I was a little nervous as I walked to the bulletin board outside my professor’s office. The final grades had just been posted for his class, the last grade of my first year at UCI as a biology major, and I desperately wanted an “A”. I was one “A” away from what had seemed to me an impossible achievement, a 4.0 grade average for my first year in University.
I grew up in an abusive home where I was repeatedly reminded of every awkward deed and innocent mistake. The persistent put downs and constant mocking had left a mark. I constantly doubted myself. I started university hoping against hope that I had what it took to make it into medical school, not at all confident I did. Straight “A’s” had not even entered my mind.
I reached the bulletin board. My eyes found my student ID number and scanned across to the grade column. “A”. I had done it. I let out a yell and hurried to find a pay phone to call my wife. (This was 1984 after all) “I did it!” I yelled into the phone, fighting back the tears. The conversation was brief as I wanted to share my joy with others. I hung up and dialed my father’s number to give him the news, certain he would be proud. I blurted out, “I just got my last grade! I got a 4.0 for the year!”
His words were a punch to my stomach, “Wow. I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.” My father didn’t believe in me. I hung up the phone deflated and hurt.
7 years later I graduated from medical school. All of my family, including my father, were in the audience as I walked across the stage to receive my degree. I received my diploma from the dean and turned out to the audience to search for my family. I saw my dad first. He was standing on his chair, head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. He was pumping his fist in the air, a huge smile on his face, overwhelmed with pride for me.
These stories are two of my most vivid memories of my father and illustrate the enigma that he is. On many occasions he was a viciously and abusively mean, reducing me to fearful tears. At other times he could be incredibly generous and supportive. For the three years I was in residency he gave us $500 each month so we could afford to have Lisa stay home with our infant son. My final year of residency he gave our almost three-year-old son an empty box for Christmas, telling him that Santa said he was a bad boy. When I questioned him about it he disowned me.
As father’s day approaches all of these memories come flooding back. I have not seen my father in over 23 years but he still impacts my life. I work every day to overcome the negative traits I inherited from him and the abuse wrought insecurity that remains.
I am not alone in my struggles. A while back I wrote a blog post entitled “The Day my Dad Disowned Me.” Although it was posted two years ago, each day brings new readers who have been similarly disowned. Almost every month I receive a message or comment from someone dealing with issues of abandonment. The stories of pain and rejection shared by strangers are heartbreakingly sad. Dysfunctional and absent father’s damage their children in unimaginable ways.
I pray for these hurting people every Father’s Day.
There is nothing I can do for them, and there is nothing I can do to about the damage done by my father in the past. All I can do is be the best father I can be for my children and encourage others to do the same.
On this day that we celebrate dads, my prayer is to be a good one.
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