When I found it, I was casually looking through my old cookbooks in search of a recipe for King ranch chicken. Unexpected treasures, discovered without intent, sometimes come during our most mundane moments. The surprise of it stunned me into clarity, and awakened my senses.
It was a small album of my wedding night, made for my parents, that was snuggled in between two diet recipe books. My stepmother sent it to me when my father died twenty years ago. I opened it to reminisce on the beginning of our forty- year- old marriage.
In between two of the pages, a sheet of old yellowed paper fell out that piqued my curiosity. As I opened it up, I gasped. My father had typed on his ancient manual typewriter a letter to my husband to give to him before our wedding. Neither of us remember the letter. Maybe it was the first draft of what he wanted to say, and he had a change of heart. Maybe it was his speech for our rehearsal dinner, but I donít remember now his words.
Itís as if the letter from the past was sent from the grave to soften the hard spot in my heart with a touch of Godís truth. Sometimes our lies are not just spoken words, but shadowed thoughts. Godís light that day broke through the fog of grief that Dad had died years before he was buried.
My father was an alcoholic. His addiction had destroyed all fond memories of him. I had more nightmare thoughts than pleasant daydreams, because bottles , hidden in paper sacks, symbolized the family secret that bonded us to shame.
I remembered his rages, his cursing, his passed out comas on the couch way before it was time to go to bed. I remembered his bloodshot eyes, the smell of his breath after alcohol had taken its toll on his body, and the slurring of his words that consistently embarrassed me in public. I remembered his being stoked with liquor as he walked me down the aisle. In my mind, the bottle of booze and my father were united in unholy sacrilege.
That was the image I held in my heart until I read the 40- year- old words on the old yellowed page. His words were gentle and full of love, as he rejoiced in our young loversí romance.
He described how impressed he was at my choice of men when he took my future husband water skiing and he kept trying to slalom, falling again and again until he succeeded. He observed in him a stoic perseverance, and was pleased at the young man who didnít give up. He bragged about how proud he was to be gaining a son-in-law Naval officer, as he once had been in WWII.
He told my husband to love me and cherish me, for I was truly a gift. He bragged about my accomplishments and talents, and asked my husband to protect me and love me unconditionally. I didnít know he even knew that word.
Tears rolled down my eyes as I read the words heíd never spoken. I never knew he felt that way. How sad and yet how beautiful that I found those forgotten words on that yellow paper at this time in my life when I can tell my grandchildren about their great-grandfather in a positive, loving light.
Iíd allowed my mind to color those memories with the dark secrets of addiction, instead of feeding my soul with the tenderness of my dadís heart, his witty sense of humor, and uncanny ability to read the character of other people. Iíd forgotten how he loved to laugh, and tell stories and write poetry. Now I have proof in writing of the real man my own children never knew.
I can show them the side of him I want to remember, and warn them about the dangers of substance abuse without marring his memory and forgetting his kind spirit.
Finally, I can speak proudly of him, instead of being ashamed, and know that it was my heart that needed to change , as I sealed the deal by obeying my Father in heaven.
I forgave my Dad.
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