I was in my early teens and on vacation with my mom and two brothers. We were visiting my uncle who lived in Oklahoma. As we lay in my uncle's living room, ready to go to sleep, my mom confided in me that my dad was abused as a child. I didn't really know how to process the information, but I knew I was hearing something of utmost importance. Later, as the years went by, I got more information about what my dad had gone through. His father had abandoned him after his parents separated. His mother later remarried and the family moved out of state, away from the love and support of my father's maternal grandparents. It was then that his stepfather began to abuse him. When asked to describe what it was like, my dad said, "If I was at the dinner table and was told to keep my elbow off the back of the chair, if I did it again, I was hit." We learned more as the years went on. A common scenario was my dad would do something wrong and then be beaten until he began to weep. At some point, he made the decision to not show that sign of submission. "He couldn't make me cry," my dad said. And this is when his stepfather really let him have it, but the beatings lessened after that.
Some time after, my dad attempted to kill his stepfather. He lunged at him with a knife, but missed. His stepfather grabbed the knife, broke it in two, and said, "Now I'm gonna kick your ass!" and proceeded to do just that. Things continued to get worse. My grandmother told my father, "If you don't leave he is going to kill you." My dad started sleeping with a shotgun in his hands, ready to shoot his stepfather if he came in the room. Word of the situation got to my great grandfather out of state and he made the drive to get my dad. As they drove away on the highway, my dad's stepfather chased them in his car.
A few years later, while on leave from the Army, my dad tracked down his real father and went to visit him. His father pretty much told him not to come back. He also sent his stepfather a nice letter, telling him how he was doing. He got a nice letter in return, at the end of which his stepfather called him, son. I asked my dad why he would send a nice letter to someone who had treated him that way. My father responded, "I was tired of carrying that anger." His stepfather died not long after, trying to avoid a deer on the highway.
At a very early age my dad had to become a fighter, and he remained a fighter his entire life. His hardest fight, however, occurred when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's about five years before he passed. First it showed itself with a twitch in his hand, then it started to take his balance, causing several falls. We sat down and talked as a family, with both my stepmother and mother present. After we finished discussing the situation, my dad said, "Everything I've had to deal with in my life I've dealt with quickly and forcefully. And, with this, I don't know what to do."
The disease progressed very rapidly. Within just a few short years it took his ability to walk and then started affecting his speech. All through this, he never complained. He was always grateful. When it got to the point where he could hardly speak, he would raise his thumb to help me guess what he was saying. One of the last things he communicated to me in this way was to say thank you to me and my stepmother for being there for him.
The thing I am most grateful to my father for was giving me something that he himself never received. Whatever issues I've had with my father, I knew I was loved. I made the decision to be near him during the last two years of his life, as his disease really started to take its toll. If there is one thing I hope he felt during that time, it is that he was loved, too.