A Once and Always Father - Lifetime Lifting (Chapter 1)
A Once and Always Father - Lifetime Lifting (Chapter 1)
Before we went to the altar, there was some datingand with the dating came some difficult times. Without knowing to this day the possible reasons or causes, I will try to describe a few possibilities; but as a starting point, I had not dated much before our relationship, and was very untested or untrained when it came to relationships and women. My idea of marriage was largely fostered by what I experienced in my paternal family and what I learned from church family; but had nothing to do with any prior, serious relationships.
Her past did include a relationship; a tragic story of her fianc dying from Leukemia that had left her naturally grieved and, I think, somewhat idealistic of what could have been. I remember seeing a picture of the two of them and making a comment, "Is this a boyfriend?" With the understanding that developed over time, I could not forget the impulsive comment nor the compelling story of what could have been. I cannot say that I lived in the shadow of this intended husband, but as impulsive as my comment may have been, the possibility was sofor I think he may have been much more in her mind.
What I would also learnthough more after marriagewas of a difficult childhood growing-up in an alcoholic home. Every family has their skeletons or secrets, but the reputation of her father was something seldom mentionedand even thenover a recurring story of how he took them (the children) to get ice-cream. The sordid story was intermittently pieced togethernot by my wife or her siblingsbut by the comments of a brother-in-law who had known the father. As the youngest of six children, my wife probably had vague memories of her fatherwho died when she was twelvebut what she did reveal was the reputation of the current step-father (that had shared the same addiction). Yes, her mother had re-married a buddy of her father's, who himself, was also an alcoholic.
Any of us could probably come clean on some of the those secrets of the family; but I raise the matter to suggest that the importance of the father cannot be undervalued in the development of his children (or step-children)to include his daughters. The father provides some model or image of what a man (and potential husband) could be like. For the daughter, the father is generally one of the first, and often times, mature males in her young life. In his book, The Wonder of Girls, Michael Gurian refers to a positive father-role as the gifts of the father (to his daughter). In still another resource, Fatherless America, David Blankenhorn writes:
A father plays a distinctive role in shaping a daughter's sexual style and her understanding of the male-female bond. A father's love and involvement builds a daughter's confidence in her own femininity and contributes to her sense that she is worth loving. (46)
My wife's childhood experience was nothing like this (or with the "gifts of the father"); but on the contrary, the experience for her seemed to have been dire. She never spoke of her dad and the opinion of her step-dad was very pooreither relationship for which I would not really grasp until sometime after our marriage. What little I did gather was probably passed-over in view of romance, love and potential marriage; but I could not ignore the difficult times when she would abruptly end our relationshipwhen one day things seemed to be going well, only to learn the next that something was not.
As to whether there is a connection between this early on-again, off-gain relationship and the past (relationships), I cannot tell you with any certainty. What I did observeand endurewas a very uncertain relationship that left me on a somewhat roller-coaster ride of romance. Was it something I said, something I did or maybe something I should have done, but didn't?
I remember one time, not long after we had been married, that I somehow overlooked her expectation for an Easter basket. Not realizing that she was expecting this sort of gift (at her age), I was clueless as to what I had done, or not done. Once realizing my error, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry because I just couldn't understand why a young adult would expect an Easter basket. Maybe it's me, maybe it's being a man; but there was no maybe when it came to eggs on Easter.
I thought I was a pretty good egg, but I was very nave (or negligent) in overlooking the past experience and relationship with her father and step-father. Any connection between these relationships and her pursuit of the "real family"so imagined or found in her first and passing lovewas equally amiss to my attention or consideration.
To give some sense of equal billing however, my own experiences should be mentioned in this background check. Growing up in a military familya Marine familythe situation could have been very different; and for one, the rule of the father was the law. A strong, sometimes-present father seems a marked difference in experience. In this military setting was a dutiful wife who kept the fire burning while he was deployed or departed for operations. She took command while he was away, and seemed to relinquish command during his stay. Our childhoodmyself and two siblingswas not really reminiscent of fatherly affection, but it is remembered with respect for authority and some post-appreciation for their commitment to each otherand to us.
I do not regret having gone into marriage without much of a base or experience in serious relationships. I have read that such inexperience can sometimes be for the better. But I do regret not having considered the past more maturely and wisely, because the pastand particularly childhood and familyhas much bearing on the future marriage, relationships and family. If not already apparent (in this chapter), the role of father and child is crucial to the role of husband and wife. The way that a wife views her husbandand men in generalis often through the lens of childhood experiences and relationships with her father, brother and other family.
My idea of marriage was largely fostered by what I experienced in my paternal family and what I learned from church family. Sure, I was aware of broken families, but I did not conceive or desire that for mine. She not only had to indulge the experiences of her childhood, but had somewhat of a repeat from a subsequent, step-father. Was it any wonder that she was desperate for this potential healthy relationship from her first love?
Wanting such a change for obvious reasons, she had to accept the untimely loss of her boyfriend with the bitterness that life is unfair; that she was robbed of the one family she thought she could acquire, but did not. Perhaps her on-again, off-again disposition was just cold-feet (as they say); but I think that it was the foreboding of marriage as tenuousthat whether by death of a dearly-beloved or by drunkenness of a dad, the relationship of marriage could not (and would not) last or endure.
With only a brief introduction to this past experience, I imagined myself as somewhat of the white knightthe rescuer if you will. How often does the man enter the marriage with the same expectationeither from his perspective or from hers? He will be the exception; he will debunk all past impressions and experiences by showing her the "other side" of being a man. Yes, he will undo what has been undoneor he will die trying.
What a way to thinkas though I could be the savior of anyone or anything? It's enough to set sail for the untested and untrained relationship; but to accept the mission that I could be anything and everything (they were not), is a call too high and impossible. To have such an expectationfrom either perspectiveis indeed a design to fail for which the relationship of marriage could not (and would not) last or endure.
"Lifetime Lifting" is a good thingfor whom better to encourage our partner than ourselves. But this lifting must come from others tooand the absence of a decent father can not be substituted altogether by a husband or husband-intended, alive or dead. A knight perhaps; but the knight also has a brotherhood of alive and deadand the history or legacy of the fore-knight has great bearing on the expectation and experience of the generations to come. Such a past cannot be an excuse for me or any other husband to fail as a husband, but it can be a significant reason for falling as a knight (from your mount).
As the tried-and-true Proverbs offer from The Message by Eugene Peterson:
Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother's knee. Wear their counsel like flowers in your hair, like rings on your fingers. (Chapter 1)
And for the legacy of our past sins and shortcomings, the book of Exodus offers:
Still, he doesn't ignore sin. He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father's sins to the third and even fourth generation. (Chapter 34)
Need I say morethat is not offered from the doctors and the deityregarding the import of the father in the family? A good father establishes the basis for a good marriage of his child, and a bad father, a far less likely basis; neither is absolute, but one is far more associated with the other and, to the extreme of an addiction, "the other" is not. Even a good knight can fall to the rule or legacy of a bad kingbut then there is often hope.
The on-again, off-again seemed to dissipate over time and, in time, we were engaged. There was the "first-time" of my inquiry (or proposal)which did not fly; but "try, try again" with the battle-cry that soon rendered the momentary victory. Even before this commitment was initiated, I was ready for her to meet the parents.
We met at a local dinner theater; a place that my parents had attended many years prior when they were at the naval air station. This setting was very nice with reservations made for "My Fair Lady"; yet, reservations had also been expressed about the rocky relationship. The on-again off-again was concerning to my parents and my brotherboth of whom thought that I should give it a rest. But like the independent son (or brother), I pressed-on with the thinking that this too will pass. By this time however, the roller-coaster had seemed to stopand perhaps my parents were less concerned, as my dad prematurely introduced her as my fianc. Maybe (to them) it was obvious that I had found a wife.
Plans were made and details were finalized; the wedding was to be at a local church where one of her sisters had been married. Neither of us had any prior association to the church; but on her impression and my acceptance, we proceeded with plans to attend there, to obtain some pre-marital counseling, and to be wed by the rector. Neither of us was aware or familiar with the church doctrine or theology, but I think the decision came-down to the quaintness of the chapelits ascetics and atmosphere.
The rector was a special man and friend; he offered a lot of encouragement and reassurance for both of us. Half listening to him and the other half mesmerized in matrimony, I was admittedly only half-therethe other half in love with loving someone and being loved by someone. It was altogether a wonderful time, a welcomed time and a wedding in the making of time.
Each of us came into this relationship with our own expectations and impressions formed by our backgrounds, our similarities and differences. On the surface, the similarities were our age, or state of birth, our social-economic status, and the church; but beneath the surface, was the differences described previously. Sometimes the differences can outweigh the similarities and the expectations and impressions can suffer.
As mentioned already, she was the youngest of six children; one brother and four sisters. Both of us being the youngest (of our families) may not be the best of similarities, but it could have given us opportunities and advantages; having the benefit of hindsight through the mistakes of older siblings should be one possibility for better, wiser decisions. Somewhat like the role of the father, these older ones can not only blaze the trail but can leave some trail-markers and maps to help those in the following. Some don't have this benefit or privilege, but we did.
Family gatherings usually went well on the basis of pleasing mom and tolerating the step-father. I mention this man once again because, besides being responsible (or irresponsible) for re-creating the addicted father-figure, he was exceptionally lazy and blatantly divisive. In looking back, I wonder how anyand particular the immediate familycould tolerate his presence save to make there mother happy, if that were possible. There was an occasional showing of good toward methat I think it had more to do with where I came from, than who I was. In general, he made an occupation and objective out of denigrating the eldest brother-in-lawboth he and his family. This "contribution" alone was enough reason to send him packing; but for reason (that no one seemed to understand or appreciate), their mother had married himand tolerated him.
Her apparent dedication to marriage was (or should have been) commendable; she had suffered for many years in the first marriage and, if that wasn't enough, decided to go at it again. The first husband, Jesse, was purported as a hard worker and skilled machinist; but again, most or all of this information (for the little it was) came from the same brother-in-law maligned by the step-father. Other than the occasional comment, little or nothing was said of the first father; and nothing good was said of the present husband; and nothing commendable was seldom if ever said of any man in this family.
The brother-in-law was (and probably still is) a good man, husband and father; and though he had a story of his own, his faith made the difference. I always liked the man and depended on him on several occasions. As with the father of the family, this son-in-law was skilled in his on right. Not only did he help me (or my wife and me), but he also helped many of the family; yet, with all he did and then did, the thanks was scarce and the unwarranted criticism prevalent. If any man in that family could have been praised or recognized, he would have been (and should have been) the one. I guess it's true that no good deed goes unpunished.
Besides the modest mention of men, there was the also some evidence that the addiction (alcoholism) was still present; though the step-father had been forced to give it up to save his life, three others (to include the one brother of the family) were developing or continuing in their own. Like his father, the brother was also skilled and, in the years prior to our meeting, had owned and managed his own business in shipboard maintenance. More than one story was told of why the business failed, but I believed the brother-in-law simply because of his continuing candor and credibility.
Another brother-in-law (with a similar problem) was also seemingly successful; and along with his wife, made enough income to propel them into a very comfortable lifestyle. He was considered a suitable husband at the time (in my recollection)but would eventually precede me (by about a year) as another of the dispossessed and the divorced ex's. I mention the timing of their divorce to plant the possibility that divorce, like marriage, can be contagious.
He and I would not be alone however, as the only man that had any chance of surviving a marriage may have been the least worthythat being the step-father. Anyone and everyone else was fair game and, whether they were better or worse than the first father, they were not of the same blood. Only the blood-brother was given grace when a marriage was on the rocks; and though the probable cause of his marriage break-up (s) was too many "on the rocks", he could do no wrong in the eyes of his mother with or without the daughters' consent.
A description of the men (in this family) probably deserves more detailand could probably benefit from one more qualified. What detail I mention is to make a single point: men were not respected and, though some probably deserved no respect, at least one did; still, nearly all suffered from the very deep hurt initiated by the father and undoubtedly continued by the step-father. The sons, grandsons and all the men were held responsible for the sins of the father (and the step-father); and though the wife seemed to soldier-on, she was actually a participant in tolerating the first and patronizing the second.
As far as "Lifetime Lifting" or encouragement was concerned, the family (or children) was too embroiled in their own circumstancescarried over from the common childhood experience of an addictive parent. Without the love of a father, the obvious option is to depend on each other when they could. For the eldest child, a daughter, this meant becoming a surrogate mother; and while she and the good brother-in-law married young, they dually and dutifully picked-up some of the slack. This early effort of effectual parenting may have been part of the reason that they, among all the siblings and marriages, were the most stabile and the least seemingly damaged by the families' experiences or past.
I may seem to be deviating from my initial intention, "a tone of encouragement"; but there is the need to be honest from the standpoint of my observations and experiencesespecially as I think it may have pertained to or had bearing on our relationship, our marriage and family. As I think back on this time period ranging from ten to twenty years ago, the possibility is that I have (or will) miss something; but at the same, I might not include something else. The objective in this recollection was chiefly to summarize my observations and experiences regarding the family and the men as it relates to the extended family, and potentially, to hers and mine.
Did her experience as a child have some adverse effect on the way that she thought about men; her impressions and expectations? Yes, I think it did. Did the father (and step-father) have some adverse effect on the way that the daughters (and son) liveparticularly in their views and understanding of marriage and family? Yes, I think it did. Did the way that their mother lived (around her men) have some bearing on the way the daughters lived around their men? Again, I think it did.
My observations and experiences would be careless and unqualified to attempt to go furtherand perhaps I have already gone too far. My basic understanding is that children are influenced by their parentsfor good or badand will model some of their parents' behavior. Yes, there is potential opportunity to learn and to changefor the betterbut the change does not come magically. Above all, the children or child (now adult) must sometimes painfully address (or redress) the practices of their parents with the aim of getting better.
Do I understand; have I experienced a family of addiction? No, I have not; and nor do I make an attempt to try to understand it with any follow-on. What I have said is part of my own journey to understand ultimately why I, as a husband, could never achieve the respect of my wife. But in the broader perspective is that no man had her respectwhile none of the men of her immediate family had much ,if any, either. If a man wants (and needs) to be respected, his chances were very small in this familyand if such was his way of being encouraged or gratified, than he could expect little if any. Such an absence of this expression of encouragement left an obvious void; but the void did not necessarily remain, but was back-filled with something else. For my wife, this "something" could have included the basic belief that no man can (or should) be respected; and in keeping with this experience, no man can be trustedas reliability is not a reality. The on-again, off-again could not be casually assigned the condition of cold-feet, but was about the terror of committing herself to something that is not committable in her experience. "If I commit myself to him (like my mother did to her men), he will be like her men'", could be the deep sense from the mind of a young and very impressionable girl. Such a similar belief could have haunted some of the other girlsalthough they did not have to endure the brunt of a bad step-father.
On the eve of our marriage, there might have been good reason to really ask, "What is marriage?" Is it the impression and expectation that this man can make me happycan be a savior that helps me forget the tragedy of my parents' failed relationship as well as my own as his child? What is certain is that marriage was not to be a commitment or covenant.
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