We often view snapshots in a positive way. We try to catch that perfect moment and freeze it in time to remember forever. For some, we use a snapshot to define how we feel about a person. We look at a photograph and it evokes strong emotions. But snapshots can be problematic as well. I’m not talking about instagram or an old photograph but rather, the snapshots that we carry in our minds, that color our thinking. These snapshots can be an unfair representation of a person, yet it is the view we insist on having. Sadly, these mental snapshots may be influenced by comments from family or friends; people who have not seen the whole movie, only random snapshots that don’t tell the whole story.
I don’t talk about my Dad much, except that he died when I was fifteen. The years after his death were traumatic as my Mom, brother and I struggled to maintain a semblance of family identity. My brother and I were rebellious teenagers and having our anchor dislodged unexpectedly made for very rough sailing for all of us. As the years went by and I dealt with the consequences of my immature decisions, I thought of my Dad less and less. I’m grateful that my Mom remained steadfast – she was always there for me no matter what. But for some reason, we didn’t talk much about Dad. We may have done the occasional reminiscing about a family event, but we didn’t dwell on his absence. Perhaps each one of us had a hole in our heart we didn’t know how to fill, so it was easier to ignore it rather than to acknowledge it.
But for me, there was also something else. Mental snapshots I remembered, and mental snapshots that other people told me about. Like any family, we struggled with dysfunction. For my Dad, it was alcoholism. No doubt about it, our family suffered because of it. Yet, my father faithfully went to Alcoholics Anonymous, made a commitment to Christ, and was completely sober the last two years of his life. Sadly, my childhood friend chose not to remember that when we were reminiscing a few years ago, but emphasized his sin instead. So almost forty years later, I felt shame instead of pride when I thought of my Dad. That wasn’t right and I shouldn’t have let my friend’s words influence me. We all have sins we struggle with – some are just more visible than others.
How could I let my friend’s mental snapshots of my Dad influence my attitude towards him, when I have so many more snapshots that speak to the love he had for our family? I must have been around six years old when he took me on a Daddy-daughter date. I remember putting on my best dress and I was amazed it was just us at a fancy restaurant. I felt so special! He used to insist we be on time for our bedtime and if we were one minute late he would get mad at us. I would be so upset that I made him angry, I would lay in my bed and cry, then creep down the hallway where I could see him through the cracked hallway door, sitting in his recliner watching television. He would see me peeking at him and tell me to come over and give me a hug. I remember when I fell off my horse and broke my ankle (I was around eleven years old), a young man found me and put me in his car and brought me to his mother’s house. I had not shed a single tear until I saw my Daddy in the doorway – then I burst out crying because my emotion at seeing him was so overwhelming. I was truly Daddy’s little girl. I loved to draw pictures for him that always had the caption “Best Daddy in the World.”
I remember a science project my Dad helped me with. He sold yard lights and he helped me build a street of cardboard and wire in yard lights in front of the houses. He bought his horse-crazy little girl her own horse, even though we didn’t have much money growing up. I remember waiting for him to come home from work so we could all eat dinner together. Afterwards, we would all sit in the living room (we each had our own chair) and I would curl up in mine and read while we watched the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Saturday Night Wrestling or Wonderful World of Disney. I also remember making him a bunny rabbit cake for Easter one year.
Dad bought me my first Bible – I wish I still had it but somewhere along the way it has gotten lost. I can still see it in my mind’s eye – the picture of Jesus on the cover. He made every Christmas special with his famous lasagna and would take us to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. He didn’t have a very good singing voice but that didn’t stop him as he loudly sang to the Lord in church. The last time I saw my Dad, he had taken me to the church that our Explorer’s post gathered at to leave for our mountain climbing trip to Philmont, New Mexico. When we hugged goodbye I had no idea that would be the last time I would see him on earth. These are just a few random memories of many…and sadly those negative snapshots from others had the effect of my shoving all of the good memories I had into a closet – something I deeply regret. It wasn’t fair to my Dad and it wasn’t fair to me.
It is so important to think before we speak – Ephesians 4:29 tells us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Don’t let other people’s words influence how you feel about someone. Instead, examine the relationship for yourself and search your heart. And let us give grace to one another – for we are all imperfect and in need of it. This blog post was forty years in the making. Dad, thank you for everything. I miss you and I am looking forward to seeing you again someday. I love you.