Many may wonder why I would write about this. Why would I write about a past that many think should be hidden in shame, kept a secret, not spoken of, pushed into the dark. And I wondered it myself before I began, but than I realized this, I’m actually not ashamed of this past. I don’t think things like this should be left in a secret place where no one can ever re-visit again. I don’t write this from a place of hurt and pain, but from a place of grace, love and redemption. Why would I write about this, you may wonder in a moment. Why? Because many many people have walked similar paths with loved ones, and many many people have locked their experiences away in the deep recesses of their hearts, thrown away the key to redemption, and pushed on with life because that’s what you’re meant to do right?
If I told you my very first memory of my Dad, it would be him laying in bed unwell. I don’t remember a lot about him from when I was little, except him sitting in his soft chair on the veranda, listening to the radio, watching the birds, and smoking cigarettes. I remember he liked to be alone a lot, and I remember so many things he was unable to do because he was unwell. I remember many trips to the doctor with him, my mum, sisters and me sitting in the waiting room while he was being seen, playing with toys, doing schoolwork, tapping on the fish tank we weren’t supposed to tap on. I remember knowing every receptionist and every doctor in the surgery. I remember trips to the chemist to get his medication, getting lollipops from the ladies behind the counter wearing bright red lipstick, and I remember lots and lots of sitting around waiting for scripts to be filled. I also remember Dad’s charm, chatting to all the staff, cracking jokes – and they all loved him.
I remember driving in the car with my two older sisters and my Dad to different houses, where he would pick up drugs from. Sometimes we went in with him, sometimes we sat in the car for what felt like ages. One of the rare times my Dad was talking to my brother, he took me to his drug dealers house where my brother was living at the time. I remember the dingy run down house, I remember the pitch black bedroom of my brother that we walked through to get to a room where they all sat down together and smoked weed while I played with some cars next to them.
I remember the time we got a caravan and Dad’s drug dealer moved to our property to live just meters from our home. I remember all the vehicles that would randomly show up and leave just as suddenly. I remember Dad sitting in the laundry smoking pot and I remember seeing the bongs laying around. I remember thinking how strange this man was who lived in the caravan near our house, but being too little to understand any of it.
Years went by, and my sisters and I clued on to what was going on, but by then it was just the norm for us. I remember having one of my friends over one day, and her father – who just happened to be a policeman – came to pick her up, saw the drug dealer there, and never let her back out again. I remember her asking me about it one day when I saw her, and I remember telling her, “As if there would be a drug dealer living at our place, do you know how dangerous that would be?” I also remember feeling really guilty for lying.
I remember the time the drug dealer – who ended up being scizophrenic – lost the plot after his dog died. I remember him falling to his knees outside our house in the dirt and screaming like a lunatic, and then having to be heavily medicated so he would stay asleep. I remember not long after that, he started threatening with knives and was kindly escorted away with a fleet of police cars one night.
I remember watching my Dad slowly dwindle away to a weight under 40kg. I remember over hearing him on the phone to the hospital one day, begging them to give him a bed so he could get better. I remember them taking him that day, and I remember the doctors saying that if they hadn’t, he probably would have died. I remember he slowly recovered a little, and after a while, he came back home. I remember seeing him laugh and smile again.
I remember years later, coming home from church with my Mum, to policemen trying to break into our house. I remember the ambulance coming soon after and paramedics taking my Dad away to hospital to treat him for a suicide attempt, and I knew it wasn’t the first. I remember going to visit him in the mental ward, leaving everything at the front door but the clothes we were wearing, and I remember him being really angry that the doctors had saved him.
I remember helping take care of him. Picking him up off the ground when he fell, guiding him to his bed, trying to make sense of what he was saying when his medication took over. I remember the many many times he would be so out of it from his medication but insisting on driving. I remember the times he would fall asleep behind the wheel and veer into oncoming traffic. I remember screaming at him from the backseat became a pretty common occurrence. I remember my Mum and I begging him to pull over and let us out after he had just veered into the path of an oncoming truck and only just missed it – to which he refused and kept driving.
I remember him slowly becoming addicted to alcohol before it gripped him and never let go. I remember walking into the intensive care unit only months after Nic and I got married to see him on life support. I remember them thinking that he wasn’t going to make it, but he did. I remember him in the end, choosing alcohol over my Mum. I remember soon after, the phone call from my brother in law, telling us that my Dad was gone and I remember walking into the home I grew up in and seeing his lifeless body laying on the bathroom floor.
But in contrast to all of these memories are the many many wonderful memories I have of my Dad, which are certainly not overshadowed by the not so great ones. I remember him tucking me into bed at night and kissing me on the forehead. I remember every time I fell, and every time I hurt myself, he was usually the one who came and bandaged me up, wiped my tears, and told me it was ok. I remember flipping my bike and stabbing myself in the chin with some wire, and him come running to me, pick me up in his arms and take me home to clean me up. I remember his big Italian hugs and squeezes and I remember his deep, happy laugh. I remember the way his eyes sparkled when he smiled and I remember the spaghetti he could cook like nobody else could. I remember going shopping with him every week and him talking to almost everyone he could about how much he loved his girls. I remember his wild sense of humour, and all the hilarious things he would do and say. I remember how he would come into the lounge room and wiggle his hips, shake his booty, and dance to make us laugh. I remember him often calling me into his room where he was listening to the radio to show me many an awesome guitar solo he heard. I remember sitting at his feet on the end of his bed talking to him and laughing about anything we could think of. I remember the way he would sing this song to my sisters and me, telling us we were his beautiful girls in his booming voice, and I remember him teaching me about the basics of cars. I remember walking through his gorgeous garden with him while he told me all about it. I remember that he was the one who would always tell me, that I could be what I wanted to be, and that I was capable to do whatever I put my hand to do. I remember him telling me that one day a very lucky man would end up with me and how special that would be. And while he wasn’t always there, I remember the many times he was – where he pushed through his suffering, and tried.
There are so many things I could be angry at my Dad for. Why did he take his daughters along to get drugs. Why did he allow a drug dealer to live on our property for years. How could he turn to alcohol over my Mum. Didn’t he care? I could have so many questions, but I don’t.
I actually don’t care about the why’s or the how’s or the bad things that happened. I’m settled and content in knowing that my Dad loved us. I’m thankful and grateful for all the good times and the many happy memories with him, and I’m glad he’s my Dad. I don’t sit here angry and hurt. I love that my Dad was who he was. He faced many battles and many challenges, and I watched him fight them. I watched him stand and face adversity after adversity. I watched him conquer and I watched him be cast down. And now he is gone, I could be angry, I could be hurt, I could be confused and saddened by all that happened, but I’m not. Instead, I’m left standing with a wealth of memories of love and joy. Why? Because I choose to look through eyes of love and grace, because we all have our blunders and battles, and because love covers over a multitude of wrongs. Because Jesus loves DESPITE the wrongs and He calls me to do the same. I let go of all the ‘but he did this’ and I was able to embrace forgiveness and love. Just because you don’t agree with what someone does, doesn’t mean you can’t love them.
There are too many people wandering around in hurt and pain from loved ones. And while it’s not an easy task to move forward, it’s worthy of the effort. I could not ever walk through my life being mad at my Dad. His life is worth remembering, his tale is worth telling, despite the hiccups, the downfalls and the mistakes, (C’mon guys, we ALL have them).
I wish for the lesson I learned from my Dad to be cultivated in the hearts of others. My final memory of my Dad could very well have been him dozing in and out of a drunken state on my lounge the day before he died. It could have been seeing him laying lifeless on the bathroom floor just hours after he was gone. But I didn’t let it end there. My heart went on a journey from there, where the good outweighed the bad because I allowed it to.
Maybe you don’t have any good memories, maybe you’ve been so hurt you think you can’t love again. Maybe you just want to forget the whole thing, but deep down there is a whisper that is saying ‘take back the keys to redemption.’ Open your heart and let everything become raw. Whatever it takes. I’m not trying to defend my Dad. I’m not trying to make it right. I’m just laying my heart out there to simply say, “Love them anyway.”