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Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ Category

When I began to explore the topic of my writer’s block, I published chapters as I wrote them in Life As A Human magazine. I did that to help me stay focused on the real story in what was a complex and intricate topic, and keep me moving forward with the writing project.  I published 29 chapters that way, and then I was able to see the best way to finish the book.

My friend Karen told me several years ago that she thought Healing The Writer might be the most powerful book I would ever write. Back in April, I read the polished first draft, then set it aside. I think it has taken me six months to fully appreciate the magnitude of the healing journey I chronicled.

Late last night I watched the end of Mr. Holland’s Opus, where he gets to conduct the symphony he spent years writing, played by former students. The final shot in the movie is a closeup of him with a powerful look of serenity on his face – like he accepted what he had created. I think I saw it that way because I had felt myself coming to that same point.

I picked up the Healing The Writer manuscript today and began reading it once more, with an eye to editing needed. I’m ready, and it’s time.

 

Below is the Table of Contents, along with links to the first 29 chapters. (The chapters are in reverse order by publication date in the magazine, and this will give a better idea of how to follow the flow of the book).

Healing The Writer

The desire to express, I was taught to repress,

 Has caused me a block, I wish to unlock.

I pick up the pen, I start writing again.

 I feel the flow -

        And then I stop.

   – Dan Hays October 1986

Part One – Search For Peace

One: Why Is This Fantastic News So Scary?

Two: What To Put On Paper?

Three: I Find My Writing Voice

Four: I Hide Out To Write A Book

Five: Scared To Put It In The Mail

Six: I Walk Away From Publication

Part Two – Nothing Left to Lose

Seven: Ghosts Of The Wheat Harvest

Eight: The Query Letter and The Question

Nine: I Abandon A Book – Again!

Part Three – What Mamaw Said

Ten: They’ll Call You Crazy – And Lock You Up!

Eleven: I Capture The Writing Vision

Twelve: The Creative River Flows Once More

Thirteen: The Writer’s Conference and the Fear

Fourteen: What Is It About That Particular Park?

Fifteen: I Can Have You Committed

Sixteen: The Fear And The Light!

Seventeen: Breaking Through – Moving Beyond Writer’s Block

Part Four – Down To The Roots

Eighteen: Red Rocks and Remembering: A Writer’s Road Trip

Nineteen: A Writer’s Journey of Inspiration

Twenty: The Landscape of a Writer

Twenty One: Publishing a Book: Getting One Step Closer

Twenty Two: A Disappointed Writer and a Backup Plan

Twenty Three: The Fearful Writer – Monsters in the Closet

Twenty Four: How My Writing Got Locked Up

Part Five – Freedom’s Just Another Word

Twenty Five: Insomnia – A Writer’s Night Journey

Twenty Six: Confronting the Fear – A Writer Prepares to Publish

Twenty Seven: “I’d Like To Read Your Manuscript.”

Twenty Eight A: A Writer Revisits High School – Part One

Twenty Eight B: A Writer Revisits High School – Part Two

Twenty Nine: I Am A Published Author

Thirty: A Hopeful Omen

Thirty One: Publicity Can Be Rewarding – Or Maybe Not!

Thirty Two: The Origin of Minute To Freedom

Part Six – Moving To The Light

Thirty Three: I Combine Publicity And Therapy

Thirty Four: Healing The Wounded Child

Thirty Five: Preparing To Leave The Dark Closet

Thirty Six: Independence Day

Thirty Seven: Little Danny Set Free

Thirty Eight: The “Don’t” Messages – Deep Damage Healed

Thirty Nine: Deep Healing and Destiny Arising

Forty: The Terror of the Dark Death

Part Seven – Free To Write

Forty One: Writing For Publication as a Healing Tool

Forty Two: Killing The Octopus

Forty Three: A Sign of Healing – The Poetry Returns

Forty Four: Am I Able To Work – As A Writer?

Forty Five: A Sign of Healing – I Become a Freelance Writer

Forty Six: Epilogue

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I’m getting closer to publishing my next memoir, Healing The Writer. I put it on my website today as “Coming Soon,” with the front cover I plan to use. DanLHays.com

The woman who edited my first book said she thought this would be one of the most powerful books I would ever publish. I didn’t get it at the time, but I’m beginning to understand what she meant. I’m about to read the whole manuscript for the first time. I published the first 29 chapters on Life As A Human magazine, but have been letting them get cold while I wrote the final chapters.

Book Cover Cropped

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My Dad disappeared

For about a year

When I was seventeen.

The last I saw him,

We left him

Passed out drunk

On the living room couch.

Relatives came and got

My Mom, sisters and me

Leaving Dad

Who wouldn’t quit drinking

Who wouldn’t accept help.

I thought

I might ever see him again.

 *

Later

He returned to our lives

A changed man.

He sobered up

Got back his old job

Built back his old life.

*

But twenty years later

After he died

I realized

I never knew what happened

When he disappeared.

When he was on the edge

Of killing himself

With the drink.

Rumor had it

That he worked

The wheat harvest

Something he had done

In college.

Wheat Harvest

*

I started to write

The story of what I thought

Might have happened.

I realized

The piece I was missing

Was what it would be like

To work on

The wheat harvest.

*

I said to a friend

“Someday…

Someday,

If I ever want to

Really explore

My Dad’s story.

I might just have to

Work the wheat harvest.

My friend Pat

Listened quietly.

 *

Later he said

“You’ve talked about

working the wheat harvest

three or four times.

I just want to mention

Someday – if you want

To work the wheat harvest.

I have relatives in Oklahoma

Who do that each year.”

*

I did what I do

When hit with

The unexpected.

I sat there

Numbly,

Quietly.

And then said

“Thanks for telling me.”

Talk about upping the ante

On a spiritual quest

To walk in

My Dad’s shoes.

My friend had

Certainly done that.

Now I was left

To put it all out there,

Or leave it as “someday.”

*

I finally called Pat

And asked if he would

Do me a favor.

Check with his relatives

To see if I might

Join their harvest crew

For the summer.

*

Meanwhile,

I tried to figure out

If this was

Completely nuts.

Quit my job,

Go off and work

On a harvest crew

To find out about

My Dad’s story.

I checked it out

With Scott – a good friend

Who was really grounded.

He’d give me a solid answer,

Besides, he was

An accountant.

Logical, linear.

I later realized

I was secretly hoping

He’d tell me

“This idea is crazy”

So I could give up

The whole thing.

Instead he said

“Makes a lot of sense

I think you ought to do it!

It will be part of

Your healing.”

Major gulp!

*

Two months later,

I was living in a trailer

In Lone Wolf Oklahoma

With six high school farm kids

Learning to drive a huge truck

Used to haul grain.

And following

My Dad’s story.

*

Bunk trailers and work pickups

Cara - the grain truck I drove on harvest

It was the adventure

Of a lifetime.

We followed the wheat

As it ripened.

Living like nomads.

It was a world

I had never seen before.

Living in an old house trailer

In one place for two weeks

Then moving,

Trailers, trucks, combines

A caravan

To the next farm

As the wheat ripened

From Oklahoma

To North Dakota.

Combines and tractors

*

Combines dumping grain on trucks

I learned many things.

I grew up in the city

But had the heart of a country boy.

I love driving a tractor

Or a wheat combine.

I don’t do well on little sleep.

Living in a trailer,

Farm boys are not

Particularly neat

When Momma’s not there

To clean out the tub.

When pulling wheat from

A plugged up combine

The dust really itches,

When it gets down your neck.

 *

And special things happened.

    I got to visit the filmsite

From Dances With Wolves.

We saw Mount Rushmore,

Me at Dances With Wolves filmsite

My first pic of Mount Rushmore

Both affected me deeply.

All in all

It was a magical summer.

*

It gave me the truth

About what I believe

Happened to my Dad.

How he had

A spiritual awakening

And realized

He had to return

To clean up his past.

I finished the story

I wanted to tell.

I wrote it as a novel.

It will be called

“Nothing Left To Lose.”

 *

But as I look back

What Pat said

When the idea

First came up

Turned out to be the truth.

He had said

“Dan, you think you’re going

On the wheat harvest,

To learn about your Dad.

I think this trip

Will be about you.

You will learn about

Yourself.

Heal yourself.

Claim your own power.”

*

He was right!

I often look back

On the wheat harvest experience

As a turning point in my life.

When I claimed the truth

Dan the writer

Of my path

Not to follow the business world

   Of my Dad and my friends,

But to claim my birthright

As a writer

Dan the writer

A teller of stories.

And a country boy.

I am completely convinced

I did the right thing

In going on harvest

To walk in Dad’s shoes.

Because I found – myself.

********************

Photo Credits:

Photos by Dan L. Hays Copyright – all rights reserved.

“The Wheat Harvest” the slowlane @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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In the fall of 1990, I had a vision – I wanted to write novels of hope. I had taken a 19th Century American literature course, and the teacher had said, “in 19th century American novels, you expected a happy outcome.  In 20th century novels, you typically expect a negative or unhappy outcome.”  I didn’t like that trend, and wanted to do something different.

The movie Dances With Wolves had just come out, and it really sparked something in me.  I realized that I wanted to explore a time in my Dad’s life I knew little about.

In 1967, when I was 17, we were living in Oklahoma City when my Dad’s drinking hit bottom. My aunt and uncle came and picked up my Mom, my 3 sisters and myself, taking us back to Fort Worth to live with my maternal grandmother. Dad disappeared for a while, then later returned to Fort Worth, somehow changed.  He sobered up and got into recovery, and reclaimed the world he had lost.  I never knew what had happened to him during the time he was gone, other than a vague comment my Mom made about him going and working on the wheat harvest, which he had done in high school.  I never thought I would see him again, and later wondered what his life had been like during the time while he was gone.

He died before it ever occurred to me to ask him about it.  I began working on how to tell that story, and after I wrote the first two chapters, I suddenly realized – if I explored this thread fully, I had – a novel of hope!  It was a tremendously empowering moment.

In the spring of 1991, I quit my job, went up to Oklahoma and worked on the wheat harvest, to try and imagine what my Dad’s life was like after we left, and what might have happened to him.  How I got there is a story of its own: Dances With Wolves Filmsite.

The book I wrote in 1993 was my best guess as to what happened.  It was entitled Nothing Left To Lose.  It was a novel,  written from a very loving and generative perspective.  But how did I get to that loving place in describing a man who had been violent toward me when I was a teenager?  I later realized that I needed to flesh out the back story.  I will do so in several books, beginning with my first published memoir, Freedom’s Just Another Word, about the time around his death and my healing process.  The reason I never published this novel will be the topic of the second book I will publish – Healing The Writer; writing that book freed my creativity!

I now plan to publish Nothing Left To Lose, the novel about my Dad written from a loving and healed perspective.

The novel begins like this:

Chapter 1
Eyes downcast, he trudged along, conscious of the uneven surface along the shoulder of the highway, stumbling occasionally on chunks of gravel or small pebbles. He looked up periodically at the cars speeding past, as if to keep his bearings. His face was lined and weary and his entire body ached. He was wearing a worn brown corduroy jacket, a wrinkled plaid flannel shirt, dark blue polyester pants, white socks and cordovan loafers.

It was about 5 pm and the sun had just set. Night was approaching rapidly and the chill of February in 1967 was harshened by a brisk wind which picked up in gusts as he walked. He tried to walk faster, his hands deep in his pockets, but had to step carefully so not to turn an ankle on the uneven surface beside the roadbed. His vision was limited by the flash of oncoming headlights.

He had been told there was a boarding house in town where he could get a room for the night, and he plodded on, the directions vaguely held in a corner of his consciousness.

“We’re sorry,” they’d said at the detox center, “but all we can do is provide you a place for 5 days. We just help people dry out. Then we have to give the bed to someone else.” They had directed him to the boarding house, wished him well, given him back his clothes and money, and sent him on his way.

His feet hurt, his whole body ached, he craved a drink but knew that he must make the most of this chance. There was another pain, too, an emotional void when he thought of all he had left behind, all he had lost. He wondered where they were now, but he knew he could do nothing for them. Yet he longed for their voices, for any source of warmth and comfort to relieve this coldness, and the blackness in his soul.
——————————–

Sitting and looking out the big picture window at the front of Miss White’s Boarding House, Peter Sanders watched the occasional car pass, and a few blocks away he could see the busier traffic on the main street. Busy, he thought, for our town. Cornell, Oklahoma wasn’t exactly New York, he chuckled to himself, but it was rush hour here, with cars heading home to supper.

At the corner of the main road where it intersected his street, he saw a figure hesitate, look at street signs, and uncertainly begin to walk toward him. Another drunk out of the center, he thought to himself, betting that the man was headed here. This was where they mostly came when they had nowhere else to go.

Peter got up, stepped to the door of the kitchen, cracked it open. “Miss Vera,” he called.

“Yes, Peter?” she replied.

“I think we got a visitor coming in.”

“Alright. Send him through to me.” Miss Vera stepped wearily into the living room. She had seen so many come through her doors that the novelty of it had long since worn off.

Peter sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room, extending his feet toward the large space heater in the corner. Miss Vera went back into the kitchen. The man opened the door.

Ben Hays, my Dad, in 1971.

“Step in and warm up, stranger,” Peter called. He stepped quickly and gratefully over in front of the space heater, holding his hands out over it, shivering slightly. Peter studied him. He was about six feet tall, slender yet sturdy, with dark circles under the eyes, sunken cheeks. He had dark brown hair, cut short, rumpled and uncombed, and his clothes weren’t heavy enough for February. The clothes looked of good quality, but were tired from overuse. His hands looked soft. There were no calluses or marks, so he was probably not a laborer. His shoulders slumped wearily, hands twitched, and he had an almost nauseous look on his face. Peter imagined him to be a businessman gone to seed – gone down far and fast, too. Peter knew the look – he’d had it himself recently enough.

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On the first day of my creative writing class, the teacher opened the discussion by asking “What is a story?”  She suggested that we begin by defining the word.  Several people responded.  I took a minute to think about the meaning, and then raised my hand and said “A story is something that happens to someone.”  The teacher smiled broadly, nodded, and said “That’s it exactly – at the very basic level, the essence of a story is action.”

So what was the best way to tell a particular story, to describe that action?  Over the next several years I read a lot about point of view – mostly looking at first person and third person, and what were the advantages and limitations of each.  First person is confined to the thoughts of the narrator.  Third person can either be omniscient – using the thoughts of all of the characters, or limited – using the thoughts of one character’s mind. After I experimented with point of view, it became apparent that it depended on the story.

Years later I wrote about a time my Dad’s life when he disappeared for a year, worked the wheat harvest, had a spiritual experience in the process.  He returned a changed man.  After his death I realized I’d never asked him what happened.  I started with the part I knew, leading into what might have taken place later.  I decided to make it a novel, and chose the third person omniscient viewpoint.  I wrote in a more detached style, which allowed me the distance to step back and imagine the events objectively.  I could speak from the perspective of various characters as needed.

When the story was about me, “something that happens to someone” still held true.  Something had happened that I wanted to share, and decided to write about it in depth.  Not an original concept.  Many people have written a memoir for that very reason.  The first person viewpoint had an immediacy that helped me capture the emotions and experience of the moment.  I wrote about the events surrounding the time of my father’s death 17 years ago.

I knew what happened, and had journalled extensively about it at the time.  There was plenty of fodder to refresh my memory of the events.  As I wrote I fell into the mode of  “I did this, that happened, I felt this about it, I experienced, and then next I …”  I was in the middle of the events, with no psychic distance.  To tell that particular story, I needed to be that close.  Yet as I wrote, I could feel the events at a physical level.  My heart raced as I felt unsafe when that strange person entered the room.  I smelled the coffee I drank in a restaurant as I chronicled my feelings in a notebook. I felt the heat of Houston on a muggy afternoon in October; heard leaves blowing in the breeze that only stirred up the heat without relief.

Even more happened.  I had never written down everything that took place the week my Dad died.  I heard the jangle as the phone rang; heard my sister say “better come home, Dad is dying.”  I sat in a darkened airplane and wrote brief notes in a small notebook “it’s too soon, I’m not ready for this.”  I walked up to a hospital at night in Tulsa, wondering if it was just my imagination because of the lights, or was this huge building really pink?” (I saw it the next day, and sure enough – it was pink.)

I looked down at my father lying in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat, barely heard the nurse saying he was already functionally gone, and the machines were keeping him alive.  I returned to the room after the machines had been turned off, and his breathing had stopped.  I stroked my father’s forehead, something I never would have dared if he were alive.  I walked into to the “Grief Room” at the hospital, where no one was attending to the needs of my family, sitting and crying all alone.  I pushed down my feelings because someone had to make funeral arrangements, and the task fell on me.

Later in the week, I visited his office at the hospital, heard his boss describe how he had spent his last several years helping others.  I drove just outside Tulsa and walked across his 5 acre pecan orchard, then used his chain saw to cut down a couple of dead trees, a project he and I had shared.  I sat at the dinner table at my parent’s house and went through my parent’s financial papers to reassure my Mom.  I stepped out in front of a packed church to deliver his eulogy.

Of course it was cathartic to write down those experiences – isn’t that one of the biggest benefits of memoir?  I felt the events, experienced them in a deeper way than before, and could release some of the emotional charge they contained.

As the memoir continued I wrote about the events after my Dad died.  I met with a minister to discuss an reservoir of old anger I had discovered – anger at my Dad, anger at God.  I dreamed a man was chasing me with a gun.  I did an inner child exercise, and remembered a violent incident with my Dad when I was a teenager.  Then came some intense healing work.

I did an exercise to cut cords to the feelings I was carrying from generations of my family – an ancestral burden that had weighed me down greatly.  Many nights I released terror from the violent incident.  I relived the violent incident on a feeling level several times.   I wrote down ways I had changed, and burned the papers, to let go of who I used to be.  I dreamed that there was a tiger living in my house.  I knew it was my rage, and had to be dealt with.  I made a commitment to release that rage in safe ways.  There were a number of other healing experiences, and by the end of the memoir, it all led to a new sense of forgiveness for my father.  I wrote down my tremendous gratitude for the whole experience.

Then something happened which I hadn’t envisioned.  After I published the memoir, which I called Freedom’s Just Another Word, I had numerous people say they benefitted greatly from my experience, from reading about my journey and the steps I had taken to heal.  I was genuinely surprised.  I hadn’t seen that coming, but was delighted that it happened.  That was not the reason for the memoir – it just was something I needed to do.  For me it was an enormously healing process.   But if writing a memoir could yield additional rewards like that – helping other people heal and grow – then it was a huge success.

 Originally Published in Laura Schultz Now

Photo Credits:

“Good Question” e-magic @Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

leaves in the wind: jans canon @flickr.com.  Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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“Dear God.  I am really angry with You!”

Just saying those words out loud made me hold my breath.  Would I bring down the fabled wrath for having said that?  But it was true – it was the most honest statement I’d ever made to God since I’d started trying to pray.  I was really angry – for a lot of reasons.  But I had been somehow conditioned that you don’t talk honestly to those you have a problem with – so the same should logically apply to God.

I knew something was really wrong in my life.  I had been plagued by problems for years, problems I couldn’t pin down as to origin.  I had even tried to talk about that as a prayer, many years before.  When I was about 21, there was a Sunday evening service at the church I attended, and at one point in the service, they would dim the lights, and people were invited to come down to the altar rail, kneel and pray.  One time my prayer had gone something like “Dear God, I don’t know if You’re really up there, and if You’re really listening, but if You are, I know there’s something terribly wrong with my life.  I seem to hurt deep down inside, and I don’t know where it’s coming from.  Please help me God.”  I didn’t seem to get an answer at the time, and for a long time afterward.

But it was just after Christmas in 1987, and my Dad had just died, at a time when the problems I had been struggling with had escalated.  It felt like my whole world was spinning out of control.  I was 37 years old, and my anger at God had already started to surface.  In anger I had torn up and shredded a lot of Bible study notes, frustrated at the seeming lack of answers in all that study I had done.  Then I got the phone call – come home; Dad is dying.  I had returned to my parents house, had been there when my Dad died, delivered the eulogy at his funeral.  It had been a hugely emotional time, and I was still reeling from it.

Now, a month later, the anger was back, and boiling.  I was willing to risk all sorts of possible bad things to be honest with what I was feeling, and just say – flat out – how angry I was at God, and at the situation.  Having stated my anger, and not been struck down by a bolt of lightning, I sat down and started writing what I was angry about.

I had recently started narrowing down where all the issues were coming from.  I had remembered several ugly incidents with my Dad when I was a teenager.  First my Dad had shamed poetry that I had written for a school literary magazine, told me it was worthless and I’d never amount to anything.  It was a horrible experience, and it felt like a light went out in my soul when my writing was taken away from me by being told it was worthless.   The next thing I had remembered was arguing with my Dad over being able to wear my hair like the Beatles.  He was a former Marine, and refused to allow it.  Then late at night he came into my room and beat me up, telling me not to talk back to him.  I had a feeling there may have been more – the evidence pointed that way – but I didn’t know how to root out whatever still might be underneath.

Then there was the horrible hurt I was feeling over my Dad dying.  Our relationship had been strained for a number of years, but recently we had found a new supportiveness and peace between us.  And then he died.  It wasn’t fair!

So it came back to “Dear God, I am angry with you!”  I knew I couldn’t keep carrying that anger, so I took a risky step.  I set up a meeting with a minister at my church, to admit before a man of God about my anger.  Wow – now that felt risky!  But it also felt necessary.  I had watched as my Dad denied his anger and refused to deal with it for many years.  He had suffered numerous health problems, and had died in his late 50s.  I had been watching his behavior and expecting his early death for several years, and knew – somehow I just knew – that if I didn’t deal with my own anger, I would end up going down the same path.

I met with the minister the next day.  I shared with him what I had written, and the things I was angry about.  I held my breath, expecting some dread penance for irreverence.  Instead, the minister confirmed that many people felt things like I was feeling, and had experienced deep anger at God.  It just wasn’t supported at church to talk about that, so everyone put on what I called the “happy Christian game face” and didn’t talk about things like anger at God. He said I had opened the lines of communication with God in a whole new way, and God would honor that honesty.  He told me it took great courage for me to share what I did, and that it would only help my healing process. Then the minister said something very interesting – he said not to be surprised if other things continued to be revealed to me.  He was right!

Several weeks later, I found the deep source of the issues that had plagued me.  A very deep and violent incident with my Dad when I was seventeen, while he was drunk.  I kept getting clues that something had happened, followed them, and was led to have this incident revealed.  It was a horrible event to remember, and I knew it would take a long time to fully work through the effects.  But – there was also a tremendous sense of relief.  I now knew why my world had been so skewed, and in the big picture, things made a whole lot more sense.

So saying I was angry at God, being honest in that way, had led to a huge healing process.  Not eternal punishment, chastisement or condemnation.  I still had some of those teachings stuck in my soul, and it took a while to release those old beliefs and realize that God really did want the best for me.

Then the question.  Did God hear my plea down at the altar rail when I was 21?  Were things revealed to me at a time and in a way that I could handle knowing the truth?  It sure seemed like it!  I know I couldn’t have handled knowing about the violence when I was 21.  It came out as gently as it could given how horrific the abuse had been.

“Dear God.  Thank You for revealing this incident with my Dad at a time when I could handle it.  Thank You for being so loving toward me.”

Quite a different prayer than the earlier one.  But they felt connected – the angry prayer led to the thankful prayer.  I do believe that.

Photo Credit:

“Speak Truth Banner” Donnaphoto @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Right Reserved.

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“I Capture The Writing Vision.” An author realizes that there are several books that need to be written to fully explain the healing novel he wrote about his father.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“God is a farmer” h.koppdelaney @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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“Ghosts Of The Wheat Harvest.” A man decides to explore his dead father’s pain, in order to resolve a relationship which still bothers him. He decides to work the wheat harvest to walk in his father’s shoes.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“The Wheat Harvest” the slowlane @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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Written August 5, 1990

All I really wanted to say was “I’m sorry.”

I had said some hurtful things to my Father. But he had been dead for three years. How do make amends after they’re gone? It wasn’t perfect, not like him being there, but I was talking to him anyway. Just making up a conversation in my mind, inside my spirit. And answering for him – what I thought he would say. No, that’s not quite true. Some of the things my Dad had said to me, but I could not hear them at the time, or at least, could not receive his words.

My Dad had owned 5 acres of land in the country outside Tulsa that he was planting in pecan trees. We had been out there one time, with me clearing trees and brush while he grafted pecan trees. While we were resting, he’d been telling me stories about the good old days, like he always did. I told him that with any other adult male I would get up and leave if the stories got too much, and so I would with him. God, how that must have hurt.

And now I felt bad about it. I imagined us now out at that land once again, sitting in camp chairs under the large oak trees, resting in the shade. I was saying now what I couldn’t say before.

“Dad, I know it must have hurt you, what I said when we were out here that time; that and some other things I did.”

He answered me. “Yes, son, that did hurt. I never knew you didn’t like my stories. I didn’t know what to say.” He paused. “What other things?”

“Dad, I guess it was mostly me provoking you, arguing with anything you said, rebelling. Putting you down. I did a lot of subtle stuff. I didn’t know why I was so angry with you. I’ve learned more and seen where all that anger was coming from. But that didn’t make it right what I did.” It felt like my words were all rushing out, stumbling over each other, eager to be free. I felt awkward, like I was saying it poorly, now that I had the chance.

He replied. “Yes, it did feel like whatever I did wasn’t good enough for you at times. Almost like I couldn’t live up to your expectations. But Cowboy, I know I hurt you, too, many times. And I think that’s where your anger started. I didn’t ever remember – I was too drunk. But now I know more.”

We sat in silence for a few moments, reflecting.

He spoke again. “It’s real sad, but I guess it happens a lot. My Father was there for me, and then when I was 12, he left. He turned his back on me. I felt hurt, abandoned, and like he didn’t love me any more.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “And I can see now that I turned away from you when you were the same age. I began punishing you. I was really proud of your writing, your speaking, your acting. But I made stupid, ugly comments about them all – I can remember now – over here we see things a lot of things more clearly. And I know I hit you, abused you. I guess it was because you were daring to develop your creativeness – and I had never been able to. But that’s no excuse.”

There it was. What I’d always wanted to hear, wanted him to admit – I hadn’t realized it would be this hard to accept. I was having trouble catching my breath. We sat for a long time, not speaking. I spoke again, feeling my words. “Thanks, Dad, for saying that. That’s the way it felt for me, too. But the things I said to you were wrong, no matter what you did to me. I blamed you for all my problems and played victim and all that shit. I have to accept responsibility for what I did after I was grown up. I apologize.”

“Me too, Cowboy. I apologize, too. The sickness and the disease we carry with us makes us do hateful things, things we would not do if we were in our right minds. I never intended to hurt you. I was very proud of you. But when I was in my sickness, I couldn’t always let it show.”

“Thank you, Dad. I do know now that you were proud of me – you told me before, but I couldn’t hear it.” We sat in silence, hearing the breeze whistling through the trees, the birds singing in the upper branches. I drew in a deep breath.

“Dad, there’s something else.”

“I know, son.”

“I have to leave. I have to separate from you, and be me, be Dan. I have lived for 20 years trying to be what I thought you wanted me to be, not who I really was. I hope you understand I mean no disrespect by leaving.”

“No, Dan, I don’t think that way, not at all. I don’t know if you remember, but I encouraged you to go out and be whatever you wanted to be, and I’d support you.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, I meant that. If you want to be a writer, I support you in that. I am glad you are happier being that.”

“Thanks, Dad. But please know this. I will take with me the gifts you have given me.”

“Gifts? Like what?”

I started choking up. “Well, like when I saw you have the courage to come home and put our family back together after you sobered up. And even though it took 10 years, you got back your old job. And the guts to stick to it, even though it would have been easier to leave. Staying sober for 20 years. You modeled for me perseverance. And courage. You gave me my love of literature, of reading. My writing ability came from you. You know, I’ve always been real proud of you. But in my sickness, I couldn’t tell you either.”

“Thank you, son.” We sat quietly for a time. “So can we be at peace with each other?” my Father asked.

“Yes, Dad. At peace. I am a man, now, and I want to shake your hand – man to man.”

We shook hands, solemnly, firmly, slowly. “You certainly are a man, Dan. And a very remarkable one. Go for it. All the way. Let your writing go as far as it will – and that’s a long way!”

“Thank you, Ben. I will. I will remember you always, treasure all you gave me. You are part of the story I have to tell. You are one of the greatest men I have ever known.” I paused. “I’ll check with you along the way. Goodbye, Ben.”

“You do that, Cowboy. Goodbye. Vaya Con Dios. Go With God.”

———

Several years after I wrote this piece, when I felt I was ready, I went back out to the land with the pecan trees and read this piece out loud. I made a ritual out of it, read the conversation very deliberately and with a solemn sense of ceremony – because I knew that at the land he loved so much, he would hear it. I also knew the words would become more real for me as well, as part of saying goodbye to Dad.

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For many years, I would have told you that yes, there was drinking in my house while I was growing up, but I got out just fine, and it didn’t really affect me.  Then when I was in my early ‘30s, I started to see signs that such was not the case.

I worked for a time with a prison ministry, where we would go into Texas prison units and spend most of a weekend talking with the inmates.  Something odd happened – the inmates treated me with a certain respect and awareness that I couldn’t understand.  I realized later that they could tell I was intimately acquainted with violence.  I had that killer look.

My three sisters all married violent alcoholics.

Somehow I knew I carried a time bomb in me, but I couldn’t identify what it was.  I felt tightly wrapped, like I would explode if I ever let go.

One time I became suicidal.  I also carried around a darkness in my soul that I could not explain.

Finally it all broke through and I began attending meetings for people who had grown up around alcoholism. I started to get to the bottom of how much alcoholism had affected my life.  I was in so much pain I went to the first meeting on my birthday.  I began to remember incidents from my childhood – an escalating level of violence from my Dad.  I watched the movies “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket,” because something about them felt familiar.

By 1987, when the events in my book “Freedom’s Just Another Word” were taking place, my world was falling apart.  I had sabotaged my successful career for no reason I could explain. I had realized I was walking around with most of  the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – yet I had no traumatic event I could point to.  I had an incident where I was suicidal, and got closer than I ever had – an alarming wakeup call.

Then my Dad died.  He had been sober and in recovery for 20 years, but something still plagued him.  It was my belief he was still suffering because he was eating his anger.  He had his first heart attack when he was 44, open heart surgery at 47, a colostomy at 51, and died of a stroke at 59.  I knew if I didn’t get to the bottom of what plagued me, I was headed down the same road.

In an incredible and I believe spiritually guided sequence of events, I remembered the most violent incident with my Dad – which had happened on my birthday.  It involved guns, and violence, and imminent threats of death.  Suddenly the current events of my world began to fall into place and make sense.  Yet in a way, it was only the beginning – I knew what had happened, but now what to do about it?  Several weeks later, I had a dream.

Excerpt from Freedom’s Just Another Word:

I dreamed I was inside a house, and watching it for someone—I wasn’t sure who.  It was a long, low rambling house away from other houses, very isolated.  There was a pet tiger in the house.  The owner, an unidentified male, said the tiger wouldn’t bite, but the tiger became startled and started chewing my arm.  I would feel the size of his teeth, the strength of his jaw.  I was very scared.  The owner left, and put me in charge of the house, and of the tiger.

Suddenly, Rebecca was there, a woman I knew from ACA.  I felt like she was a stranger—like she didn’t know who I was any longer.  I invited her into the house, and she didn’t know her way around.  I showed her to the bathroom.  Suddenly I remembered that strangers startled the tiger.  Then the tiger was there and he was chewing on my arm, and I feared he wouldn’t stop until he ate me.  And then I knew—the tiger was my rage.

****************

The tiger dream disturbed me deeply, and I knew that I had a deep rage within me that would eventually destroy me.  I feared it so much that I buried it deeply and only rarely did it surface enough to confirm that it was there.  But I could tell.  It was the legacy of anger my Dad left me.  Threatening to devour all who entered—and me.  Uncontrollable.  I knew then that I was dangerous—to myself and others.

So there it was – the time bomb that had to be defused!  It was no longer about my Dad – it was about me; and it was something that was my responsibility to deal with.  Working through that anger and deep rage became my commitment over the next several years.  I got backed into a corner where my anger had to be dealt with (the topic of a future book, “The Tiger Unveiled”) and it became a life or death issue for me – there was still the specter of my Dad’s early death, and I knew it was still dangerously close for me.  I made a commitment and signed it in front of witnesses – an Anger Contract. In it I stated how I would and would not express my anger.  I committed to work on releasing that anger in safe ways, while restricting myself so that I would not hurt anyone while I was so angry.

I did so, and eventually bled off the anger, to the point where I could heal and be at peace with my Dad. I had come to realize that he had been blacked out drunk when the violence occurred, and he didn’t know any more than I did what had happened between us.  We were both harmed by the effects of the alcoholism.  It put a wall between us we never could understand in his lifetime. I wrote a short work called “A Conversation With Dad,” an imagined talk where we made peace with each other.  It worked!

Yet on the other side of the scale from the alcoholism and violence, it was a powerful symbolism for me to realize that the Dad who abused me when he was drinking was the same Dad who illuminated my path to healing and recovery by his example of perseverance in sobriety.

I feel very blessed!

 

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