Certain memories bring healing and this one reminded me of the love of a dad and a mom, willing to listen to the pains of a not-so-young child at the age of 29. I thank my parents for teaching me what it means to face boldly family wounding as they modeled courage to listen to broken hearts. Their legacy of love has given me ability to face some of my mistakes as a parent. The story below happened 23 years ago and it began a journey of reconnection which I will forever be thankful for. My mom has been gone for 6 years and dad is 88 but I’ll always be grateful they took the time to listen to a hurting child.
It was a hot day in Temple City and the air-conditioning felt cool on my face even though I felt fire in my chest! Dad and mom were sitting in the fireplace room on the far side of the house. As I entered the carpeted room, my stomach felt knotted and wound up like a revved up toy car. The wooden paneled walls seem to be closing in on me as I stood awkwardly in the middle of room. “Mom and dad, I need to talk to you about something.” My mom looked up and smiled and said, “sure” as she put down her pen while my dad silently looked up from his book. The tension in the air was thick and the heaving of my chest seemed to pound through my body. “I have been angry at you both. I feel like you don’t really care about me”. I went into a long monologue describing how I felt hurt that they always chose their work over me..that I wasn’t important enough in their lives. I went on to tell them that I always felt second best…I recounted the lonely days and years of being separated from them. Going to high school and adjusting all alone in a foreign country that was supposed to be home. I related the fact that dad didn’t come to my high school, college or grad school graduation. “I never heard you say you were sad that we were separated and that we couldn’t be together. It was always, “sorry, we can’t be there”. I uttered these words with a boldness that seem to come from nowhere. “I wished you had chosen me instead of your work.” Mom wrung her tissue paper in her hands and looked down at the ground. I could tell that she was trying to make sense of what I had said. Quietly, she responded to my angry and forceful words. “Ruth, we tried our best. We prayed and we believed that God was going to take care of you.” Mom’s eyes filled with tears and I could see the pleas in her eyes for me to understand. “Well, that wasn’t good enough for me!” Hot angry tears rolled down and I had somehow found myself slumped to the floor, shoulders caving in. All the years of grief seemed to tumble down my cheeks. The deafening stillness stopped time and space as the three of us sat silent in that tiny room only to be broken by the clock ticking above the fireplace. I lifted up my head to see dad sitting frozen in his chair. His face seemed contorted with pain and his lips pressed tightly closed. Questions and doubts filled my head. “Should I have said nothing?” “They aren’t gonna understand me.” “Its just the same old thing.” After what seemed like hours, the soft voice of dad cut through the noise of my jumbled emotions. “I am sorry, Ruthie… I tried my best as a dad. I put God first and then family came after that.” That is how I see my life. I have lived like that all my life. Forgive me if I haven’t been the kind of dad you wanted. I am sorry that you feel hurt.” Dad’s words came out in broken pieces and they seemed to echo the broken places of my heart. “Well, it’s not good enough, dad!” I needed you and mom to be around. I needed you to show me that I was important to you.” Choking out these words, my heart squeezed out my unspoken desire that I never dared to utter. Suddenly, I felt mom’s hand on my back. Her gentle caressing strokes in cadence with my warm salty tears that trickled down. “We didn’t mean to make you feel like we didn’t care. We love you. We prayed for you. I cried everyday when you left. Your dad missed you and your brother terribly. But we are here now.” I let my mom and dad’s word sink in. “But, I never knew how they felt. I thought it didn’t matter to them that we weren’t together as a family anymore.” In that moment, an image of my father as a little boy came to me. Dad was a refugee. He didn’t have a family. He didn’t know any better. He just did what he knew how to do. Mom was a diplomat’s kid…had servants who took care of her. With that sudden realization, the anger and hurt melted into a wave of compassion. It was as if God said, “show them how to do this, Ruth. They don’t know how.” With a deep breath, I steadied myself and spoke out in a clear voice. “Well, I want to change how we are going to do this now.” As I looked at dad, his soft brown eyes invited me to continue on. “I don’t want to be second on your itinerary. When you come to visit, I don’t want my house to be your hotel room.” You aren’t allowed to go speak at 4 meetings and spend just one meal with us. I want you to make time for me and M…we aren’t your afterthoughts.” Mom and Dad calmly listened with their faces turned toward me. As I laid out my hopes and dreams for our future interactions, the openness of their hearts gave me courage to continue on. Dad reached into his brown briefcase and pulled out his familiar yellow typed itinerary sheets. “Let’s see what we can move around this next week.” As dad read off his meetings and ideas on how to shuffle them to make more room for “us”, mom came in from the kitchen with glasses of ice cold lemonade.