Religion, the root of all evil, was the biggest factor that prevented me from ever being close to my father.
A deeply religious man, who truly lived according to Christian values, he had a tough time dealing with his firstborn, who, from an early age, proved to be rebellious, independent, stubborn, and gay.
I never bought into the religious claptrap no matter how many hours I had to spend in Church, or taking part in family prayers. I had an adversarial relationship with religion, an inborn mistrust and dislike of the whole concept. I did not hesitate to express it loudly. Being punished for skipping Sunday services did nothing to deter me.
In fact, it became very easy to "lose my religion,” to his life-long dismay. As time went by, our differences spilled into politics, social issues, lifestyles, education and career choices, never agreeing on anything and always carrying a tremendous amount of tension anytime we were in the presence of one another.
Ironically he never found it difficult to get on well with strangers, with his nephew, or other people's kids.
During my childhood I feared and obeyed him. I was always reading his temperament, assessing his mood when he arrived home from work, constantly preparing myself for our daily battle around the dinner table. Much later I came to the realization I loved him, but sadly I never got to know him.
Looking back I can now say it was a waste of lives. Mine and his, plain misery for the sake of some ancient superstitious belief in an unknown god. I kept arguing with him that there was no convincing evidence our world was created by divine intervention, that a god intercedes in human affairs, or the complete absence of proof there is life after death for that matter. The more I went on the further apart we grew.
I know he truly loved me and cared for me, but he had no idea how to reach out or bend his stern views of what I should be or do. And I never made an effort to extend an olive branch.
I never compromised.
According to my mother, we were two faces of the same coin.
My father was the strong and silent type — with an emphasis on the silent. That is, until his short fuse exploded in anger. Very much like some people describe aspects of my personality. He was a stranger for most of my life. I left home at a very early age to get away from him, to discover and explore the world on my own terms. To his credit, he gave me the freedom I needed and craved.
He probably realized the battle was lost and therefore did not oppose my living halfway across the globe. For my part, I chose to live with “no regrets.”
Again, to his credit, he never lost touch with me. For 30 years, not a week went by, without receiving from him a handwritten letter. It didn't matter that most of the time I didn't bother to reply. They kept coming. He never gave up on me.
Many of us are able to forgive our parents for perceived childhood wrongs once we see them as normal human beings who did the best they could raising us. When my father started to age he began to soften and my defenses dropped because I feared him less.
But it wasn’t until I saw him as an old man slowly preparing for his own death that I was able to summon the strength to go up to him and tell him that I loved him. It was the first time in my adult life I ever said that to him. The gratitude, surprise and happiness I saw in his eyes and face, after I uttered those three magic words, instantly healed all the wounds of the past, on both sides.
It was a brief moment, on a train station platform, but it reconciled a lifetime of turmoil, friction and pain.
I think timing is everything when initiating a step toward reconciliation, and you don’t have to wait decades before doing it. I know that now. There might not be a tomorrow. My father passed away five years after our milestone moment.
Knowing that I had already said the things that needed to be said, actually helped a great deal during the grieving process. Nothing was left unsaid, hence, leaving no room for regrets.
Now when Father’s Day comes around, only good memories accompany the tears.
I only wonder what our lives could have been if religion hadn't kept us so far apart for so long.