Today marks the three year anniversary of my father’s passing. We haven’t discussed my father yet. I guess it’s time to do so.
My dad was a vexed man. He was always the black sheep. Kicked out of his family at the age of 13 and forced to live on the streets, he lived a hard life. He and my mom were married when my father was 36 and my mother was 19. I know, eew.
Their marriage was a tumultuous one. Littered with alcoholism, adultery and physical abuse, on his side. In essence it was very Ike & Tina. My mother endured and remained married and bore him six children. Yours truly being the sixth. Save the best for last, I always say. 😉
My older siblings endured my father’s physical abuse and alcoholism as well. By the mid-80s after I was born, my mother opted to divorce my father. My earliest memory is from when I was two years old, being held in my mothers arms and seeing flashing lights outside and watching the police escort my father out of our home, for the last time.
He abandoned us thereafter and I didn’t see him for much of my childhood. That I remember, anyway. The years after this moment get fuzzy. I remember him being in and out of my life, however. I remember very specific moments of rejection, and I remember, of course, the food.
My dad was always self destructive. Apple and tree here, I know. He never took care of himself and had an awful diet on top of being an alcoholic. Once he was single again, he lived a sad life. Isolated and lonely. Not that anyone could tell, since he was always the life of the party. Alcohol is a great, often socially acceptable mask in this case.
As a child, he would visit with my sister and I. Since we were still young enough to want to see him (she more than me). He would pick us up and usually take us to eat, then head over to a relative’s house and we would spend hours playing with our cousins and he would spend hours drinking with our uncles.
My father usually opted to take us to a local fast food joint and thus began my lifelong romance with one specific place and their cheeseburgers. I won’t name names, but this establishment has served billions and can be found on every street corner.
Every time he would pick us up, we would head there and he and I would eat cheeseburgers and my sister would have a chicken sandwich. It’s so sad that my only connection to my father, as a child, was in a burger. Nevertheless, that’s all I had. So, I kept it.
As the years passed and we grew up, I stopped wanting to see him. My sister maintained her relationship with him, but I was slowly growing in bitterness and hatred for him. Partially because of my own abandonment, self-pity and sorrow, but also because of the stories I was hearing at home. (Don’t diss your ex in front of your kids, yo.)
Eventually when I hit my angst ridden teen years his visits became more sporadic, and I was over it by then. My sister maintained her relationship with him, but I was done. And I remained that way until I was eighteen.
At the time my father lived alone in Mexico. He was always an island and wanted to stay that way, I always thought. One fateful October day he had a massive stroke. Having lived alone, he wasn’t found until 8 hrs later!! The stroke left him paralyzed on the left side, and incontinent (unable to use the restroom). Once he got to the Doctors we discovered that he had dementia and that he was type two diabetic. Since he was alone, my sister begged my mom if we could bring him home and help him recuperate.
My mother always had a soft spot for him, so she allowed it. My sister worked and didn’t have time to care for our dad so the burden fell on me, since our older siblings had no desire to love on him, or have a relationship with him. Imagine hating someone and having to change their urine bucket daily, it requires a lot out of a person. I seriously hated him at this point. The man who rejected me was the man I had to bathe, and change, and cook for. It was a hard time.
As the months passed, he found somewhere else to stay and thus began a very hard season of life for me. He was in and out of nursing homes as the years went on. By this time my dad was in his 70’s (he was a lot older than my mom, remember). And although my very faithful sister would spend time with him, I always felt obligated to but hated it, and him.
I grew in my walk with the Lord and grew in understanding of the Word, but yet my unbelieving sister (at the time) was being a doer and I, just a hearer. As the Lord began to work in me, He led me to visit my dad in November of 2008. My best friend and I went to see him and as I watched him eat an apple pie from his favorite fast food place, I was filled with compassion for him. I don’t know where it came from or how, but as I watched him, I said, to myself, to the Lord, in an audible whisper, “I forgive him.” And I genuinely meant it!!! That was a work only God could do!!! I genuinely forgave my father of all his shortcomings that day. I forgave him for leaving, for the abuse, for the pain, for all of it. I didn’t love him, but I forgave him. I still can’t understand it. Only God can.
Another year went by and his dementia started to worsen and he started to get very aggressive with all of the nurses that were helping take care of him. So again I was asked to care for him. At this time I was a nanny for my sister’s daughter and my sister was about to give birth to another baby, so she asked me if I was willing to care for my dad again, if he moved in. Having forgiven him, and growing in the Lord, I couldn’t say no. So My sister and I became our father’s full time caregivers.
As his new care giver, I will never forget the moment that change my life and heart forever. God is so amazing and beyond compare! The first time I had to change my father’s diaper was a work of the Lord! Forgive the graphic details, but this is relevant. I promise. So this day, my dad was in need of a diaper change. The diaper was so full I had to clean his bottom with an entire pack of baby wipes. I had never cleaned an adult diaper before and this was before I felt called to go into nursing. I removed his diaper and slowly had to clean off feces from his bottom. I cleaned, and I cleaned, and I cleaned, and I cleaned and it felt like I was removing layer, upon layer, upon layer of filth on my father. And simultaneously it was like the Lord was moving layer, upon layer, upon layer, upon layer of hardness on my heart. Once I was finished, I walked out of his bedroom and fell to the floor and wept like a baby. I couldn’t believe that this man who used to be a monster in my mind, was now the man that I had to treat like my own child and take care of his daily needs. Things that he couldn’t do for himself. The Lord put him in a position of dependence upon me and that broke my heart. It hit me for the first time that this was probably the first time in his life that he ever had to depend on someone else. He was an island!!! He was used to pushing people away and never accepting love from anyone!! I think he genuinely felt unworthy of love, all his life! And in this moment, to see this man incapable of taking care of himself was the moment in which God changed every ounce and iota of hatred that I had for him and turned it into love for him. That was the day I fell in love with my father. That was the day I realized that God had called me to this mission field and that I was supposed to love my father until his potential repentance, and most definitely, until his physical death.
The years were tough. His diabetes progressed to nearly full kidney failure in which he needed dialysis thrice weekly. His dementia also worsened, and he was incredibly aggressive, and abusive. Both physically and verbally. He was very hard to deal with. Yet I felt called to love him and to share the gospel with him daily. I loved my father so much despite all of his shortcomings and all of the ways that he rejected me, abandoned me and hurt me. And I tell you, only God can do that. Only God can take a human heart and transform it from hardness to gentleness.
Over the years I shared as much of my heart as I could, but I had no expectations of him. I knew he had never known love and I knew that he could never show me fatherly love, as that chubby little girl in me so desperately wanted. But I was happy with what God gave me. To this day, I cannot recall a moment in which my father hugged me. But, I do have one memory that the Lord gave me. One day as he was sitting on his comfy chair, I was kneeling at his feet tying his shoes, and my bangs fell in my face. I had no idea that he was watching me or paying attention, but all of a sudden, I look up and his hand is approaching my face. And before I know it, he gently brushes my hair back without a word. It was seriously the only time I felt loved by this man. Something so small, so subtle and so God. That memory still makes me tear up.
I loved my dad until his final day on earth. I shared the gospel, I explained Jesus’ love for him, I surrendered all of my time, and rights just to be near him and to get him to see the love of the Lord. It’s not because I’m wonderful, because I will tell you that being a caregiver is the hardest thing to do! I don’t know anyone who goes into it because they want to. In our culture, we have a familial obligation to care for our elderly. And people of that age are generally grumpy. My dad lived a hard, loveless, Godless life and his dementia only worsened his attitude. He was in and out of lucidity and there were days he’d confused me for old friends, his sisters, and even an old babysitter. In his last days on earth he insisted I call him by a nickname his favorite babysitter gave him when he was a boy.
Can you imagine that? This man was only nurtured (and poorly at that) until he was a teenager, and his only memory or connection to love was a neighborhood babysitter who loved on him and gave him a special nickname. “Tilín.” How crazy what your mind and heart recall!!! Just goes to show you the power of love. This man was into some awful stuff and his hard hard life took a major toll on his wellness, but the only thing he could cling to during the end was this nickname. His last lucid days, he asked me to call him by this name.
My dad loved very few things. Beer, music, Mexíco, my mother (despite both of their protests) and pancakes. “Panqueques” in Spanish. They were his favorite food. Despite his diabetes (which I regulated with food- more on that later), I allowed him to eat some pancakes regularly. It was the highlight of his days. As his health diminished, and we approached his last days, he would ask for them often. When we entered into hospice care, he wanted some but couldn’t eat anything solid. Still sorta hurts my heart that my daddy couldn’t have one final pancake. Had I known that his last pancake was his last, I woulda made it extra special. We never know these things.
He entered into hospice care in November of 2013. I whispered Psalm 23 in his ear every second I could. I shared the gospel and reminded him that Jesus loved him and could forgive him of everything. That he didn’t have to hold onto bitterness and that no one is worthy of love, but God chooses to love us anyway. I told him to trust Jesus and to surrender. I wish I could tell you he had a big repentant moment and that he gave his life to Jesus. But the truth is, I don’t know if he did or didn’t. God alone knows. His last few days, (already on morphine), he had no words, no strength, no lucid moments and his eyes were closed for days. The day before his passing he seemed scared. He seemed restless. I shared the gospel and prayed over him and continued to speak Psalm 23 in his ear. My church was present and loved on us and him, and we continued to pray and ask the Lord to have mercy on him. His final day, Wednesday, December 11, 2013 he was very calm and very peaceful. I don’t know if he had things he had to work through with God, but he seemed very very peaceful that day. I was in full time school at the time, having felt led by the Lord to go to nursing school in 2012, I was in the middle of finals week. I was taking 15 units, and I had a final every single day, except that Wednesday. Crazy how God works out the smallest details!!
That morning, two of our older siblings, my sister and I gathered around his bed and prayed and watched as his body was getting ready and turning cold. When the time finally came, he managed to move his very sick body enough to that he could give one final look at my sister who stood to his right, and then turn over to me and give one final look as I stood to his left, and then… he was gone.
I can’t believe how very much I still miss him. Our relationship was crazy hard, and the call to care for him was incredibly impossible. I confess that it wasn’t easy and I didn’t do it well, or perfectly!! It was very very hard. But, man do I miss him!!!! I’d do it all over, I would!!
So all of that history and context for you to understand the things that I went through today!! (You’re amazing if you’ve read all the way to here!!)
So, today, being my dads sunset anniversary, I was alone most of the day. Since his passing, I usually commemorate this day by eating pancakes. I’ve never really liked them, so if and when I have one, I literally have one. Maximum two. Having left church service, I was gonna go to the local coffee shop to have some pancakes but then I started feeling sorry for myself and I got sad and decided I didn’t want to be that alone, so my next plan was “I’ll just go to my dads fast food joint.” I haven’t been there in almost 3 years.
In all of my food issues and binging, I used to go there and eat two-three cheeseburgers because they made me feel loved and validated! I’m not kidding!! The emotional connection was so strong! When I got sick in 2014, I stopped eating all fast food and that place was always and has always been my one great temptation. I don’t eat there because it’s unhealthy, but mostly because for me, that food isn’t just food. It’s love and acceptance. Things only Jesus can give me. So, I won’t even play with that.
Anyway, being alone and sad today, I almost went to get pancakes there. I kept counseling myself and trying to convince myself that it was OK to do it but the Holy Spirit in me would not let me do it. So I didn’t go after all. I had a better lunch and then when I got home last night I made myself two small pancakes with my dinner which was simple lean steak and spinach and my commemorative pancakes were just perfect.
So… all this to say that I am thankful for the Lord’s protection today. He didn’t let me fall into temptation just so I could keep my dad’s tradition alive. He allowed me to feel my feelings and didn’t condemn me for them, and he took care of me fully.
I’m happy to share this story with you. I know for some people, eating pancakes may be a hard thing, or you can’t reason it away while eating well. Or it may be part of your abstinence to not have any. I totally understand and I hope this story or focus on pancakes does not cause anyone to stumble. For me, I do not feel condemned by it and I trust the Lord in allowing me to eat them. One day a year, anyway.
Thank you for reading this super long post. May the Lord be praised for His mighty deeds and immense love and how He worked all things out in my relationship with my father. I always get like Jeremiah in that I was called to some tough ministry, and I never saw any fruit. Well, in the one I was serving, because I saw fruit in my own life. I don’t know if my dad ever surrendered to Jesus. I will never know. But, I trust the will of the Lord and I know that I did what I was supposed to do. To Him be the glory, forever!!