabrications. I only would like to point out that there was absolutely no redeeming value in making a comment like that about Dad other than to paint a false picture about a person that you know has been trying for years and years to just see you one time before he dies.
I guess it could have looked like he was a dead-beat dad if you had not had me telling you your entire life that what Mom was saying was not true. Or even if he had given up, and you’d never heard from him again. But the fact that he has consistently reached out to you, over and over again, all the way back to when your first child was born, says otherwise.
I think you are a fantastic teacher, but as a pastor, you are obligated to be honest. You wrote something with a crappy motive to hurt a person you refuse to give even the politest moment in order to hear his side of the story. I’m sorry, but right at this moment, you look very much like Mom did when she tried to tell me God wanted me to lie.
I know your life is falling apart right at the moment. Believe me. I have weathered this same storm, and I feel for you. But do not spread your misery to Dad just because he’s an easy target. I have come to respect you a bit more these last few years, but something like this makes me feel like the seven-year old girl who incurred the wrath of an entire family just because she wouldn’t help them “edit” the truth. You were one of those people. Not everyone owes you an apology for that childhood. You owe some apologies too.
If you don’t want to let Dad even see your face, no problem. He has accepted that he will never meet his grandchildren; he doesn’t even blame you. In his mind, you are still that little tiny baby, innocent and misguided. If that comforts him, so be it. But I am appalled at the meanness of your spirit when you did that, and I don’t see you as some poor innocent victim. You are grown man, and a pastor at that. Grow up.
I will not allow you to hurt him anymore unchecked, just so you can spread a little pain around because your marriage fell apart. Both Mom and Dad have paid for their mistakes in spades, and I won’t allow you to make Dad’s any worse with lies. He paid the greatest price for marrying a person who “edits” the truth. Keep your snarky father wisdom to yourself. I have the same genetics as you, plus I inherited Dad’s Balls instead of Mom’s Magic Time Machine For Making The Past Better.
You had a father-figure growing up; your father-figure was my predator. You take whatever shots at anyone else in this whole scenario, but not Dad. Never him. He loves you, despite your arrogance and your pride. He says nothing negative about you ever; and you take a lie/pot-shot at him. Not your best moment as a Christian, a son, or even a human being. Set the bar higher. Seriously.
It was fun trying to explain why a pastor would do something like this to him. You’re held to higher standard, Pastor..You might want to keep that in mind. Every lie, no matter what supposedly “good” motivation was behind it, will come to light, and despite your penchant for deciding who is worthy of God’s love and who is not, Jesus’s rules for our behavior extend to our father as well. Don’t pick up where Mom left off. How could you???
You are better at dressing up your lies, and your humor even makes them funny sometimes. But a lie is a lie, and when it dances around merely to hurt someone else, there is nothing sympathetic about the liar anymore.
~ Your Sister, Bird