Sitting on the front row at my father’s funeral, I didn’t expect many would come. The family would be obligated to show up, and perhaps a few old friends. I couldn’t imagine anyone else caring. He seemed dead to me years before after his stroke.
When people started coming and filling up the pews, I was shocked. I sat there stoic and tearless, listening to the sounds of mourning from a part of his life I never knew. Stangers to me were sincerely sad at his passing.
Did they know the rants, the verbal abuse, the feelings of abandonment we suffered because of his love affair with liquor? Did they experience a wasted life watching a loved one slowly self-destruct?
They didn’t feel our shame over his flare-ups in public when a waitress was late in serving us, and he forced us to leave when he wasn’t satisfied. I became skilled at avoiding the stares of strangers.
Sometimes he would answer the door in his boxers, so I asked no friends over. I had disowned my dad long before he died.
His eyes often bloodshot, his speech slurred, and his rage filled all corners of our home with expletives. Even our neighbors could hear his temper flaring out of control.
Witnessing his burial today with a cold, bitter heart, I was mad at God . I wished only for one thing. I wanted to discover a part of him I could respect and remember with pride.
“Your dad was hilarious. We are going to miss him. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“He was always the life of the party. We could count on him to entertain us with his stories.”
“He was so caring and sensitive. He always listened to his friends.”
“Did you ever read your dad’s poems? I’m surprised he was never published.”
As people filed passed there was an inward thawing of my bitter pain. Who was this man?
Sitting in a movie theatre after viewing a horrifically realistic film about WWII, I was glued to my chair and couldn’t move. It seemed irreverent not to linger there in silent reflection. I sensed God was speaking to me, but as yet didn’t hear.
Later that evening I took the car out for time alone. The emotional residue of the explicitly gory movie was still tormenting me. I couldn’t let it the images go.
My dad had been in that war and yet never spoke of it. He was by nature a storyteller, and I thought that was odd. When we asked him questions, he quickly changed the subject.
I remember my mother telling us “the war changed your father. At first he wrote me love poems, but one day he stopped. When he returned I saw in his eyes, he was a different man. His sparkle was gone.”
I will never know the details of his tour of duty during the Big War, but I realized he was a Naval officer who came home with a permanent injury. There were no visible wounds. There were no medals for bravery or heroic action. But he came home a cripple, for the war had stolen his spirit.
The bottle was NOT my father. His addiction did not define him. My anger had been misdirected. His drinking was the symptom of a heart full of pain, in need of being heard, being loved, being forgiven and we all had failed him.
He was a war hero. Everyone that goes to war for our country is a hero. I had been ashamed of him all those years, refusing to see the truth. He was a sensitive, young boy going in, idealistic and ready to serve our country, and the secrets of his tour of duty are not buried in the earth.
My dad had survived a nightmare, suffered in silence, and turned to the bottle for reprieve. I had judged him for that without understanding.
I used to be proud that tears don’t flow easily for me. But humility comes after brokenness.
Tears are cleansing. Tears are healing. Tears were an outward sign of the thawing of my inner soul.
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