I don't remember a lot of my childhood before my parents were killed. Those first fourteen years are pretty unclear, a mix of fuzzy memories and stories my siblings have told me that I've come to own for myself. It's as though their death ended what was my life, too. There's a before and an after, with a great divide in between.
But I remember hating my father. That I remember clearly. It wasn't because he was strict or cruel or abusive. He didn't yell at me or spank me or make me do things I didn't want to do. He was a gentle man, actually. A peaceful man. A compassionate man. He had a gambling addiction, a bad one, which meant the stability of our household ebbed and flowed with his wins and losses. That was tough, but also the only thing I ever knew, and not the reason I hated him.
He had my mother working with him at a convenience store in a rough area of Detroit, the place where they were ultimately gunned down. I never understood why she needed to be there and, week after week, I begged her to stay home. I blamed him for the circumstances of her life, and for her death, but that wasn't the real reason I hated him either.
I hated him because he ignored me. He seemed to have no interest in me at all. I was the youngest of seven kids, his unplanned son, and he had already finished his parenting long before I'd arrived on the scene. In the months after he died, I tried to remember even one real conversation he and I had had up to then, about anything, and I couldn't do it.
A good friend of his once told me that my dad was preoccupied with my older brother, who was a drug addict, and that he knew he didn't have to worry about me. That was his explanation for why my dad ignored me. I was ten or eleven at the time and not ready to accept that as a good enough reason.
I just wanted to feel loved by him. I wanted to matter to him. I wanted him to ask me questions and give me advice and take an interest in any area of my life. I watched him do it with others, with strangers even. I knew it was possible. And I couldn't understand why he refused to do it with me. That's a question I'll never get an answer for.
I'm 43 years old now, and I only recently recognized the amount of pain I've been carrying around since my childhood about my relationship with my dad. I had spent so many years processing my parents' death that I never really gave weight to all the ways in which they affected me while they were alive. Fourteen years is plenty of time for parents to mess up their kids.
I grew up with a hole inside where my father's love should've been. It's stayed with me my entire life, even though I only just became aware of its effects—the main one being that some part of me is convinced I'm unworthy and unlovable. That's how I digested my father's distance as a kid. That something was wrong with me. That I didn't deserve his love. That I was the problem.
When I realized this a couple months ago, that my feelings of unworthiness stemmed from my relationship with my dad, it was like a lightning bolt to my soul. And I started to grieve. Like a child. Like I had when they died.
I cried for someone I had lost, but mostly for something I had never had—a present and caring father. I cried out of disappointment and anger and a deep sadness that I was robbed of one of the most central relationships in life. For a week, I cried hard. Not all day, but in intermittent downpours. My insides felt raw, scraped apart, opened up. It was awful.
And it was beautiful.
Even within the sadness and pain—and it was one of the deepest griefs I've felt in my life—I knew something important was happening. I understood that I was feeling the pain because I was ready to feel it, and that by facing it, I was creating the space for a deep healing. That's when healing happens, when we're willing to face our pain.
I haven't suddenly put all that pain behind me. A week of tears didn't heal years of anger and misunderstanding. But I'm changed, that's for sure. I'm clearer than I was even two months ago. When I feel unworthy or unlovable, I can look at the source of that feeling, I can take a moment to forgive my father for not being the dad I needed him to be, I can cry if I need to (like I did again this morning), and I can remind myself of one of the greater truths of humanity—that we are all worthy of love.
Call it darkness or shadow or pain. The name is unimportant. The willingness to face yours, however, is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself. We all have holes, every single one of us, each one a reflection of why we feel less than or damaged or unworthy in some way. I don't know how to heal them, but I know it takes facing them, staring into the depths of them, and as much as possible, filling them with acceptance and love.
I think from there, the healing enters on its own, without us needing to know how to do it.
As we know, parents are just people, like all of us people, doing the best they can to stumble through life. My father wasn't a very good dad, but he was a good man. He taught us all, by example, that no one is better or less than anyone else, and that everyone deserves kindness and respect. All were welcome in our home, and many passed through it.
For most of my life, I couldn't see one thing about myself that came from my dad. I felt completely separate from his influence. But I see now, that though he wasn't able to show his love toward me in the ways I needed, he was still a shining example of love in the way he treated others. I see his influence in all of my siblings, and I see it most definitely in myself.
In deep love and solidarity…