Echoes of painful memories... The Lord told Randy that was the cause of some of my physical pain.
Apparently they were memories that I had suppressed. I prayed that God would reveal them as I am able to deal with them. Some things began to come to mind -- things I thought I had forgotten long ago. Like when I volunteered for the Air Force in 1951.
I was painting signs and doing art work for a sign company at the time. The Korean War had begun and men were being drafted into the Army. My artist friend Milton talked me into going into the Air Force with him. We imagined that the Air Force could use two additional artists.
Milton changed his mind at the last moment. I had already quit my job. There was no turning back for me. I went into the Air Force alone. I had never been away from home. Now I was on a train with strangers, going to a military base in Texas hundreds of miles away, not knowing what to expect. I was frightened. And I felt betrayed and abandoned by my friend. (This may not seem like much to someone else, but I was very timid at the time. This was a traumatic change in my life.)
As I was remembering this, God spoke to me. He said, "I used Milton to give you the courage to leave home. It was not his time to go. He would enlist later. Forgive him."
And I did.
Now I remembered that I was glad to be away from home, living my own life. At home I felt smothered.
Trouble is -- I never really left home, even when I married Sylvia. I guess I still felt the need for my mother's approval in everything.
My Father's Pain
A few days later I received a phone call from Randy. He said, "Bob, the reason I called is to let you know what I am hearing from the Lord about your father." This surprised me, because I had never mentioned my father or anything about our family to Randy.
"He really loved his brother who died," Randy added. "His death was very traumatic for your dad. He was hurt so badly he was afraid to love again. God said that your dad wanted to love you, but he was afraid he would lose you like he did his brother, and it would hurt too much."
Dad's brother Albert was two years older than him... He came to Dad's rescue when he was attacked by bigger boys. Dad had told that story a number of times... You could tell by the way Dad talked about Albert that his brother was very special to him and they were very close.
I remember someone saying that after Albert died, Dad overheard his mother say to a neighbor that she wished it had been him instead. Albert died when Dad was 13 years old. I'm sure that hurt Dad very much, but I expect Mama West's unwise remark hurt him even more.
Early the next morning while I was standing in our bedroom doing my stretching exercises, I was surprised by a vision that for a few moments placed me back in time at another place. I saw my dad (Alton) when he was a young teenager. Nearby I saw his mother talking to someone, and along with Dad I overheard Mama West say, "Why did Albert have to die? Why couldn't it have been Alton instead?"
Suddenly -- strength left my legs and I began to bawl like a baby as I dropped to the floor! This had never affected me emotionally before, but on this day it brought me to my knees as I broke down and wept. It was as if God was letting me feel the pain my dad felt when this happened to him years ago.
As a boy I felt my own pain. Now as a man I was feeling my father's pain.
I'm glad God let us live long enough, so I could begin to really get to know Dad and develop the father and son relationship we never had. I understand now that Dad never received his father's blessing, so he didn't know how to pass that on to me.
I grew up during the Great Depression. Dad worked hard long hours for very little pay. Mother had a hard life too. Her father died when she was three and a half years old. She loved him very much, but she was afraid of the abusive step-father that took his place.
For a child that young, she must have felt her Dad abandoned her by dying, and that it was his fault that her world was turned upside down.
I'm sure that Mother saw Dad as her "knight in shining armor" who would take her away from all of the hurt and make everything alright again. But he wasn't able to do that. He had emotional problems of his own.
When he wasn't at work, he was still trying unsuccessfully to gain his parents' favor and often neglected to use that time for us.
Mother's disappointments turned to anger. I'm not sure she had forgiven Dad. I thought, "She needs to do that."
I sat in silence a long time. I thought and thought...
And then I thought, "I guess I need to forgive him, too."
Her Little "Prince"
I phoned my sister Linda and mentioned that I had been thinking about sharing some of my memories and thoughts in a letter to Mother, but I wasn't sure.
Linda said, "Please don't do that! It would break her heart! If you must write a letter, then write it, but don't send it. Destroy it! I know Mother and Dad aren't perfect, but who is? Mother and Dad are very loving and caring people. They both have had a lot of hard times...
"Janie has suggested to Mother that she write a letter to herself as the little girl who lost her Dad.
"I remember our childhood. It wasn't great, but it was the best that Mother and Dad could do for us."
After I got off the phone I told Sylvia, "My thoughts really frightened and upset Linda... I guess my call was premature. I am still trying to sort things out..."
When Linda said our sister Janie had suggested that Mother write a letter to the little girl who lost her Dad, I felt the Lord give me a nudge. I decided to call Janie and encourage her to help Mother write that letter to lessen the pain of losing her father.
So I called Janie and told her that Mother and Dad have been on my mind a lot lately. "It all began with a vision," I said. "I saw Sylvia and Mother. There was a string. One end was attached to me. The other end was attached to Mother. A large hand came down from above and disconnected the end that was attached to Mother and attached it to Sylvia. The Lord seemed to be telling me that during over 40 years of marriage that Sylvia and I have never been alone... Mother has always been with us."
Janie said, "Bob, you were Mother's little 'Prince'."
"Me? Mother's little 'Prince'? Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Because of Mother's anger toward Dad and his inability to fill her emotional needs, Mother looked to you to fill that void," was Janie's reply.
I said, "I've read about that sort of thing happening to others, but... Yeah, that makes sense!"
Apparently this happens in a great many families, and that is sad. Because it is impossible for a little child to be his mother's caretaker, or for a mother to take the place of her son's father. It is impossible for a mother to guide a boy into manhood. That is a man's work.
How did I know that? Where did that thought come from? Then I remembered. And again I marveled at how the Lord is leading me on this spiritual journey and provides someone to help when needed.
The Call to Manhood
I remembered looking through a catalog to see how I wanted to use a birthday gift certificate when a book by Gordon Dalbey titled Father and Son caught my attention. The sub-title was "The Wound, The Healing, The Call to Manhood." It was copyright 1992 by the author and published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville.
I had thought, "This looks interesting, but I've already worked through all of that. The Lord has healed me. I don't need that book." Then it occurred to me that this book might be helpful as reference material for my Theophilus comic strip. So I ordered it.
When the book arrived, I read the summary copy on the back of the dust cover: "Today millions of men are silently suffering the emotional anguish of a devastating wound -- a wound that has been inflicted on them not by some evil enemy...not by some dread disease...but by their own fathers--fathers who had the best of intentions...
"With penetrating insight and compassion, Gordon Dalbey shows how the father-wound creates in men: an inability to bond with other men; a sense of isolation; a fear and distrust of women; ...and feelings of low self-esteem."
I stopped and read that paragraph again.
"That's me!" I exclaimed to myself. "Those characteristics describe me perfectly."
Suddenly, I had a much clearer understanding of my weaknesses. At the same time I realized that I was not alone. As I opened up the book and read it, I realized that the Lord was not finished with me. There was more healing to be done. More tears to shed.
Free to Love
The following comments were copied from a journal I kept almost 20 years ago. Some of it is direct quotes from Gordon Dalbey's book. Some of it may be my paraphrase of something I read in his book. And some of it is my comments about my own personal relationships and applications.
The finest woman's best is not good enough to usher a boy into manhood. That is a man's work. Turning to his mother for masculine character during his early stages of manhood confuses a boy. Later, he will look to his wife to compensate for his own lack of strength.
Then he will resent her when she becomes strong, because that reminds him of what he should be as a man.
This underlying sense of inadequacy causes a man to fear women, to associate women with his failure as a man. That's why I (Bob) had felt so intimidated by women!
Without a father enforcing proper boundaries, a son could grow up seeing his mother as head of the house -- even his own house years later. If he does not recognize his need to break from his mother, he cannot bond with his wife as a man and he will wound her deeply.
I knew I had wounded Sylvia deeply. I saw the pain in her eyes when I told her that the Lord showed me that I was still tied to Mother after all these years.
Sylvia said she had always known that. But I hadn't. And I didn't know how I had hurt her.
I only knew that I couldn't just be myself with Mother. I didn't want to hurt her feelings or dishonor her, but I never could relax and enjoy our visits. Because there wasn't a free relationship, I couldn't enjoy being with her. A mother who lets her son go, frees him to love her.
These are just some of the things I came to realize while reading the book Father and Son by Gordon Dalbey (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1992).
Dalbey says he discovered that behind every business suit, every pair of overalls, every sport shirt lies the wounded heart of a boy longing for his daddy. The book offers a deeper understanding of how this longing has crippled men emotionally and encourages us to seek healing through our Father God.
I read the book and then I knew... The letter God wants me to write -- it's not to Mother. It's to Dad!
Important update: Gordon Dalbey recently told me that Father and Son went out of print years ago, and it is now revised and back in print as Sons of the Father: Healing the Father-Wound in Men Today, (Civitas Press, 2011).
A Letter to Dad
"Do you remember me telling you that I could remember almost nothing of my childhood? Mom thought it was a result of the auto accident I was in 40 years ago, but I didn't think so. It turns out that some of my memories were too painful and I had suppressed them so I wouldn't have to deal with them.
"I have been hurt by a lot of people. What's worse, I thought so little of myself that I thought I deserved every bit of it. I felt so unworthy and so full of shame. I was lonely, even when people were around. I held bitterness, resentment, and was unforgiving. At one point, I didn't like anyone, including myself. One day God let me know that I was even mad at Him.
"Lately, the Lord has gone down into the basement of my mind and brought up a few memories of my early years. Before He did that, however, He revealed some things about you and Mother and your childhood so I would understand what you both were having to deal with in your own lives and how that had an effect on me.
"In addition to revealing some things to me for my own benefit, Dad, Jesus wants you to know that He was there when your brother died and He felt your pain. He was there when you heard your mother say, "Why did it have to be Albert instead of Alton?" and He felt your pain. He was there when you went back to school after your illness with white spots on your skin, and He felt your pain when kids made fun of you.
Dad, Jesus wants you to know that you're very important to Him and He loves you very much. He wants you to turn all those memories over to Him. If there is anyone you need to forgive, forgive them and tell Jesus that you forgive them. So God can forgive you. And so you can be free of those things...
"I love you, Dad, and I know that you love me. I thank God that you and Mom are my parents. God bless you both!"
Unlimited permission to copy text without alteration or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.