father

my husband’s greatest gift

One of the greatest gifts my husband will give our children is forgiveness without shame.

I grew up believing I had to apologize in a certain way before I could be forgiven. To prove my sincerity, I had to hang my head low, use a specific vocal intonation, and have tears in my eyes. Forgiveness was obtained through earnest repentance, and only maintained if I demonstrated over time that I wouldn’t do the same bad thing again.

Sometimes I would refuse to forgive others so I could feel powerful. I would give off an attitude of resentment to feel superior. Even after offering forgiveness, I would convey disappointment or passive aggressively remind them about it later. I wanted to make sure they still felt guilty. I wanted them to know my forgiveness didn’t come lightly.

I grew up believing people had to work for forgiveness. Or at least put on a convincing performance.

When I met Noah, he offered another way. He showed me forgiveness is not the reward someone earns when they act sorry enough. Forgiveness is choosing to not hold something against someone, whether it be an offense, mistake, or perceived flaw. Forgiveness depends on the one who gives it and not on the one who receives it.

I don’t recall a single situation in which he has not immediately forgiven me.

In fact, for the first year of our marriage, I never once apologized to Noah. Whenever he apologized to me, I felt emotionally reconnected, and didn’t see the need to humble myself and make amends for anything in return. In my victim mentality, I blamed him for every conflict and didn’t know how to take responsibility.

Noah never condemns me. Once he forgives, it’s not that he forgets, but he moves forward. He doesn’t hold it over my head. He doesn’t bring it up at a future time to make me feel bad. Whenever I apologize or confess anything to him, it always directly results in forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is a tool to stay in relationship.

We want to teach our kids that forgiveness restores the previous standard and the past won’t be used against them. They are safe to mess up not because their actions don’t have consequences, but because we don’t live in fear of how they will behave. They are freely forgiven for the sake of love, and we hope they, too, will learn to forgive without prerequisite.

My parents still withhold forgiveness for things I’ve done years ago. It hurts less than it did before, but the pain doesn’t go away. I never want my children to experience this.

Noah and I believe earthly fathers play a crucial role in reflecting the father heart of God. The heart that stays engaged in relationship no matter what, that wants his kids free from guilt and shame, that is always ready to love and reconcile. The heart I never truly knew until Noah mirrored it for me, the heart that has changed my life, the heart my husband now shares with our own children.

Happy Father’s Day to the best father I know <3

 

when “get well soon” doesn’t seem good enough

This weekend, I cried.

It was four years ago when my father was first diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma. I wrote a song, visited him once in the hospital during my Christmas break, and applied to Johns Hopkins for nursing school. All seemingly practical responses at the time, but in reality, I did nothing. I spent most of my life detached from him, and I did not care to care.

He was very understanding about my mother’s requests for him not to attend my college graduation or come to my wedding. Instead, he went with Noah and me to the courthouse to get legally married. I saw him two years later at my sister’s graduation and the following year when he visited us for a weekend in Florida.

We never had a great relationship, but as a whole, it has gotten better over the years. I have matured and received healing from past hurts. He has grown, too, in wanting to avoid conflict and pursue a peaceful life. There are many frustrations and cultural differences, but I know my father means well and does the best he can, and I am thankful for him.

Last week, we found out my father’s cancer came back.

He started chemo again. It’s stronger than last time. He is sad my sister and I have not spent a lot of time with him or his family. He is sad he does not have more pictures and videos of us from when we were younger. But he considers himself lucky because most of his classmates in China only have one child, and he has four, and he is very proud of us.

I am the eldest child and the oldest of my cousins. As far as Chinese standards go, I am not successful in the least. I don’t speak Chinese, I never went to grad school, and I don’t have a career. He worries about my future, about my financial stability and job prospects. He disagrees with many of my decisions.

But my father says he is very proud of me.

At 37 weeks pregnant, I am unable to fly to NY where he lives. My sister is abroad in Turkey until May. I looked through both of our baby albums, and found only one photo with my father in it. I wish there were more.  It seems like not too long ago that we were little girls, obligated to see our father on visitations, complaining the whole time.

Now we are grown and though we want to see him, we can’t.

I hope my father will get to hold his grandson. His first grandchild. I did not know my Chinese name until college, but my father will give my son a Chinese name, and I will make sure he learns it. And though I do not know much about Chinese culture, I will teach my son to be proud of it. Because it’s part of his story, and we choose how we remember and share our stories.

I’m glad my father is part of mine.

dear anger

I was only a child when I met you, but I fell in love immediately.

You made me powerful. Decisive. Quick-witted and sharp-tongued. I didn’t realize how hurt I was that my father wasn’t the dad I wanted — wasn’t white, wasn’t athletic, didn’t try to understand me, didn’t know me. You were always with me on visitations with him. I didn’t know how to deal with him not being the person I wanted him to be, so you showed me how to be impatient, interrupt him, talk over and above him, make fun of his English, criticize his social skills, walk faster than him and leave him behind, shut him out, manipulate him, shout at him, mock his incompetence, irrational thinking, poor memory.

You put me on a pedestal when I didn’t get the attention I wanted. You filled me with contempt and taught me to despise others.

You introduced me to Apathy so I could have you both at the same time and feel invincible and impervious to the world. You convinced me that I didn’t need my father, that I didn’t need my mother, that I didn’t need anyone. You tempted me with an addiction to food, something no one could take away from me, so I could feel filled when I was really empty, and just indulge until I hated myself. You spurred me to be argumentative and to always win, so I wouldn’t have to accept any truth that I didn’t want to bear. Even the truth that my father had failed me. I told you all my secrets because Apathy said you were safe and harmless.

You and Apathy were jealous twins of a lover. You kept me disconnected from the world with the pleasure of power.

Maybe I saw you in my first boyfriend, maybe I subconsciously wanted to be in your control as I started being drawn towards others, like Love and Friendship and Joy. You kept me close and when you took the form of depression in him, I turned to Disgust to rid me of you, but Apathy had already taken more of a hold than I had thought, and I couldn’t see past Apathy to know you were still there. I loved this boy, but after several of his suicide attempts, Apathy convinced me he’d be better off dead. Since I was better and stronger than him, to care for him by letting him go, so the ones closest to him could really live.

I liked being chained to Apathy disguised as Love because I thought I was free — free from hindrance, free from you. I didn’t realize that the whole time I was with Apathy, you were hiding in a corner of the room, watching us, watching me, eyes always open, never blinking. I didn’t realize you had never left, that you tracked all my steps, that you were in the background of every photograph, that you were the uninvited guest at every party. You never said a word, but you followed my every movement like a shadow.

At Bible school, I was convinced you were gone for good. But still you hid, behind Religion and Rules, even behind the name of God.

When I was raped, I had no idea you were there. I thought I had gone from everything familiar, from anyone that knew me. You hid behind Confusion and Cultural Justification.

The Apathy I thought was Love in having healthy nondependent relationships progressed from not relying on people to not relying on God. The Apathy I thought was Strength in moving on and putting others’ needs before my own turned from being selfless to being isolated and proud.

I continued to escape with food and travel so I could distract myself and spend more time with Apathy. I didn’t know how to navigate the world so I sought Apathy to help me procrastinate and choose to not make choices, to not accomplish anything.

Anger, you’ve never left, but you’ve been more of a stalker than a faithful lover. I know it’s not all your fault, but Apathy doesn’t care to listen to me, and I just want a response. I haven’t felt true passion for anything in a while because Apathy has moved in and kicked my dreams and deepest feelings out of my heart so they’re just hanging out on the curb, waiting until there’s room for them to come back inside.

I’m opening my heart, but it’s pouring out there, and I’m standing in the doorway, watching the rain.

my father lies over the ocean, so bring back the daughter in me

How do I honor my father, respect him, and bless him, while also being honest with my struggles stemming from my relationship with him? His story is his own to tell, but where do the lines of ownership begin and end?  When does the granting of permission to speak freely and openly occur? Years after his death, years after my own, long after anyone may care to spare a thought and offer an opinion of him, or my mother, or any of his children, long after there is anyone who may take offense?

I only know to do my best to emphasize the lessons I have learned, and the good that has come of life, and not complain of misfortune and hurt and the mistakes of my parents. This life is personal, but not private. My father issues are, more or less, somewhat universal in regards to being loved, and, as a believer in God, being loved specifically by God the Father.

When I became a Christian at the age of 17, I was told that my relationship with my father, or lack thereof, would affect how I viewed God as my father. I did not think very highly of my father, but I also did not think I was harboring any unforgiveness or bitterness towards him, either. I genuinely did not see any influence of earthly to spiritual understanding of what it meant to have a father, what it meant to be a daughter, and how that affected my identity.

My father grew up in Shanghai, taught himself English, and became a U.S. citizen as a young man in his twenties. After my parents’ divorce, he remarried, had two more children, divorced, and remarried again. He has overcome many obstacles, and as the only English-speaking adult in his family, has much responsibility in caring for his parents, children, siblings, and nephews. Last year, he had lymphoma that had gone untreated for years, and I thought he was going to die. He is getting older, growing weaker, but continues to do the best he can.

During this past month, God has shown me what I had never seen before:

LIE: I am just one of many children.

TRUTH: God loves me individually and personally. I am important and worth loving.

Among my father’s four children, I am not special. I am the eldest, but I am not an eldest son. Growing up, I was not cute like my round-faced little sister, I was not gentle or kind like a good mild-mannered Asian girl. Byron (the youngest, fattest, and most spoiled), is the only boy, and therefore, as in traditional Chinese culture, the most important. I remember doing well on a test in elementary school, and my father telling me it was pretty good for a girl. I know he was proud of me, but even when I was valedictorian in high school, my father could not help but compare me to other Chinese boys he knew, and other Chinese girls who could play violin and do calculus at the same time.

I want to believe that God loves little ole me, even though I am not the smartest, nor the most talented, nor the best at anything. I want to be the best Bethany Yin-to-Brown-to-Goodson that God created and intended for me to be, to believe that I have purpose, that I am needed, that I am unique and special and loved.

LIE: Fathers give gifts to prove their love, as a substitute for spending time with and listening to their children.

TRUTH: Giving can prove love, but it doesn’t always. Giving can be motivated by love, but it is not the only measurement of it. God gives gifts just because he wants to. He always has time for his children, and always wants to be with them.

As a child, during visitation, my sister and I would ask to go shopping. It was routine at the check-out counter for my father to turn to us and say, “See? Daddy spent [x amount of dollars]. Daddy loves you. Next time, Daddy will spend [x²]. I promise.” After the first few years, I stopped trying to convince him I wanted to receive love in other ways, namely, being listened to. It was easier to avoid an exhausting discussion that would inevitably end in misunderstanding, and instead respond to his purchases as he expected, and continue to get more stuff. But at the “next time,” he wouldn’t spend the promised amount; his words meant nothing, his promises meant nothing, and his so-called love meant nothing.

Sometimes I don’t want to ask God for help because I don’t think my problems are big enough. At other times, I don’t want God to just bless me for no reason because I have a skewed understanding of what it means when a father gives a gift. God doesn’t give gifts as a replacement for spending time with his children. God gives good gifts as an act of grace: I can’t earn his gifts, and he doesn’t give them to try to buy my love.

LIE: My father will never understand how to love me. He will never change.

TRUTH: God does not change, but my relationship with him grows and changes. I believe now that he can and wants to speak to me, and my heart is receptive to how he wants to interact with me.

He won’t remain silent. He does understand.

Conversations with my father are always one-sided. I do not remember a single time that I felt heard, let alone understood. He loves me how he knows to love, but I wish he loved me the way I wanted to be loved, the way I need to be loved.

My father recognizes he has an anger problem, but says there are some things that will never change. He says I got my temper from him, who in turn got it from his mother. He says there are bad habits that won’t leave the family, that especially cannot leave an adult.

When I first learned about God, I was told that God does not speak to people anymore, that direct revelation no longer exists, that the tangible Bible is all one needs to hear from the Lord. Sometimes I forget that God will change in the sense that he will change how he communicates with me.

LIE: I don’t have a great relationship with my father, but at least it’s something.

TRUTH: There is more.