Day 28–The best he could

I’m very thankful to the guest writers who participated in the “28 days of love” project this month. It’s been inspiring to read about the various ways love and gratitude coincide in so many very different people’s lives. I had guest writers lined up every day, but a few people weren’t able to write their posts, and it left me wondering what to do about today’s post, the last of the series.

I have a nice generic piece about gratitude sitting in front of me on my desk that I thought about posting. It’s very well-written , but when I sat down to post it, something gave me pause. It was that same nagging feeling I get when I know something isn’t right or when God is trying to get my attention in that mysterious, silent way of His. So I took my hands off the keyboard, folded them in my lap for a moment, and said a very short prayer.

“God, if there’s something else you want me to write about, let me know right now.”

He answered.

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

With my dad, probably taken the year my parents got divorced

“Your dad.”

Then I wished I hadn’t asked.

It’s not easy to write about. It never has been.

Once I attended a poetry workshop at Lyon College by my former professor, Andrea Hollander Budy, and a visiting writer, Peter Abbs, whose beautiful, smooth recitations still echo in my ears when I read his poetry seven years later.

One of our assignments was to write a poem, in similar fashion to one of his, about gifts we’d received from someone significant in our lives. I wrote about my mom and all the ways she’d impacted me. I know the poem hides in the recesses of a maroon binder in the bottom of a storage box in our quilting house next door, but I don’t have the time to find it today. Each stanza begins, “From my mother” and then lists a gift I’ve received from her, namely lessons and principles she has passed on to me.

The last stanza, which has haunted me since writing it, is about my father.

“From my father,

nothing

worth having

or wanting.”

When I read the poem aloud after listening to beautiful odes to wonderful people by the other aspiring poets at the workshop, Peter Abbs had the reaction I always shoot for when writing last lines to poems.

“Hmmmm.”

What heavy words I’d written.

Sadly, they were true.

My father has nine biological children. He is currently raising one of them. The others were raised by their mothers or other generous people without financial support. He was consumed with other things. Drugs, namely.

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

Favorite softball season ever, with my dad as assistant coach

My father is an addict. His addiction has led him to make countless poor decisions, hurtful decisions, which have cost him his relationships with almost all of his children and most of his grandchildren, not to mention the mothers of his children, his friends, and his other family members. During his periods of sobriety, he is brilliant, hilarious, animated, inspiring, loving, and thoughtful. During the periods when he is ravaged by addiction, he is not.

About five years ago, my father faced legal consequences for his addiction-related actions. He began attending 12-step meetings, and it changed his life. At the same time, I was working the steps in my own 12-step program for family members and loved ones of alcoholics. I reached the point of making a list of people I needed to make amends to. My father fell into the category of “maybe never,” meaning I knew I owed him an amends, but I was not ready yet, and I might never be.

God decided to move my dad up on the list, though. I began to feel that nagging feeling about making amends to my father. I called him on my way home from a meeting one night and managed to choke out the words.

“Dad, I need to make an amends to you. I have hated you my whole life for what you have done and haven’t done for me and my sisters. I hated you for the way you treated my mom. I want you to know I forgive you, and I know you have an addiction, and please let me know if there’s something I can do to make it up to you.”

Silence.

Then words wet with tears came through.

“You don’t need to do anything for me. I owe you an amends.”

So that day, in 2008, we made mutual amends to one another. For the first time in my life, I felt completely at peace with my father. Well into my late 20s, I had no desire to attempt to form some warm and fuzzy father-daughter bond with him. That seemed unrealistic. But I felt good knowing that we’d cleared the air between us, and we occasionally talked on the phone, and it wasn’t as awkward as it had been my whole life. When I said “I love you,” I meant it. I no longer felt forced to say “I love you” to someone who I felt had not demonstrated real love to me.

Things changed. My dad’s addiction got the best of him again. He served a prison sentence. He willingly placed his two youngest children in the care of other people. And the little girl in me felt her head drop in disappointment. It seemed the same old story just picked up where it had left off.

Today, I choose to refrain from contacting my father, and he knows why. But I see things a little differently today than I used to.

In my heart, thanks to my own spiritual growth and work in my recovery program, I’ve written a new closing stanza to that heavy poem.

“From my father,

four sisters and four brothers.

A shining memory of gifts

wrapped in aluminum foil

under a miniature Christmas tree.

A moment of complete

safety on the back of his Harley,

eyes closed, hugging him close

at five years old.

The most fun I’ve ever had

playing softball.

A dozen roses at 29,

the card reading, ‘Daddy loves you.’

From my father,

the best love

he could give

at the time

with what he had.”

The most meaningful bouquet I've ever received

The most meaningful bouquet I’ve ever received

 

Fireproofing

Garth Brooks, Warrant, Jason Mraz, The Foo Fighters, Donny Osmond, and even Pink Floyd have paid homage to the analogy of burning bridges. And who hasn’t burned a few bridges in her own lifetime–whether intentionally or unintentionally?

I’m not sure how or when, but somewhere along the way, I came to believe that with few exceptions, burning bridges was a pretty bad idea. I’ve deliberately and severely cut ties with a few people for various reasons; if the person or relationship is very unhealthy and/or harmful to me in some way, burning a bridge may be the best way to put permanent distance between me and that person or situation. But by and large, through much observation and experience, I’ve learned that you never know who you’re going to need down the road. If you’ve burned the bridge connecting the two of you, you won’t be able to get help or benefit from that person or relationship any longer.

I believe strongly in the power of networking. By networking, I mean REAL networking. Building lasting relationships. Showing concern and interest in others’ lives. Extending help when help is needed and when I’m able. I don’t mean collecting business cards and telling people, “we should do lunch!” but never following up. I haven’t perfected the skill of networking, but I’ve certainly grabbed hold of it and attempted to apply it to all areas of my life, not just to work relationships and professional settings.

I’ve watched countless disgruntled people act out and leave work situations in disarray to get back at co-workers or bosses. I’ve witnessed (and been on the receiving end of, unfortunately) friends pulling tantrums, behaving immaturely, or repeatedly neglecting to be responsible and courteous. I’ve observed many people who treated their family members by shamefully lower standards than they treated other people (or even strangers)  in their lives.

What’s the result?

Almost always, those disgruntled former employees don’t leave a pleasant taste in their employers’ mouths. Do you think the employer feels led to sing their praises when potential employers call checking references? I don’t think so. What happens to those friendships? They usually slowly fade away when the person on the receiving end of the bad behavior realizes she is exerting considerably more effort than the other person and grows tired of doing so. And how about family situations? Even if ties aren’t completely severed, they’re usually frayed and worn painfully thin, making every holiday or get-together somewhat uncomfortable.

I can think of multiple times in my own life when leaving bridges intact proved beneficial to me.

Me and my former co-workers

I recently was blessed to be reunited with my former sponsor in a recovery program I’ve been part of for five years. When I relocated to my hometown a few years ago, it was no longer feasible to continue our sponsorship relationship (for either of us). I harbored some hurt feelings over the dissolution of our relationship, but ultimately, I knew it was best for us to end it at that time. Less than two years later, after praying about it, both of us feel at peace with reconnecting in this way. This is rare, and it wouldn’t have been possible if either of us had been mouthy, disrespectful, or neglectful of one another in the past. The smooth, calm ending made it possible for us to envision a truly beneficial relationship between us in the future.

Another time, I held a job with the fiscal agent for a large government entity as a technical writer. I honestly found the job to be quite boring. I never had enough work to do to keep me busy, and it was rarely challenging. I did, however, work with great people, and that made the situation bearable. After working there for a little over a year, an opportunity fell in my lap to try my hand at fundraising and development with a non-profit. The position was on an interim basis with the opportunity for it to become permanent if I chose to stay. After just a few months, I knew I needed out–the work environment was somewhat hostile, and I found myself more stressed than I’d ever been before. Because I’d left my previous employer on such great terms, had given them plenty of notice, and had trained others well to take over my tasks without halting production, my former boss didn’t hesitate for one second when I called her and asked for my job back. She met me that evening with a contract and even allowed me to negotiate for a salary increase. I know she would not have been so quick to consider rehiring me if I’d performed poorly or left on bad terms.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that it’s best to treat people the way I want to be treated–to apply the Golden Rule to all relationships. I’ve learned that I can be polite to anyone, no matter how much I disagree with them or dislike them. And I’ve learned that when I do these things, I almost always reap the benefits.

So ask for forgiveness and make amends. Go the extra mile to maintain smooth paths between you and your loved ones. Duct tape your mouth shut when you are concerned that hot angry words might spew out at any minute. Pray before acting. Act as if you care even on the days when you don’t.

You never know who you’re going to need at the next bend in the road.