The Most Beautiful Gift That Never Was

A gift can be given and taken away. Is that how it goes? Well, that’s basically how this story goes.

Two years ago or so my dad texted me out of the blue, asking to meet up soon. Because we had not had any kind of relationship for 5 about years before that, he clarified that “Everything is okay” and he wasn’t dying. I appreciated him saying that. One of deepest fears is his death before reconciliation.

During our awkward meeting- because none of us really knew each other anymore – my dad did the one thing I had been praying for. For years I prayed thinking it would never actually happen. And then it did, right there in the outdoor seating area of humble Burger. My dad asked for forgiveness for everything I had on my list, my list of grievances, if you will. The wave of validation washed over my body as I watched him nervously glance at his notes then back up to me. After working though my absentee father issues for so long while the rest of my family- my brothers, my parents – seemed to roll their eyes about me and the drama they perceived me to bring to the table. But not anymore. It’s a new beginning, God did answer prayer in a huge way!

For the next two years I held this gift close to my heart s never shying from telling my friendsabout this extraordinary piece to the story.

Well over the past two weeks I have realized how not genuine my father was when we were sitting at those picnic benches, eating my favorite burger and fries combo. It turns out my parent’s love truly does have limits. And my dad, well, he loves to hear himself talk and feel like he sounds smart. Educated and wise. Spiritual. Yet at this point in my adult life – I can’t see how any of those things could be true about him. He loves to talk about how other people should be better yet is incapable of seeing his own reflection clearly.

My mom at least can see how broken this family is. She may get on a stage from time to time and speak powerfully to a small number of women who applaud her and tell her how amazing she is afterwards. But she knows, deep down, it’s not real. She puts on a facade, showing the world how wonderful her life is when in fact it’s the opposite. She has a husband who is basically a nomad. A huge beautiful house that often sits empty, quiet and dusty. She has a huge circle of close friends, according to my dad, yet no one is willing to question on why my mom started sending me mail using my maiden name instead of the last name I have worn for almost eleven years now.

And that’s where this pathetic love story between parent and child breaks down- maybe for good this time.

See, when my mom sent my Christmas gift and used the wrong last name, I thought it was weird and then blew it off as a one – time thing. Then my belated birthday card showed up- with my maiden name again. Perhaps this is why I wanted to rip up the lame $50 dollar big in the card. Instead, I surprised my daughter and gave her the money for a lost truth. I received the most joy from watching her carefully choose how to spend it at Claire’s.

Fast forward a few months and me and the kids all receive Valentine’s cards from my mom. Except for Jon, of course. By now he is used to being an afterthought with my parents, if not forgotten about altogether. And again-again! My maiden name! This was three times in a row. Jon and I decided either something is wrong mentally, or the passive aggressive nature of my mom runs deeper than I ever knew. Either way, this was a problem – one I wanted to address immediately.

This stupid name game had been hurting us enough.

So I decided to call my dad, I figured this was the next step in having a relationship – which we had never had before. I (naively) knew he world be as forward thinking as I was about this name business because my grandmother – my mom’s mom, suffers from mental health issues.

So I get on the phone and we exchanged pleasantries. I was super nervous because in reality, how would he respond? I had a feeling it would end up one of two ways: either being friendly with some level of understanding of each other or me telling him not to visit with mom the following month.

As soon as I expressed my concern, my dad flipped the conversation and spent the next 15 minutes attacking the very few interactions I have had with them recently.

Later, I brought this up in counseling, asking how I went so wrong? Or did I? Then my counselor shared with me a few responses my “loving father” could have given me initially. Things like, “Thank you for telling me. Thank you for caring about your mother.” When my counselor said those things, my jaw figuratively dropped to the floor.

That type of response made way more loving sense toward my legitimate concern for my mom than what my dad actually said, “Your mother is fine. I spoke with her and she isn’t feeling well. There has been a rift between you two. There was a bad text you sent some months ago, you can look it up in your history. I don’t know why you called. Your grandmother and mother are not connected in any way. You shut us out. Do you trust me? Let me tell you about forgiveness again because you haven’t forgiven your mother and me…”

The whole thing was awful. Toxic. My dad spent about 20 minutes gas lighting me.

After the call – and I basically hung up on him – I was shaking from the emotion of it all. Yet I felt something new. Empowerment. Self worth. I had finally stood up to my dad! As a young person that isn’t something I was allowed to do unless I wanted another bloody nose. So when I got married, Jon began to fight my battles, to protect me. Because of how Jon was able to shield me in that way, I was able to spend years working through the many levels of toxicity in my family.

But now, on this day, I had finally graduated into adulthood. I truly felt like an adult! After feeling stuck in my head as a 16 year old girl for so many years, I could sense the lifted weight. I felt light that day in the midst of my sadness. I was more sad for them than anyything. Their willingness to do what it takes to keep up with the Joneses is continuing to tear their family apart.

But what a gift to finally stand tall in my truth?

A few days ago I received a letter via snail mail. Come to think of it, I now wonder who it was addressed to? My maiden name or current legal name, the name I am so proud to wear? See, I have not seen the letter yet. Jon smartly opened it and read it without me knowing. I told him to hide it where I couldn’t find it, after he gave me the cliff notes of what the typed letter said, because I knew I wasn’t ready to see it with my own eyes.

My dad gave me a beautiful gift two years ago, one that I have treasured dearly.

With his arrogant page of typed, twisted words to belittle me and stroke his ego, he undid all the good.

He took back his gift.

And I don’t think I want it back. If he ever offers that.

Nobody, not even the people who raised you, should make you feel so worthless.

You do not have to put your family through the toxicity that you grew up with. Setting up boundaries is painful. The outcome, though, is happiness, joy and so much less stress! Think about it-when you think of that one or two people who you engage with out of obligation – what might it look like if you engaged with them on your terms? Find a good counselor can help you figure out what healthy boundaries look like for you and the toxic people in your life.

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