That happens to those of us - men and women - who had/have a father who was/is an alcoholic.
Mother's Day is not much better for me. That's mostly because my mother was an enabler to my father's alcoholism. When my father drank, it was always some one's fault because he was drinking. Someone (usually me, but whichever one of us acted like a normal kid that day) didn't "behave". Someone (definitely me, being the oldest) was not "a good example" for the younger kids.
Over the years, I've learned to understand and appreciate the circumstances of my father's disease - the cultural influences, the mores of the time - and the way it infected and affected our entire family system. It's taken a great deal of work, but I've also learned to forgive my parents.
There really was no choice about it. Forgiving my parents, I mean. Well, I suppose there was, but there was only one healthy choice and that was to find forgiveness, even if that meant that there wouldn't be the kind of reconciliation I hoped and longed for.
As they say in 12-Step Programs, holding onto anger is like eating rat poisin and expecting the other person to die. Harboring resentment is like letting that person take up rent-free space in your brain.
It was a long, painful process of healing which took a great deal of intention and well.... yes....I'll say it, courage. It takes the courage to confront your own demons, grieve the loss of your preconceived notions and change your reality by changing your expectations of yourself and others.
Sometimes, healing came from unexpected places.
God never looked benevolent to me in these pictures. "He" always looked angry - ready to 'smite' or strike down. Drunk with power. Not unlike the father I had at home.
Then, my Spiritual Director asked me to identify the earliest sounds of God. We went through the poetic sound of the wind and the the rustle of leaves in the trees.
Then, she asked if I had an early experience of a human sound that was an experience of God.
I tried to think of a time when my father was not angry. Not drunk. When he was kind and gentle. There were those moments, but they were so clouded by painful memories of his violent drunken rages that they were hard to recall.
Did your father read you bedtime stories, my spiritual director asked?
I thought about it. It had been a long, long time. And then, I remembered.
I remembered being young - what? 3? 4? - sharing my father's lap with my younger sister. She was squirming, as little ones are wont to do, but I was cuddled in, snuggled under my father's strong arm.
My head was on his chest. I was listening to the story he was reading, but I was actually listening to it with my ear against his chest. That made his voice sound ethereal. Not exactly human - not the voice of my father - but otherworldly. An echo coming from another time - another place and another reality - through my father's chest.
It was comforting and disconcerting, all at once.
I remember thinking, "This must be what God sounds like."
Later, I had another realization. My father only had a sixth grade education. His parents pulled him out of school to help with his father's farm. At grade 6, he had already had more education than his own father. He could read and write in English and Portuguese. What more did he need?
My father could read the daily, local newspaper. And, he did. Every morning. As soon as it arrived. I remember learning in school that our local community newspaper - The Fall River Herald News - was written at a sixth grade reading/comprehension level. The Boston Globe and the NY Times, however - at least in those days - were written at a ninth grade reading/comprehension level.
I never saw a copy of either the Boston Globe or the NY Times in our house. My father may have been able to read it, but he wouldn't have been able to comprehend most of what was written.
But, he could read our children's books. Very well. And, he did. Every night. If reading the Fall River Herald News was his morning ritual, reading Winnie the Pooh or Charlotte's Web to his children was his nightly ritual.
It was the one thing he could do for his children. As we got older, he couldn't keep up and let the nightly ritual drop. I remember his sadness when my youngest sister no longer wanted to sit still for story time and we older kids didn't want to have "that baby stuff" read to us when we were perfectly capable of reading My Friend Flicka or Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys to ourselves.
When he got frustrated, he drank. And, when he drank, he got violent. And, when he got violent ...... well ....... I learned to hide under my bed with a book and a flashlight and let the author speak to me of wild horses and great adventures and foreign lands.
They never go away completely, but I have tried to let the memories of those painful memories take a back seat to the happier memories of my father reading to me when I was a small child.
I find an odd sort of comfort and solace in the fact that it was my father's voice, and my listening to it through his chest as he read children's stories to me and my siblings that led me to understand something about the nature of God.
Something that was kind. That was generous. That was dependable. Something that could be found in the midst of the complexities and challenges of the human condition. That had its own nobility. That was capable of participating in redemption and salvation.
When I think about that, I can move beyond God the father and further into deep gratitude for the gift and mystery of this amazing life.
And, I can say, "Happy Father's Day".