A follow-up article has been added here: Facing Fears — My Father’s Passing
All the chances I might have had to finally figure out how to forgive and reconnect with my father, and hopefully, lead him back to a saving relationship with Christ from his jaded atheism ended five days ago.
A relative searched out my contact information and let me know last night that my father was discovered by police on a requested wellness check. They estimate he passed away four days previous.
A lot of mixed emotions. There is remorse for my failure and inability; remorse for times when I became righteously angry at his (continuing) mistreatment of my mother, my sister, and myself. There is regret that he seemed a textbook Sociopath that might have never been reached by any efforts of forgiveness and reaching out. There is prayer that God gives grace to those who may have their free will compromised, through no fault of their own, by mental damage/illness. The remorse is mostly quiet remorse and it may grow more intense as God works on my heart, but I can’t see how I could have done anything much different than I did.
I am glad that he is no longer able to affect my mother and myself. My sister has been beyond his grasp since passing away at the beginning of 2005. Glad, but I did not wish him dead. I wished him all the life it took to come back to God in humility as a supplicant, and then, perhaps, a life remainder of quiet peace. Not the false peace of a sociopath unable to know of troublesome things, but of one who knows, knows he is forgiven through no act of his own, and who is able to accept that forgiveness and wrap it around himself like a comforting blanket.
If there were to be a funeral service as nearby as Kearney, Nebraska, and had I a surfeit of time and money, I would very much like to attend, and tell him that I loved him in every way that was left open to me and that I hope that in spite of my failure to reach him that he is somehow covered under Grace.
My mother suggested that I should attend for another reason, and one which, even the possibility of would make me chose not to attend even were I able. She suggested that I might get a Beagle Puppy, and since I am trying to find a way to pay for Nursing School, that it would be a very wonderful blessing to have a Beagle Puppy. I cannot stomach the idea of one more controlling manipulation, one more carrot and stick, one more act of twistedness being done to me.
Briefly, as a child, perhaps 6 years old I had been given a copy of the American Kennel Club’s Dog Breeds Book because I was nuts about anything/everything ‘dog’. I loved its bright yellow cover (my favorite colour then) and all the black and white photos of different breeds. I had poured over it like other boys pour over baseball cards memorizing stats, or in this case, characteristics, classifications, temperaments, grooming needs, and so on. I had paper-clipped pages for different breeds and honestly, I would have liked to have all of them, or even just one of them. There was one at the time that stood out among the rest and that might have met my father’s stringent requirements of an acceptable dog. It wasn’t Benji, Benji after all being a shelter dog of mysterious heritage. It wasn’t my present day loves, Shih-Tzus (I don’t think we’d yet doggy-sat me mum’s boss’ Roxy and knew Shih-Tzu joy) and Border Collies (They weren’t even recognized by the AKC at the time and more’s the pity they ever were). It wasn’t a Samoyed or an Alaskan Malamutes like my beloved (ok, she belonged to my sister Allison, but she lived with me for several years) Nikki. The page I came back to over and over; the page with two paperclips and a third big one on the few full-colour pages in the center, was the Beagle. I wanted this small scrappy smart trim little dog who just looked like it had a heart bursting with love for a little boy. Constant “Beagle Puppy” desire followed but gained no traction with my parents… or rather with my Dad who must control everything.
Mayhaps not so briefly. My parents were active in the church I had grown up in as bible-study leaders, youth ministry helpers, and as drivers for the church van. It happened that the youth group decided to go on an outing to the almost-better-than-Disneyland-way-better-than-Six-Flags Knott’s Berry Farm. It also happened that the day of the trip was my 8th or 9th birthday. When we reached the park I was given the ‘choice’ of going around the day with my father, or with my mother. How can you make a wrong choice when there’s no real choice at all. My mother made such things fun and exciting. My dad complained and groused about the price of food which he would never have purchased anyways. Mum would get small treats when she could but as she really didn’t have much of ‘her own money’ (her nurse’s salary was taken and controlled by my father), even those occasions were rare. He criticized and belittled everything. He condescended upon everyone, especially international workers and visitors. There was no fun with my Dad, no joy. He refused to ride any roller-coasters (some of the best were at KBF, The Corkscrew, Montezooma’s Revenge, etc), and my mum was a roller-coaster-nut. I went with my mum. Later in the day we reconvened at a covered picnic area and there was a surprise birthday cake and party waiting. It could not have possibly been a more perfect day and would have stood in my childhood as one of maybe 3 or 4 actual happy memories (Meeting Benji(Benjean) and her trainer was one, a certain Day at Angeles Crest Christian Camp was another).
It’s not. It’s not one of those. It was one of the other kind of days of which there were so many, and this the one that still hurts the most. As we were leaving the park and getting back in the van and I was nursing the fireball candies (They had to last. Whenever would they come again?) my mother had disobeyed my father and bought for me, my father took me aside. He pulled out his wallet and from that took a clipping from the classified section of the L.A. Times. I still remember the smudged newsprint attempt at including a photo of a litter of Beagle puppies and their mum… a little hard to make out in pure black & white process. My dad told me that he had planned, if I were to come with him for the day, for us to leave the park while others were enjoying the rides and attractions and to go and pick out a puppy from the litter, but as I had went with my mom, I would be getting no puppy. Not today. Not ever. I don’t remember how I reacted beyond sitting at the back of the bus for the long trip back to central LA with a forgotten fireball burning a hole through my cheek as I neither felt nor tasted it, crying, being embarrassed and thinking that I just didn’t want to continue. I ‑think- it was around this time that I tried and failed to commit suicide with my dad’s .22 auto that I had no idea how to charge or un-safe. I couldn’t bear the thought of my ‘mistake’ and that it would have ‘forever’ effects. To children, ‘forever’ means ‘ever after’, not ‘until circumstances one day change’. I didn’t think in terms of ‘unfair’ because I had never known ‘fair’. I had had so much fun with my mum, and I should have had fun with my mum, but I didn’t realize I was unwittingly making or breaking some Faustian bargain at the time. I didn’t want to be alone with my father, not before, not that day, not ever, and because of it my ‘mistake’, there would never be a puppy to replace Rascal and Samson who had both passed away long before I even got to really know them. I would never have a puppy. I don’t remember anything after that until my mother moved us out of his house. It’s all blanked out. I think I shut down. I think I was crushed beyond caring about anything at all.
Could he really be that twisted so as to do it again? Could he put some stipulation in his will where I would be ‘rewarded’ for making the ‘right’ wrong decision and punished for making the ‘wrong’ right decision. Nobody could possibly do something that heinous, could they?
I don’t want a Beagle Puppy. I don’t ever want a Beagle Puppy from him. I don’t want to miss his funeral, but I very much wish I had been able to miss that birthday at Knotts Berry Farm.
The answer is, “Yes, he could.”. Money has always been his go-to method to control and hurt or bless (not altruistically, but for the returns it brought him) people in his life.
My answer is, “No, I cannot. I Will not.” Today I would say, “I Shan’t.” but it just doesn’t seem as appropriate here. I will find some other way, like everyone else, to take care of Nursing School and other needful things, and the harder it is, the it will be all the worthier for the difficulty.
I hope he’s been granted grace and understanding for the difficulties of his own childhood and for the mental derangement(s) he suffered.
I feel free. Freedom that being half a nation away could never bring. Free of that nagging worry that he could still find some way to hurt my mother or less likely, myself. I wouldn’t have traded his life for that freedom, but the equation was not of my making.
I suppose I am finally free to change my last name to something that doesn’t hurt because now doing so won’t hurt him. I wonder at even bothering to wait, but I know it was in the hopes of reaching him for Christ. Would that I could embrace the wonderful Cepelness that was a small part of my life, my Uncle Al and Aunt Carol and all their kids and their kid’s kiddos, and a fair bit of good Cepelness back in Nebraska, but put together, all represent a drop of joy in an ocean of hurt.