It is Easter and today I am reminded of another Easter season several years ago and an important lesson I learned about my dad. First let me say that the relationship I had with my dad was often rocky. Partly because he didn’t know how to be the kind of father I wanted him to be and partly because I was so set on the idea of the kind of father I wanted that I couldn’t see the kind of father I had.
When I was still in high school, my mom had to call the ambulance late one night for my dad. By this point in time he had been medically retired for a couple years because of recurring heart problems, most notably congestive heart failure. That night I could hear Mom yelling. I don’t remember what exactly she was yelling but it didn’t make sense at the time so I went downstairs to investigate. Dad was in bed and not very responsive, and when he did respond it was as if he was in some kind of fog. When the ambulance crew arrived Dad was a little more coherent and didn’t want to go with them. Somehow, though, Mom convinced him it was the right thing to do. She didn’t want my younger brothers to see him being taken out of the house on a stretcher so she had me stand at the bottom of the stairs to make sure they didn’t come down. As he was wheeled past the stairs I heard him say to Mom, “Tell the boys I love them and I wish I could have seen the little ones grow up.”
I was devastated to say the least. Here was my dad, thinking he was going to die, and not a word about him loving me, his only daughter. In that moment I felt my world crashing down on me and I thought that the one thing I had denied all my life was finally confirmed. Dad had never loved or wanted me.
Dad recovered and came home. I pushed the memory of that night to the back of my mind as best I could and didn’t think about it until years later when I was in college. I was home on Easter break. Mom, Dad, and I had gone to a local retail establishment to do some shopping before I went back to school. Near the front of the store was a large display of Easter baskets with different colored stuffed rabbits in each one. Dad and I started joking about how the poor little bunnies had been trapped inside the cellophane wrapped baskets for too long and that you could tell which ones had been trapped the longest by their color. White ones had just been put in, pink or yellow had only been in a little while, blue ones were running out of oxygen but still had a chance of survival, purple ones had just died of suffocation, and the green ones were already decaying. We had a great time and Mom was so embarrassed by us that she just walked away like she didn’t know us.
A couple weeks later I received a box in the mail. I was surprised because it was unusual to get a care package from home so soon after I had just been there. When I opened the box there was one of the Easter baskets (filled with Peeps – my favorite Easter treat) with a little blue bunny inside. There was also a note from Dad that simply said “Look what I found in the shed.” The hurt from that night when I was in high school came rushing back to me. But as I cried, and held on to that silly stuffed bunny, the pain went away and was replaced by the knowledge that Dad did really love me. He just didn’t know how to say it.
What was the lesson I learned? Just because someone isn’t telling me that they love me the way I want to hear it doesn’t mean they aren’t saying they love me in the only way they know how to. Be open to receiving love in whatever form it comes.