It happened again this week. My husband awoke from a dream about his dad. Not the one who raised him from the time he was two years old, the one he called “Dad”, but the one whose DNA he carries and who, although he was absent most of his life, will somehow always be present in it.
This dream, as with so many others, presented a scenario where his dad is in need and David is trying to help him. In this dream in particular, his dad is sleeping in his car but three thugs have ousted him and left him in the street. David finds his dad sleeping in the snow, feels appalled and afraid that he has frozen to death. It is a varying enactment of a recurring theme. . . trying to save a man who, because of his alcoholism, could not save himself.
We discuss this dream, as we have so many others, over coffee and breakfast. I think he is always surprised when his dad shows up in his dreams and once again we try to dissect its meaning. Dream experts say that often it’s our “unfinished business” that shows up in our dreams so it makes sense his dad would be a star player on the stage of his subconscious.
In spite of a stepdad who was good and loving, reliable and involved, the dreams still come. In spite of a childhood that was comfortable and safe and where his needs were met, they come. And in spite of his knowledge gained through a medical degree, a specialty in psychiatry and many years of experience working with alcoholics and family dynamics, the dreams are there.
Dream experts say that often it’s our “unfinished business” that shows up in our dreams
This father, who was not at our wedding, visited us in our small apartment as newlyweds. During that visit he accompanied us to a Sunday service and with encouragement from his son, prayed a prayer for forgiveness of his sins and for divine help with his overwhelming addiction. Miraculously he was able to live the last three years of his life alcohol free, to meet our firstborn child and exit this life with a certain amount of dignity.
However, in spite of that amazing recovery, the dreams are still there. Maybe it’s all of those gaping holes of history where he should have been present and wasn’t. The missed birthdays, the football games, the first date, the school play where his son had the leading role, holidays and summer vacations, graduations from middle school, high school, college and finally, medical school. All of the times his dad was a no-show (even once at the Chicago airport where a son stood waiting for a dad who never showed because he had passed out drunk in his apartment). A lot of years with a lot of disappointments.
Amazingly, David holds no anger or resentment toward his dad. He continued to love and forgive him in spite of the meager crumbs of attention he received from him during the growing up years. Somehow he was able to separate the disease from the man and says he always knew his dad loved him in spite of his behavior. I am in awe of such grace and not sure I would react in the same way. In fact, every time one of these “dad dreams” surfaces again, I feel both sadness and anger on behalf of my husband and that part of his family history.
I sometimes wonder why God doesn’t make the dreams go away but then I think about Paul who continued to live with a “thorn in the flesh” which three times he asked God to take away. God doesn’t remove it but says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul’s decision is this: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12:7-9)
With all hurtful things that come into our lives, we are offered the chance to use them as fuel for bitterness and self-pity. With all good things we can be tempted to lean toward pride and self-preoccupation. OR we can choose to offer ALL THINGS to God to be used for His ultimate glory and for the benefit of those around us.
Because of the underlying pain of a father who abandoned his family, I see much good that has come from bad. My husband became a dad who never missed our children’s ballgames, who taught them to fish, hunt, manage money, be a devoted spouse and who is someone they can count on in any kind of crisis. And because he knew the pain of growing up with an alcoholic dad, determined early on his children’s lives would not be marked by any of those same memories.
Because of the underlying pain of a father who abandoned his family, I see much good that has come from bad.
His own experience has also caused him to be especially empathetic to families feeling the effects of alcoholism. In over thirty years as a practicing psychiatrist, he has been able to offer help and hope to not only those suffering addictions, but to the families who suffer as well. I am convinced that his patience, tolerance and dedication to their needs are a result, in part, to his own experience growing up with an alcoholic father.
David also works with troubled kids in our inner city schools providing medical and psychiatric care they might not otherwise receive. His sobering observation is that 75 to 80% of these kids have no dad in the home. Obviously this doesn’t account for all of their issues but the correlation is too obvious to miss. When dad disappears it makes a significant statement to a child, often about their own self worth. Knowing the gap it can leave in a kid’s identity, he has been able to help provide intervention and direction for many of these kids.
David says he has learned in his own life to look to God as his father rather than to an earthly one who can and may disappoint. Neither he nor I have all the answers in life and are certainly saddened by stories of physical and sexual abuse, violence, neglect, and various sorts of trauma. All of these experiences can leave terrible scars but we both long to encourage people to become victors rather than victims and to “turn their scars into stars”.
Perhaps there is a lingering “thorn in the flesh” you have, and like Paul’s, it won’t go away. I invite you to open yourself up to the possibility of God taking that very thing that has caused you pain and using it somehow to bring honor to Him through your life. Don’t waste your pain. Let it bring gain.
In times of frustration when I don’t understand why things are as they are, it comforts me to read the words of 1 Cor. 13:12. The Amplified Bible says it this way, “For now (in this time of imperfection) we see in a mirror dimly (a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma), but then (when the time of perfection comes we will see reality) face to face. Now I know in part (just in fragments), but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known (by God).”
Some day we will see the full picture and hopefully we will see where beauty has been woven through fragmented threads in colors not of our choosing. Until then, we will trust the God of our days and our nights, our hopes and yes . . . our dreams.