In My Father’s Shadow

Spoiler Alert:  This isn’t your typical Father’s Day musing

My father’s shadow covers my early life.  That shadow recoiled among acquaintances and extended family whose light compressed it like that of a sundial’s at noon.  But in the confines of our house the darkness blanketed us a like a new moon night.

Perhaps not believing he should have to try to be a good parent, he never attempted the feat. Instead he worked to imprint his shadow on his children by darkening their lives with anger and lashings of leather.  A heritage of darkness was what he desired and he was comforted in the idea that they might take his lead and cast darkness around themselves.

Honor thy Father and thy Mother is often made the scapegoat for putting up with dishonorable behavior.  According to Merriam-Webster honor is “a showing of usually merited respect”. Respect came to him from those who never felt the depth of his darkness or the blackness of bruises and welts from the leathery extension of his hand.

Shadows of fear receded when he was away but left an ashen cloud always – breathed in like his dislike of the smell of pizza.  Pizza was only one thing that could never be tolerated and had to be partaken of only when there was time for any scent of its presence to dissipate before his return. Another was childlike joy or amusement.  Learning to tiptoe around to avoid stepping on any part of that shadow resulted in timidity – and conformity to onerous rules and regulations more befitting an encampment of soldiers than a group of small children.

But no words or actions could keep the shadow from reaching out and slithering into our worlds even when his physical presence was lacking.

“No I will not sign the release forms” became the shadow of shame of being the only one in my class not allowed to go on the Beta Club senior trip.  “No. I refuse to fill out financial aid papers for you to get assistance with college” translated as his hope that I would fail succeeding only in what he wanted me to (“You can get just as good a job without a college education”).

I learned that asking for help of any kind was to be driven back toward that suffocating world in which he thrived on controlling others.  So I stayed within sight but out of reach.  No sorrows or needs shared meant I could stay out of the dark pool in which he was drowning.  That pool he submerged himself in when he shoved his children out of his life.

We were brutally pushed away from him by his own darkness and the words used to express it – word that left no doubt he wanted us out of his life. He may have thought we would not be strong enough to resist the pull of that lifetime in his shadow.  When that didn’t happen he painted his children with a black brush of dishonor and scorn.

I can now honestly say, “Thank you father for freeing me to walk in light and joy and without fear.  It was the best gift you could ever have given me.”

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