This was originally written in December 2011:
Saturday, I awoke and could not motivate myself to work in the morning. Instead I wasted about two hours of time watching Youtube videos until the gym opened and I could go work out. I thought a lot during that workout what it was that was putting me in this state… then it hit me.
I returned home form the gym and new what I needed to do, something I had been avoiding doing for one and a half years.
In a corner in my room I had a pile of my Dad’s stuff that I just could not bring myself to go through. There were clothes of his my Mom had sent me to try on. There were also papers and a scrap book I had put together for myself – it all sat in this corner collecting dust.
Everyday I would see it, and whether I thought about it consciously or not did not matter, every time I glanced over and saw the pile, my unconscious mind new exactly what it was.
When my book Ouch My Heart Is Broken came out I was more sad than glad and I could not figure out why. As the week went on and I payed more and more attention to my feelings I knew it was time to let go.
So much of the book is about letting go and healing, and, to be perfectly honest, I had not yet done that with my Dad. I kept that stuff in plain site so I could try to hold onto him a little longer, why?
My Dad and I were not super close growing up. He often made choices that left him unavailable to me. I also allowed his and my Mom’s relationship to influence my perception of him and who he was.
It was not until I was 16 years old and my Dad got “Direct TV” that we started to bond. Every Monday night, my Dad, my Brother, and I would get together to watch professional wrestling. It was really special because I knew my Dad was making a deliberate effort to be home from work early so he could spend the time with my Brother and I. We did this until I left for college. To this day, professional wrestling still holds a special place in my heart solely for this reason.
There were a lot of things I did not realize about my Dad until after he died. It is funny how death provides the ultimate hindsight, one I, and I am sure many of you who have lost someone close to you, would have loved to have had when they were still alive.
When I left for college, my Dad and I would talk typically about once a month on average. He would occasionally send me a little extra money too when he had it. I more often than not resented the times he would contact me. I had created a perception of my Dad based largely in part off of what he DIDN’T do. I never stopped to give a second look at what he DID DO.
As a child growing up, you do not realize how much external influence’s shape everything. We see the color “black” and acknowledge it to be black because we have been taught it is black. But, if we were taught that black is really red, then we would know it only as red. This same concept applies to people and our perceptions of them.
By the time I was almost 26 years old, I had softened to my Dad. I had begun to embark on my own path of personal growth and started to see my Dad was doing the same, despite a constant battle with colon cancer. Even with ongoing nauseousness over two years of treatments, my Dad still did his best to keep a positive attitude.
I will never forget him telling me about a time he was at the Doctor’s office and they were discussing whether or not he should undergo Chemo after an already successful surgery to remove the cancerous tumor. The doctor told my Dad that he had about a 60% chance that the cancer would never come back. If he did the Chemo it would bump that percentage up to a much higher number. He then told my Dad that in the next room, there was a guy who took the 60% chance, didn’t do the chemo, the cancer came back, and was now going to die. From this, my Dad told me, “It just goes to show you that you never have to look far to see someone who has it worse than you.”
I have thought about those words of wisdom often over the years especially during the times where I feel like life is just so damn hard. I do my best to remind myself that each and every day there are people experiencing and enduring way, way worse than me.
My Dad died on February 1st, 2010.
The next day, February 2nd, I went up to his office to attempt to clean it out. I was shaky and very emotional. What I found at his office hit me harder than any punch. And it brought tears to my eyes in a way I have never experienced before.
My Dad has a daughter from a previous marriage – my half sister, someone who I only met once just before. He rarely talked about her and I never asked. Sitting on his desk he had a picture of her, and her family. Pictures of my brother and I were there too, but the one of my half sister was the one that was on display.
As I started going through his computer I came across a file, it was a birthday card that he had made for me, using the computer, for my 25th birthday. I broke down crying.
At home I have a bag where I have saved virtually every card I have ever received since moving away for college. Birthday cards, thank you’s, congratulation cards, you name it, I have kept it. There are only a few I have not saved, the card I found on my Dad’s computer was one of them.
At the time when I got it, I was angry… “I spent 18 years at home and he never made an effort like this, why now?” I resented the card. I tore it up and threw it away. Fast forward to February 2nd, 2010 – suddenly I got it, I got my Dad and I learned one of the toughest lessons of my life.
There’s a book called “The 5 Love Languages,” I highly recommend it as it is a great book to help improve communication, understanding, and overall quality of relationships. This book talks about how each of us have a unique way we want to be loved and to show love. For example, person “x” may love giving gifts to person “y” as their way of showing love. But person “y” does not like receiving gifts, it makes him uncomfortable, he prefers to be told he is loved, not shown by gifts. The book goes on to talk about that one of the biggest struggles in relationships is that not all of us necessarily recognize another person’s love language, and can’t understand why it is not the same as ours.
My Dad was not good with cards, with day to day communication. He communicated with his daughter less and less because he felt ashamed, and he Feared what she thought of him. Did she think he deserted her, deserted her mom… who knows, but he definitely thought about her, and he loved her a lot as was evidenced by the picture on the desk. He just did not know how to get past his fear to tell her and show her.
As with me, I realized, looking at that card, that my Dad was not good at giving birthday cards. It’s how he was raised, how he was taught. For some of us it is so easy to get cards, flowers, cake, ice cream etc… to celebrate anything, for others it is a challenge – something that takes us way out of our comfort zone. So for my Dad to not only get a card for my birthday, but to take the extra time to MAKE IT… how far out of his comfort zone was that?
Some of us are huggers. We love to greet people and say goodbye with a hug. Others are not. You may have people in your life who love to hug, and ones who don’t. But when you do get a hug from that person who normally doesn’t offer it, it means so much more because it is a BIG DEAL. My Dad, taking the time to make me a card was a BIG DEAL.
I realized in that moment that I had never really given my Dad a chance. I constantly judged him, judged him so much that I could not even acknowledge simple little things like cards.
I can sit here and blame my parents and their relationship all I want for the reasons why I felt that way, but the reality is, at the end of the day, I am an adult. I am very capable and very self-aware. If at any time I would have just stepped off my "It is his fault not mine" high horse and attempted to let go of the resentment I was so committed to holding onto and forgiven my Dad, I may have seen him in a different light.
I cried a lot that day and I have cried a lot in subsequent days since. My Dad will never see me get married or have kids. I never even had a beer with my Dad because I held on so tightly to issues from my childhood. This is what I mean, death provides us with the ultimate hindsight.
Fast forward to today. So much time has been focused on healing, growing, and learning to live my life in the way I have always wanted to. I realized that to fully live in the present I needed to let go of something big that was still keeping me chained to the past. It was time to let go of the relationship I had with my Dad, the guilt I felt, the missed opportunities, and his death.
I have very few regrets in my life, but I do regret the relationship I had with my Dad. I do not however, regret the lesson I have learned from it. As hard as it was and continues to be to learn, it is without a doubt the greatest gift my Dad has ever given me. For this lesson is one that I can now pass on to you.
On Saturday night, I brushed off the dust, I tried on all the clothes, I sorted the papers, I looked through the pictures, I put everything away in its’ proper place, and I let go of what I had been holding onto.
I spent about two hours doing this and cried the majority of it, but it was some of the most cathartic, most healing tears I have ever shed. After I finished, I cleaned myself up, put on a pair of brand new pants, (that are one size to small for me) my Dad had bought, but never got a chance to wear and went bowling.
I now look at that space on my floor in the corner of my room and it seems so big and empty. Just as the space I have cleared inside of me is now, big and empty. The great thing about life is, we can choose to fill those spaces with whatever we want. My choice is to fill that space with as much good stuff as possible.
Remember letting go does not mean you are forgetting. When we let go, we clear a space, a space that can be filled with new. Just as I can now put new stuff in the corner on my floor, I more importantly can put new stuff into my mind and heart.