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Healing the Father-Son Wound
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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 wasn’t much, but it was my way of saying, "Go to hell old man, I don’t 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. We’ll 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 father’s 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 didn’t. 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 couldn’t 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 I’m sure you’re about to blow it. But it was I who blew it.

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. I’d 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. It’s the first time since you were seventeen years old that you have asked me for anything. I thought you’d never ask me for another thing before I died. We’re glad to be here. We’ll stay as long as you need us too. Now let’s get you to a hospital."

I was sicker than I’d 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... forgiven.

He drove us to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s 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 he’d 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 I’d 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 are right.

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 he’s on the best seller list." We talked about the game show for about an hour. I enjoyed every minute of the conversation.

Now on Father’s 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-TV’s 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.