I had a conversation with a friend recently about the supernatural during which I told him the following story from my book Higher Grounds: When God Steps into the Here and Now.
I was probably too young to be going on a mission to save my dad, but when someone you love is in trouble, you answer the bell, no matter the level of your preparation.
My parents divorced when I was eight and my dad got remarried and moved away for work. He eventually settled with his new family in St. Louis.
He struggled with alcohol throughout his lifetime. When he was in his mid-forties and on into his fifties, he spent several stints in rehab facilities. So, that was the goal when his wife called me to say he’d been on a bender for a few days. I was probably twenty-one at the time and had made the drive by myself to St. Louis from Omaha a few times.
Before I left, I visited my grandma – Dad’s mom. I didn’t go to tell her about her son’s current predicament. A mother’s grief is hard enough to bear without knowing every detail. I was just there for a visit because we were close. But the strangest thing happened as I was getting up to leave. She handed me a letter, saying she’d come across it recently, and that I might need it on my trip. The letter was from my dad to his dad, who had since passed away.
“I think it’s the first time your dad ever told his dad that he loved him,” Grandma said.
They had a contentious relationship when Dad was young. I had little doubt that either of them loved the other, but this was the era when men didn’t express such things so easily. You showed your love instead.
I shoved the envelope into my glove compartment and forgot about it. I had far bigger concerns – like finding my father and making sure he didn’t drink himself to death. By the time I reached St. Louis, he’d returned home, but he was a shell of himself. I don’t think he knew I was coming, so when I stepped into the house and met him downstairs in his recliner, he hung his head.
Over the next couple of days, he began to dry out while his wife called around to find a rehab facility that could take him. Dad and I went into his study the first night and shut his door. During our conversation, he pointed to a coin he’d recently received from his AA sponsor, I believe – one that celebrated a certain amount of time in sobriety. Now he’d have to start all over again, but he seemed to be ready.
Admitting your kryptonite to another human is one of the most frightening things imaginable because you always wonder if he or she will use it against you. I saw it as a sign of strength in my dad. And I wanted to come alongside him to help.
He wanted me to take him for a drive, so we got into the car and headed for a cafe not far from his house. We stepped inside, ordered some food, and settled in for more conversation.
This time, we talked about his upbringing. His dad set high expectations for him and wanted him to focus on his education and helping out around the acreage. My grandparents survived the Depression with a backbreaking work ethic, and they expected the same from their children. Dad, being a high schooler, had other ideas.
He wanted to play sports and date the cute girl at school who caught his eye. That didn’t go over well at home, so Dad left as soon as he was old enough to get married. I suspect he spent most of his adult life trying to live up to his father’s expectations, and when he failed to do so, the bottle was his only coping mechanism.
I wasn’t a Christian at the time of this particular visit, or maybe I was but had very little understanding. At the very least, I was looking into the faith and starting to read the Bible, which made me more aware of a bigger presence at work in the world around me.
“You know,” Dad said while waiting for our food to arrive, “I never told my dad that I loved him until I did so in a letter a few years ago.”
My eyes couldn’t have gotten any bigger and my breathing slowed. “I have that letter.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have it out in the car. Grandma gave it to me before I left.”
“You have that letter?”
We both paused for a long stretch.
Dad finally spoke up. “Something’s going on that I can’t explain. But I want you to write this down so we can remember it.”
We both knew God was up to something. In a way, it was a spiritual awakening for both of us. And it changed something inside Dad, who eventually became a Christian. It changed something inside me too.
Since this happened, I’ve made a habit of doing exactly what Dad said by writing these types of experiences down – many of which you’ll find in Higher Grounds: When God Steps into the Here and Now.