Family Therapy

August 7, 2009

It's amazing to me how the past can come back to haunt a person 5, 10, or even 15 years into the future. That's the situation I found myself in a couple of weeks ago, thinking about an incident from my childhood involving a man named Joe.

Joe was a missionary from Mexico, a rather rotund man in his late fifties with a large, graying mustache that curled up on the ends. As you may have remembered, my father pastored small churches for many years, so my family often hosted missionaries and evangelists in our home. Since Joe had received support from my hometown church long before my dad took over as pastor, he continued to make the annual trek across the U.S. in his tiny, battered camper to collect food and clothes for some of Mexico's poorest families. While in town, he stayed in the church's missionary quarters but came over nearly every evening to have dinner with my family.

One evening after dinner while watching TV, my mom and dad both stepped outside for a few minutes, leaving me and Joe alone. While they were gone, Joe called me over to where he was sitting. He then wrapped me in a tight hug that pressed me against him. While holding me like this, he fondled my chest and asked if I had missed him since his last visit. I don't remember my answer, but I was certainly freaked out. I was only around 11 at the time.

The next day, I told my parents what happened. A couple of days later, Joe was gone. He returned to town a year later, but he never stayed at our house and I never saw him again. However, my parents never told me what happened after that incident. Did they confront him? Did they tell others in the church? I never knew, and not knowing always bothered me.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I had endured the silence long enough, so I called my dad and asked him what happened. Turns out my dad did confront Joe (albeit in his general roundabout fashion). Of course, time is the enemy of memory--he couldn't recall much about the conversation or what Joe's response had been. But what he did tell me was this: By the time Joe returned the next year, my dad was no longer pastoring the church, so Joe contacted the man who originally hosted him at the church--the church's previous pastor and my dad's good friend. The man had no room in his house for Joe, so he called my dad and asked if Joe could stay with us. My father flatly refused. When his friend asked why, my dad told him what Joe had done. A heated argument ensued. The man felt sure that some type of misunderstanding had occurred...and how dare my dad say such terrible things about a man he had known personally for so many years, let alone a missionary!

But my dad wouldn't budge, not even to save one of his only friendships. My dad told me that the conversation upset him so badly that he didn't sleep that night. But my dad was willing to do anything to keep Joe away from me. The sadness in my dad's voice as he told this story--sadness for what I had experienced--was heartbreaking.

I never knew.

Then my dad said something I had never heard him say before. He said I had endured so many terrible things, and he was proud of the way I had risen above them all and made something of myself. At that moment, a new love for my dad flooded my heart, and a great darkness caused by years of doubt and anger was lifted from my mind. It was the best therapy I had ever received.

Some people might criticize my dad for what he did--namely, letting Joe go. Some parents would have called the police or thrown punches or had Joe run out of town. But they don't know what it was like for my father, being such a meek individual, pastoring a small-town church where his extended family comprised half the congregation. My dad handled the situation in the only way he knew how, and--knowing my dad the way I do--that's good enough for me. Thanks, Dad.

2 comments:

REIGN said...

That's a really great entry. It's funny how things come up years later and it really influences one's thoughts and opinions on people or creates a greater appreciation for the people in our lives. BTW, your quotes were pretty cool.

Sanctum's Muse said...

Thanks, Reign!

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