Thursday, December 20, 2007

A New Understanding of Adoption

I’m come face to face with a type of grieving that I never expected. It came not from the death of a person I’ve known and loved. The grief came in the death of a relationship. It was a death that I never anticipated and as necessary as it was, it has been extremely painful. The pain and heartache run very deep. The man whose name I bear and whose DNA is part of my physical make up is now dead to me.

It pains me to write these words and to publicly admit this truth in this way. It feels a lot like a personal failure to make the admission. It took me 45 years to come to terms with the reality that the one whose name I bear was never really a father, at least in the way that I would define that relationship now. At times where a father would be available for support, encouragement and nurture I was instead confronted with emptiness. For years the family interpreted the situation with an assumption that depression and mental illness lay at the root of his action and inaction. However, in the last year our family has been confronted with a different explanation. It has not been mental illness that rendered him incapable of these relationships. His life is profoundly marked by a personality disorder that is completely volitional. He has chosen to be this way. He has chosen relationships marked not by mercy, grace and mutuality but by manipulation, abuse and degradation.

As I came to terms with this reality and began to reinterpret the relationship based on this new look at reality I began to push back against his garbage. I simply would not allow myself or my family to be manipulated and abused.

During the ensuing months the relationship became increasingly toxic and I was moving closer and closer to making a break. The break came in early November. In a number of related incidents he acted in ways that were so abusive to my family and others around us that for my own health and that of my family I could no longer maintain this relationship. The pain, grief and tears ran deep. It shook my life completely. The last three months, as the relationship spiraled to this conclusion, have been the most painful of my life.

While there was much grieving, I was able to recognize and hold on to a deeper truth that has marked by life in these last two years. My experience with God’s intimacy in my life has provided for me a meaningful flotation device as I was buffeted on this storm of grief. I came to realize that even if my father was absent, my Father was always present. As I remember and reflect, I can see God’s presence. At this stage in my life I understand the Fatherhood of God more deeply and personally than I ever have before. While I know it is not terribly PC to speak of God in these terms, I don’t wish to suggest anything resembling gender exclusion. Rather, this is an expression of individual experience that is deeply personal. I think I also understand Paul’s words about adoption better than I ever have before.

While I never would have expected to have to go through this sort of ordeal and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I’ve known in no uncertain terms the gracious hand of God. I’ve known nurture, companionship, mercy and healing. All of these experiences have served to draw me deeper to the heart of God and brought a new breadth of compassion for those who suffer through the pain of broken relationships. I give thanks for all of God’s gifts even through the pain of grief.