Last night, as daylight gave way to dusk and the river quieted, I had an out-of-nowhere moment so profound I wept: one moment absorbing twilight, the next in tears. And though this will surprise many of you who know my family’s history, I desperately missed my father. Dad was crazy smart. Genius IQ. He was a mesmerizing storyteller. A lift you up and away speaker. He adored discourse that challenged. I loved engaging those dialogues, for it was one arena where we could tackle matters of intelligence and not devolve into emotionalism. These lively discussions linger as some of my very best memories of him.
Dad questioned everything. Many found this questing tedious, as it stuttered their norms. In my teenage years I admiringly viewed it as rebellion, but in truth, it was curiosity. He had a beautiful mind. We could be in the African bush riding in a mule train, or on a passenger liner headed back to America, or mucking out horse stalls when he’d say, “Define ten ways restraint of power is greater than power itself.” Or, “Aristotle said, ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ Let’s talk about polygamy as it relates to the African culture, and how would you handle that from a Biblical perspective?” Or, “I’ve been fascinated with matter and antimatter recently,” and off we’d go. But, it could have been anything: a caste system, a differing religious view, corruption in societal systems, medical and scientific breakthroughs, space and its endless possibilities. My mind was safe with dad, particularly during these discussions.
Only it hadn’t always been. When I was four, and my brain was seriously engaged in development, his choices (molestation) altered its chemistry. A decade of trauma short-circuited certain areas of my brain. So, how safe was my brain? In therapy I learned to rewire it. I’m not the genius Dad was, but I can hold my own. Ironically, it was my brain out-thinking his that procured my children’s safety.
In Africa I felt physically safe. We logged a lot of miles, first by mule trains, then by Land Rover, and later by plane. We lived in houses, in tents, under the stars, among numerous cultures, surrounded by a plethora of wild animals. One could argue that my parents didn’t provide a safe environment in which to grow up, but I hold it as the heart of me, that land, its people and our shared experience.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “Go to the heart of danger; for there you will find safety.” Heart safety. The important nurturing of a healthy heart. Guarding the sanctity of a child’s heart, that tender, learning, needful, loving heart. I credit my ability to persist through the process of healing to my first several years with my parents. I was loved, adored as their firstborn, cuddled, cared for and encouraged, until a tectonic shift occurred in our family, and my heart became a living bruise, battered by each thu-thump that muscle made. Wounded, abandoned, traumatized I kept coming back for more longing to hear them say I had worth to them. For years it was the only thing I knew to do, before I found meaningful connection with others. It wasn’t until I walked straight in to the ugly core of our family’s dysfunction that I found safety for my children and me. A heart is a wondrous paradox of resilience and fragility. It can be worn down, broken, and heal with its requisite scars, beautiful badges of honor. It loves and guides and restores.
The Japanese have a word, “Kokoro” which means, conceptually, that mind, body and spirit are united. It’s not heart AND mind AND spirit; the three are one. Christianity teaches the doctrine of the Trinity (God, the Father; Jesus the Son; and the Holy Spirit.) I’m not a scholar on world religions, but Buddhism also has three enlightenments. Raised by a Christian preacher, who became a missionary, and later a college professor of theology, I didn’t question my spiritual safety. Of course I was safe, right? I mean, look at my parents – royalty in their Christian denomination. But was I? My own belief system differed from that of my family of origin, so I quietly discarded tenets I disagreed with, and formed a private experience of spirituality that allowed me thrive. Nevertheless, whenever a person in a position of religious leadership abuses their power over one who is being guided by that leader, the guided one is no longer spiritually safe.
I loved my dad, and hated him. I admired him immensely, and loathed him too. I wanted to be my dad’s daughter, not the one who needed to remove him from my life to insure my children and my safety. But then, I wanted the family I dreamed of, not the family I got.
Life contains humor and heartbreak, mountaintop highs and mind numbing despair, richness of texture or a lack of depth, love and loss. I miss my dad’s mind, his thought processes, his willingness to explore outside his current knowledge and understanding. I miss our discourse; for it was there that I connected to a healthy part of him. It was a debt of honor to myself to let him go, and, oh, how I miss him.