A Message from my Father
I dreamt of my father last night for the first time I can ever remember in my entire life. It was incredibly real, and even though I woke up several times, I went right back into the vivid dream over and over again, picking up where it had left off. My father, ‘The Colonel’, and I had a challenging relationship at best, ending with his death of complications from prostate cancer when I was in my first year of teaching college in North Carolina. I rarely saw him, maybe once a year, and our awkward telephone conversations were rare. I realized recently that there is not one photograph of me with my father, no tangible evidence that we were connected, other than by physical characteristics, old family photos from before I was born, and his name on my birth certificate. We were only beginning to develop a tentative relationship before his death, and I have always felt sadness that we never really connected as father and daughter.
I know it sounds strange, but I am grateful that my parents divorced when I was a baby, as I was able to grow up without Dad’s often cruel words and treatment. He was a complex man, deeply affected by a long career serving in the Army and fighting in three wars, and I have no doubt that my life would have been very different had I grown up in his household. I realize that there were good things about him as well as the not-so-good, but my soft heart would have been crushed by his dominating personality. Long ago, I forgave him and made peace with what happened- it is just life, and I grew up in a home filled with love and encouragement because he was not there.
The dream came on the heels of several days of intensely missing my mother, and it felt very much like a message to me from my father. In it, my father was in ill health and living in the apartment we had made for Mom in our home, which is no longer there. I was his caretaker, and he challenged me at every turn, refusing to follow my instructions. At times he wore the BiPap mask that Mom had to wear at St. Vincent’s, and he was dressed in the green hospital gown that she wore when she died.
As the dream progressed, our banter became less difficult, and my father began to talk seriously with me. I told him that he was staying in the apartment that we had created for Mom, and he looked around the room, shaking his head in acknowledgement. I remember feeling tenderness toward him, and sorrow that he looked so weak and fragile- words that I would never have used for my father. He began to talk of love, telling me that my heart now held my mother’s heart inside, that it overflowed with love now because of it. This especially spoke to me, because I truly have noticed a feeling of fullness in my heart emotionally, my feelings of love even stronger than before, emotions closer to the surface, since Mom passed.
I have long felt that there is some Karmic issue with me and the idea of the father figure. Aside from my own father, both my first husband and Dan’s father’s passed away before I met them. I’ve been told that both were loving men with great presence and wonderful senses of humor. I wonder, what am I supposed to learn from this? What do I take away? I know that my own reflections of my father are colored by my mother’s hurt and pain, and that our bond was incredibly deep because I was “hers” alone, something Dad couldn’t take from her, even as he stripped away the life she knew forever in the divorce. Over the years, I have come to a place of peace about it all, but only wonder at the odd coincidence of the three failed opportunities to experience the father figure. I have never believed in coincidences.
Perhaps this dream was in some way a gift from my Dad. Instead of my mother coming to deliver the message of great love, my father did instead, the one least likely to do so. I don’t pretend to know what it all means, but I have learned to be open to possibilities, to magic. There has to be so much more out there beyond our comprehension, at least I hope so. Life is full of mysteries, and maybe following these mysteries doesn’t have to lead to a conclusion, but only to growth. As the dream came to an end, my father embraced me, and I felt a surge of love course through me as he dissolved in my arms, joining my mother in my heart.