Memories of My Father

Carol A. Hand

My father was 76 when he died on April 26, 1994. He was surrounded by strangers on the psychiatric ward of a veterans’ hospital when he passed away. I have a haunting photo of him during his last days. (Even if I could find the photo that I’ve misplaced, it’s not how I would want my father to be remembered.)

I was the only one in my family who could have visited him at that point, but I didn’t feel it would be appropriate. As a responsible daughter who could see no other options, I was the one who had to initiate an involuntary placement in the hospital with an order of protection. He was threatening to kill my mother before he planned to commit suicide. He would hold a loaded gun and point it at her. My mother, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, was terrified he would kill her. My younger brother was threatening to kill my father to protect her.

So the responsibility fell to me. Someone needed to intervene in a reasonable and compassionate way. My father’s threats needed to be taken seriously. I had survived his physical and emotional abuse during my childhood and witnessed his violent emotional instability and attempted suicide.

Paradoxically, though, I came to understand his emotional volatility. His bipolar disorder and the deep insecurities he carried given the traumas he experienced during his own childhood made his life so difficult.

***

My Father – 10 years old

***

His years as a Marine during the Korean Conflict added new dimensions to his trauma. I remember times when he cried but couldn’t give voice to the experiences that brought him so much pain.

***

My Father in the early 1940s
My Father – somewhere in the South Pacific

***

I had forgiven him decades before I had to act to protect my family, perhaps because I had educational opportunities that he never had. Or perhaps it was due to the fact that I had embraced my mother’s Ojibwe culture as I eschewed the cold, dour nature of my father’s Anglo-American heritage. He could rarely bait me any more with racist, angry tirades. I had learned how to respond with gentle humor. “Well, Dad, this is an enlightening conversation,” I would say as I smiled. “I think I’ll go see how Mother is doing.”

As I think of him today, I am grateful for the many things I learned from him. Most importantly, I learned how to understand someone who was suffering with compassion and forgiveness. That’s what I remember on this father’s day, along with sadness for people whose suffering may not be healed during this lifetime. I hope his death brought him peace and I hope that wherever he may be he knows that I am grateful to him for doing the best he could with what he was given in life.

***

My Father – 1986

***

May you finally know peace, dear Father.

61 thoughts on “Memories of My Father”

  1. Thank you Carol. Fathers day is always a difficult one for me. I don’t feel connected at all. My father disappeared shorter after I was born and I saw him only twice later, when I was 13 and then when I was 23. My stepfather abused me and eventually left. My mother had signs of being bi-polar, so I know what is living with someone who changes from hugs to abuse and neglect and experiencing every day drama. I have learned that the trauma we all carry is a many generations long trauma that goes deep into the past of humankind, to that day when we disconnected from nature, each other and ourselves and started to neglect, abuse and oppress. I have long forgiven that too, and the best I can do is to stop the harming of others that come after.
    It takes years and a long healing process to get where you are at.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dear Silvia, it is such a gift to hear from you. Thank you for sharing your experiences with such honesty and compassion. It does take a long time to heal and reach the place you mention – “to stop the harming of others that come after.” I send hugs and best wishes, dear friend. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I, too, had a difficult relationship with my father, Carol. In fact, all I remember is my father and mother fighting, as I tried to hide from it all. There are more painful memories than good.

    In the end, I managed to make peace with my father, through my former wife. Dad loved Linda, and I learned how to take the love he had for her and apply it to me.

    I am glad to hear you are healing one day and at a time, Carol. And I hope and pray this healing continues until your are completely well once again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your always thoughtful comments, Rosaliene. ❤

      None of us has a recipe book that tells us how to be a good person or good parent. We all learn through trial and error. I've learned that the only way I can forgive myself for all of my mistakes is to first forgive others.

      Thank for also for sharing a crucial truth about war. The violence does affect all of us, profoundly, in so many ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a beautiful heartfelt and honest post Carol. How brave you were to face such a difficult childhood and yet, have found deep compassion and peace amidst it all. You are a beautiful witness to us all and show us the freedom we can receive from forgiveness and letting go. I’m sure your Father is at peace, but more importantly is so very proud of your courage and love for yourself and others. You are a true warrior of life Carol. 💚💕

    Liked by 3 people

  4. To be seen, really seen, by another whose heart is open and who is able to act with protective love and compassionate understanding – that is the gift you gave your father and your family. I am so grateful for your thoughtful, honest, and penetrating posts, Carol. They both comfort me and call me to a wider, deeper perspective

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I don’t think most people who had a supportive and loving childhood appreciate how the abuse or trauma some children go through can carry over into adulthood and haunt them the rest of their lives. In my experience, it can take decades (if ever) to find the wherewithal and maturity to free oneself completely from that dark place. I applaud your understanding of your father’s bipolar disorder and insecurities, and how you handled a very distressing situation.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Howdy, Carol, this is Buster’s old pappy, we wanted to comment on your earlier post about the little bird, and her urging one to look higher, but, not being particularly tech-savvy, I was unable to do so when my ‘puter balked! )O: Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your recollection of your Dad’s difficulties, and your understanding. I particularly liked your ability to find the response, “This is an enlightening conversation.” With your permission, I’d like to use that one when the occasion requires.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wow what a touching post dear Carol. I’m so sorry your suffered abuse from him but as you’ve said he was clearly suffering himself. I’ve always found it most confounding that many times those who have been abused by their parents go on to abuse their children too. I think perhaps all humans have a measure of demons they have to do battle with at times as this life is not easy and hurting people often hurt others, even the ones they love or are supposed to love. I adored my father even though we had 2 pieces of unfiinished and unfortunate business that was never to be resolved for sadly he died when I was only 18 years old. And even is his death another damaging blow came my way by a misguided and unthinking adult. I was decades later before a mentor help me put it all behind me and find a way to let it all go. But I miss my Norman every day still and yet cannot speak of his death without crying. May we always ferret out the goodness in everything that comes our way even the very painful experiences. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Natalie, thank you so much for your kindness and for sharing your painful experiences, too. Life does give us many chances to learn, sometimes through adversity, and find the good in otherwise difficult times. Love and hugs to you, too, dear friend. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is heartbreaking and beautiful. I think Fathers Day brings up painful feelings for many and you show an example of acknowledging the past while seeing how it illuminated the road to compassion. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for such thoughtful comments, Diane. Placing my father in a facility I doubted could really help him heal was a heavy burden, yet I honestly couldn’t think of any other alternatives. Looking back, I can make peace with my choice, knowing it was the best I could do at the time,

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I can’t begin to tell you how this story has affected me. People make judgments based on how they feel. They can’t begin to understand what a loved one goes through when a loved one goes through something they cannot understand. I have seen my loved ones become someone I don’t know. I saw it in my grandparents. I am seeing it in my wife’s parents. It’s hard when the body breaks down. it’s even harder when the mind breaks down.

    You did well.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Tim

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Tim, and for sharing your experiences and insights. It is hard to deal with illnesses, especially when our family members are the ones who are suffering. I send my best wishes to you and your family. ❤

      Like

  10. Thank you, Carol, for sharing this poignant, heartbreaking story of survival, honesty, courage, love, compassion, and understanding. Alas, some suffering really is beyond the reach of all the love and care in the world. Sent with a warm hug.

    Liked by 1 person

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