by John Lee Woodstock, GA
Some of you
may know what a rocky relationship I have had with my father. I was raised
in an alcoholic home where there was tremendous physical and emotional
abuse. I have written about this in my books as a way to heal and hopefully
to help others. Because of my wound, I wandered through the swamps and
deserts of a ten-year period of estrangement from my father. We didnt
see each other or talk during that time.
Some time ago, it dawned on me that adults ought to try and love another
adult the way the other wants to be loved, not the way we think we should
love them. Regressed men and women love people the way they themselves
would like to be loved. I experienced a rare TMM (temporary moment of
maturity) and realized I could love my dad or at least try to love him
the way he wanted to be loved, and see what would happen.
I drove to his house as quickly as I could so I wouldnt have too
much time to change my mind. As I entered his driveway, he came bounding
out of the house, bare-chested, skin looking like an old saddle. He shook
my hand as tears fell from his eyes. We went into the house and he asked,
"What roads did you take to get here?" He asked me what kind
of gas mileage my Volvo got on the road and then chided me a little for
not driving an American-made car like his Chrysler. After ten years of
estrangement, this is how we talked.
Then he asked me to do something that I had always refused to do before.
He wanted me to follow him out to see his garden. Looking back, I see
my passive/aggressive behavior as a way to get even with him for the early
years of abuse. It wasnt much, but it was my way of saying, "Go
to hell old man, I dont give a damn about anything you like."
This time, I realized that this was the most affection I was going to
get from him, and I followed him into the garden. And for once, I left
feeling like I did get enough affection.
One night when I was six, I leaned over to kiss my father good night and
he pulled away from me and stuck out his hand and said, "You are
too old to be kissing a man. Well be shaking hands from now on."
And so we did, for forty-two years. A few months after the visit when
I saw his garden, I drove back to my fathers house. He was standing
in his garden, leaning on a hoe. I walked over and stuck out my hand like
always, and he looked at it and said, "Hell boy, I want more than
that." He gave me a tender but strong hug, one that could if
need be last me a lifetime.
My third visit was just before I came down with Rocky Mountain Spotted
Fever. Susan and I had spent about two hours at my parents house
and were getting ready to leave when my father said, "Susan, did
John ever tell you about the time
I froze in terror. I thought my dad was going to do to Susan what he always
did to anyone who liked or loved me tell a story that would make
me look silly at best, stupid at worst.
As he began to talk, I began to shrink. "When John was fifteen, he
and Bob and Jimmy and Billy had this band. I let them practice in an empty
room in my machine shop. They were invited to an all colored school to
play at a battle of the bands and they were the only white boys in that
auditorium, there must have been five hundred colored people in that place."
I waited for the axe to fall. He went on, "Susan, your husband was
great. John sang his heart out and the audience went wild. I was so proud
of him. I know I should have told him then and I probably didnt.
But he was so good, those colored gals just screamed and screamed and
ran down the aisles shouting, We want more, we want more."
I couldnt believe my ears. That was the first time my father had
ever told that story or any story that cast me in such a kind, almost
heroic light. Unfortunately, I was so afraid he would now tell another
story that would make me look bad, that I said, "Thanks for telling
her that, Dad, but we really need to be going now." Which was code
for Im sure youre about to blow it. But it was I who blew
His eyes teared up. "I thought I told the story real good, son. Did
I do something wrong?"
I realized then that this old man was not the young, abusive, alcoholic
father that I grew up with. Id soon discover this to be even truer
than I thought. I would find out just how much we had both changed over
the years. The tick fever hit me so hard a couple of months later that
I was bedridden for weeks. It became increasingly clear that both Susan
and I needed someone to help us get through this very difficult time.
I called my father and mother and asked them to come.
When they arrived, Dad saw me shaking and trembling with fever and exhaustion.
The first thing he did was embrace me and whisper in my ear, "I want
to thank you for calling us. Its the first time since you were seventeen
years old that you have asked me for anything. I thought youd never
ask me for another thing before I died. Were glad to be here. Well
stay as long as you need us too. Now lets get you to a hospital."
I was sicker than Id been in decades and yet as I thought about
what Dad had said something in my soul that had been sealed in an iron
tomb rose up out of me and soared, and I felt forgiveness and even...
He drove us to the emergency room at St. Josephs in Atlanta. In
the six long hours we waited there, my dad and I talked about a hundred
things neither of us had known about the other. I found out hed
worked as a cook in Florida and dreamed of being a chef. He was tender,
nurturing and very kind. I did not know that my father had this in him.
I never thought that Id have this kind of heart connection to the
man who beat my body so badly as a boy. New Age folks might believe that
I got sick in order to receive this special healing and maybe they
Now my father and I talk regularly. He called the other day and said,
"You know, son, you are smart enough to be on that show Who Wants
To Be A Millionaire. Do you ever watch it? You should get on and say the
name of your new book like this guy did last night and today hes
on the best seller list." We talked about the game show for about
an hour. I enjoyed every minute of the conversation.
Now on Fathers Day or his birthday, I send him a card. Now he tells
me all the time that he loves me and I say this to him every time we part
or hang up the phone. I never thought this possible nearly twenty years
ago when I wrote The Flying Boy and started the long painful journey of
healing my own father-son wound.
John Lee is the author of 11 books. His anger release work was featured
on ABC-TVs 20/20. John will be presenting Longing for the
Perfect on Saturday, August 2, from 10 - 5pm. For information and
registration, and for information about private sessions and groups with
John, call Fran DeFlorio at (631) 766-4288.