Category Archives: Hope

The Sins of My Father

Forgiveness is Freedom

Like many sons, I worshiped my father.

He was strong and kind, slow to anger and generous with what he earned. He supported me. He supported my whole family. Then one day, when I was in my early thirties, a horrible revelation kicked the supports away and I fell into the dust.

That was the day I called my step-mother on Easter, to wish her a happy holiday. I called her from work, because I could get a free long-distance line. I was more than half-way through my 20-years in the Air Force then and stationed in Germany. My dad lived with me. I had taken him in because he had fallen apart emotionally and physically after he and my step-mother divorced five years before.

After half-a-decade, I still didn’t know why their marriage failed. They had been together for twenty years and it seemed like a pretty good relationship. And for reasons unknown, both parents refused to reveal what broke them apart.

Whenever I called, my step-mom found it difficult to talk with me. Apparently, I reminded her of my father and many terrible, but secret, memories. This time, after a few minutes, she had broken down in tears and asked me not to call anymore. She just couldn’t take it. I was devastated. My biological mother had left my father and I when I was nineteen- months-old, and here, my step-mom, the only mother I had ever known, was abandoning me as well.

“Roy, I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.” I could barely understand her as she sobbed, nor could I understand why we couldn’t still be mother and son.

“I don’t think you should contact your step-brother or sister, either, Roy. They are coping with problems of their own, and you’ll just complicate things.”

“You know you’ll be leaving me with no family.” My voice started to break.

“I have to go,” she said.

I didn’t want to make a scene in the workcenter or hurt my mother’s feelings anymore than necessary, so I said, “Okay, mom. Goodbye.” But before I hung up the phone, she said, “Wait…I need to tell you something.”

There was a long minute of dead silence on the line. I was about to ask if she was still there when she finally spoke.

“The reason I divorced your father was because he sexually abused your step-sister and one of your step-brothers from the time they were nine until they were sixteen. I wouldn’t tell you this, except that you’re dating that woman with two kids,” she said.

Early in our call, I had told her I was in a long-term relationship with a woman who had two children.

Don’t let those little boys be alone with him.” And she hung up.

It took awhile for that to soak in.

The image I held of my father shattered like a favorite mirror into a million shards. That mirror was one I looked into often and saw myself, one that reflected all the ways I was like my dad: the line of our jaw,  the gentleness of our eyes, the kind sternness that bubbled up from our hearts. Those mirrored images broke into sharp pieces of betrayal that sliced through my love and especially my trust.

Now what was reflected in the mirror? I found some of my identity there. Could I do that now? Was I like my father in ways I hadn’t looked very deeply at? According to my grandmother, my grandfather had been a child abuser. She’d caught him in the back of his auto repair garage with a little girl who had her panties around her ankles. I was afraid of just how deep our similarities might be.

I can’t say I was angry right away. Emotionally, I was lost and didn’t know what to feel. Pouring myself a cup of coffee, I stepped outside for a smoke in the break area, but couldn’t sit still, so I walked around the satellite compound where I worked,  thinking and looking up at the stars. Their light seemed cold there in the black vacuum of space. That’s how the inside of my chest felt, cold and utterly empty.

I felt alone, too. My mother had just pushed me aside, unable to stand the pain I caused by association. She’d cut me off from my siblings, as well. I didn’t have a biological mother that I knew, and now I find out I didn’t really know my dad either. Was he going away, too?

I walked for hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette until Hal, one of my co-workers, came out and said they needed me back inside.

“You alright?” He asked.

I put my hand on his shoulder, “No. But let’s not talk about it. Okay?” He shrugged it off and we went inside.

The rest of my shift went by quickly, and soon I was driving home to face my dad. A prospect I was not looking forward to.

My dad wan’t home when I arrived. So, I had a little while to mull over what I might say and how he might react. What was I going to do? We were living in Germany. I couldn’t easily distance myself from him, but that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do anyway. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. Confusion and disbelief clouded my thinking.

I was angry, especially about how my father’s perversion had injured my family and driven them from me. What kind of hell had my sister and brother been through as children? And now as adults? What amount of guilt weighed my mother down after she found out what had happened? What fits of painful self-condemnation wracked her after discovering she hadn’t protected her children?

Even though these and a dozen other mixed-up thoughts pounded me, I still couldn’t have brought myself to just throw him out into the cold. Knowledge of his sinful perversion cut through my love, but now I can see that those bonds were too tough, too deep to be severed quickly.

When my dad came in, we exchanged our usual greetings. He stood in the living room doorway, swaying a little. He’d been over at a local pub, the Snell Imbiss, drinking with a few of his German friends. I sat at my word processor, where I had been writing a letter.

“I called mom today,” I said, letting that sink in.

“Yeah? What’d that bitch have to say?” He sat down, pulled out a cigarette and lit it.

The revulsion in his voice and the emphasis on the name, “bitch” made me wince inwardly. “Who are you to call anyone a bitch?” I thought.

“She told me why you two divorced.”

He froze a little in his chair, then took a deep drag and flicked his ashes.

“What did she tell you?”

“She told me you sexually abused my step-sister and step-brother from the time they were nine until they were sixteen.”

“What do you think of that?”

His cold matter-of-factness shocked me. At the same time, I was glad he didn’t deny anything. I had feared my confrontation with him might turn into a shouting match of denials and recriminations. Instead, he sat there quietly smoking in the shadows across the room. I could see his hand shake as he rolled the glowing red tip of his cigarette along the edge of his ashtray, betraying the fact that he was afraid, either of losing me or having to go back stateside to uncertain circumstances.

“I certainly don’t think it was right, dad. How could you do that? What the fuck were you thinking?” I was growing upset.

“Well, you need to hear my side of it, Roy. Your step-sister had a role to play…”

“Don’t give me that shit! My brother and sister were kids. You were a grown-up! He was ten and she was fucking nine-goddamn-years-old, dad!”

We sat there in silence. I couldn’t believe he was trying to make excuses. I felt ready to explode. He’d poisoned everything I knew about my family. It was gone.

Even though I was furious, what strangely coursed through my mind right then was how I needed to forgive. It was Easter. I am a Christian, and I deeply believe in the teachings of Jesus and the commandments of God. And all evening as I walked around the compound, I had been asking myself, “Even now, does God expect me to honor my Father? Even now, in the face of such an abomination, does Jesus want me to forgive? I’m an only child. My biological mother was who knew where. To shun my father made me an orphan to all intent and purposes. Is that what I wanted?”

My dad hadn’t moved or said a word. He just sat there smoking. I’m sure he was more than a little drunk. He and his buddies at the Imbiss put away a lot of beer a few nights a week.

Above my desk I had tacked a Calvin and Hobbes comic that I had cut from the Stars and Stripes Newspaper. It was one where Calvin’s Dad has just arrived home, and a sheepish Calvin is standing in the yard with a sign that says, “Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” Above the Dad’s head is a thought bubble with the words, “Uh, oh.”

“Yeah. Uh, oh’s an understatement.” I thought.

I’d hung it there because it was funny and it was something I truly believed in.

I pulled it off the wall, took a deep breath, and walked over to my dad and handed him the comic.

“Why’re you giving me this?” He asked. “What’s it got to do with anything”

“Dad, listen. It doesn’t matter where truth comes from. I believe what that comic says and I have to forgive you what you’ve done: for you, for me, for God. No matter how you’ve betrayed me, I can’t hate you. You’re my father.  But no matter what, this is  going to take some time to resolve.”

He held the comic for a moment, then handed it back. He avoided looking me in the eyes and didn’t have anything to say.

I said goodnight, and went to my bedroom, where I tried to read, but couldn’t concentrate. Eventually, I fell asleep.

My dad and I didn’t talk much for days after that evening. But eventually, the air began to thaw, and we slowly returned to a semblance of regular day to day life.

I had to tell my girlfriend at the time about what I’d found out, for her children’s sake. She supported me and empathized, but she was wary of my dad, and it wasn’t long before we parted ways. And no matter how amicable our parting was, it left me just as alone.

Two years after the fateful call, we returned to the States, and he lived with me for three more, until I met my future wife and married her.  During that time, our relationship was cool and distant. He lived on the upper floor of the place I rented, and I lived on the bottom. We didn’t do much together. The love for him that once flowed from me with unrestricted freedom was dammed forever.

Forgiveness is a struggle, like love can be a struggle. There are days when I think of my father and only feel pity and hope he’s alright. I worry about his health and whether he has confessed his sins to God and received forgiveness. Other days, I wrestle with anger or wish he would just die and it’d be over. I can only hope that, when I stand before God and Jesus, my forgiveness was complete, but I’ll never be sure that it is.

I don’t regret my attempt to forgive, though. I shudder to imagine the damage that could have been done to both our hearts and souls by holding my anger and hatred of his sin close.

Now, I’ve been married for twenty years and have two beautiful, gifted children. I hold their love so much more dear as a result of my family’s betrayals. I have spent time in the desert, and as a result have been better able to enjoy the Easter of my soul, as it rises from the dust.

Baright Library Poetry Reading

Here are the seven poems that I read for the Ralston, Baright Library Reading. I hope everyone enjoys them. They were a joy to write and a pleasure to read.

Resting on black haunches in the shadows

Weeds

Grew taller when I was a boy

beneath the humid heart of Texas.

Adventure crouched in the dappled

shade cast by broad green leaves,

where I sought monsters through sultry heat.

I knew them by their chipped green

scales or rust-orange armor as they

rested on black haunches in the shadows,

waiting to feed on heroes like me.

Red augers, rising brontosaurus

necks lifted above the jungle weeds,

felt the terrible slice of my cypress

sword and thrust of sugar cane lance.

Across the accursed land, treasure

after treasure and dozens of thankful

damsels were freed from taloned

clutches—just in the nick of time.

In the fields and lots no one tends,

creatures still lurk in the shade of

velvet leaf, bindweed, and fleabane.

Squint your eyes just so and you

will see chrome grimaces and grills

of forgotten menace, waiting for heroes like you.

 

Gingilos dreams of white foam on shallow blue seas.

Musing Over Stone: Mt Gingilos, Crete

Lost time rains on my spirit

and beads on its white feathers,

then I wake to find dew on my bed.

A watery sky arches above me

and mountainous silhouettes

strain for what nobody knows.

I rise from my nylon nest,

half-asleep on unsteady feet,

shivering in the mountain’s shadow.

A fleece shirt buffers the chill,

but nothing need warm my spirit,

ready for its climb in the sun.

 

Gray expanses fall at my waiting feet,

great eyelids sealed over ages of sleep,

their lashes of grass touching the seam

of talus and earth. I imagine, beneath

the blocky grit, Gingilos dreams

of white foam on shallow blue seas.

When my fingers brush the layered dust

on that vital first hold, time seeps

through my skin, slow as the glacier

that groaned past this place

ten thousand years before I awoke.

The eons enter my restless blood

and grind my bones to dust.

 

Cosmic clocks have only moments

of time for me, so I edge upward,

across the face, shifting my weight,

focusing hold to hold. I rise—

a mist of fog—leaving hardly

a trace to remember, soon to evaporate

in the first rays of morning sun.

A thousand feet higher, my heart dizzies

at the vista. Each vertical step

has drawn back the horizon. From here

I glimpse the truth: I am a dust mote,

with an ego large as the star that birthed it.

 

Pausing on a ledge wide as my foot,

I dip my hands into a bag of chalk

belted to my waist. Wisps of white powder

drift away on the wind, disappear

into inner space, part of something

larger—different somehow.

Like me—yesterday.

A thousand feet further on,

at the peak, I breathe cool air,

smell the pines’ tang on the wind,

but their sharpness quickly dulls;

taut senses fall slack off the edge.

The risk—skin in the game—keeps

every tenuous hour precious,

and my spirit above the ground.

The bright rope, running untangled and free, reminds us our fate is tied to one another.

Rope

drapes around my feet,

like an old, faithful dog.

It ties us to this vertical stage

we dance upon as we perform

our rising, brutal ballet for

no one but ourselves.

We push and pull our way

upward in turns, minds

focused and taut, hearts

soothed within the harmony

of rock, line, and movement.

We and the rope knot our fists

against gravity’s strong current,

as each man ascends alone:

lost in the stone’s sharp grit,

the impulsive voice of the wind,

and the silent distance below.

The bright rope, running

untangled and free, reminds us

our fate is tied to one another.

Rope binds us like blood:

woven with faith, unfrayed by fear,

made brave by love.

Under the scornful weight of her near defeated will, she pushes on in hope.

Sisyphus

She envelops the chair across

the desk from me, glancing

up with eyes a little wide

and a wrinkled, hopeful brow.

 

She’s sat in places like this

a hundred times. The pattern,

like a millstone, has worn

a groove in her life;

she no longer sees an escape.

 

Her fight against foraging

in aisles laden with chips

and freezers of custard

regenerates unchanged

as Cosmo mocks her

through the checkout.

 

Still, under the scornful weight

of her near defeated will,

from far behind every

short, gasping breath,

She pushes on in hope.

 

She begs for freedom’s taste,

to walk swift, with grace,

down any street, path, or aisle,

to turn her head and maybe–

see an admiring face.

 

I proffer my open hand,

choosing to be caught

in her endless task

that’s likely too large

for either of us to push aside.

It is my curse to try.

Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Take This Moment

Stand beside rippling water
running shallow over glacial sand.
Feel your blood fall into steady
rhythms to match the low whisper
of water moving through the reeds.

Breathe deep, expand your caged body
into fall skies etched with cirrus;
expand beyond the branches
of ash and cottonwood that stretch
sleeping buds into the distant blue.

Fall into the slow march of this world
where time slides by and nothing cares
where it’s from, nor where it goes:
grasses go dormant; water turns to ice;
rocks grind to loess, and bones turn to stone.

Drink this tiny sip of God’s eternity,
feel how it whets your thirsty soul,
set your roots under the mud
and feed from the layers of the land.
Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Old Gods

shuffle into the cobbled piazza

dressed in loose brown tweed

and slouching hats that hide

eyes dark with loss.

They sink onto wrought iron

benches below the silent campanile

and toss crumbs of stale grace

from paper sacks to adoring flocks,

pink-footed believers who never

seem sated as they preen and mill

about their gods’ leather soled feet

heads cocked, eyeing for more.

Selfie

Shuffle through the streets,

careful not to trip and fail,

a splash in Trevi fountain.

Look up, “Oh! A cute kitty!

Cup the phone in your palm

hold it at arm’s length,

compose your personal emoji:

cock your head a touch,

drop a shoulder, tuck your chin

whisper “prune” or smile.

“Look at me!”

Click and whirr the shot

Bring the phone back,

cup it with your body.

Chimp your masterpiece:

face in focus, no bombs,

the kitty looks pretty too.

The world returns to periphery.

“Where was I?” Facebook,

Flikr, Snapchat, Twitter.

“Someone liked my post!”

Sisyphus

 

Sisyphus

She envelops the chair across

the desk from me, glancing

up with eyes a little wide

and a wrinkled, hopeful brow.

 

She’s sat in places like this

a hundred times. The pattern,

like a millstone, has worn

a groove in her life;

she no longer sees an escape.

 

Her fight against foraging

in aisles laden with chips

and freezers of custard

regenerates unchanged

as Cosmo mocks her

through the checkout.

 

Still, under the scornful weight

of her near defeated will,

from far behind every

short, gasping breath,

She pushes on in hope.

 

She begs for freedom’s taste,

to walk swift, with grace,

down any street, path, or aisle,

to turn her head and maybe–

see an admiring face.

 

I proffer my open hand,

choosing to be caught

in her endless task

that’s likely too large

for either of us to push aside.

It is my curse to try.