Thursday, October 13, 2011

THE INFLUENCE OF OUR PARENTS

“You” are the product of two people that came together that created your life. Hopefully, it was a product of two loving people and they are the ones who raised you but sometimes the circumstances are not so fortunate.

Have you ever looked back on your life and contemplated the impact your parents had on you? There is always the debate of nature versus nurture but in reality, it’s a combination of both. Some of the influence is intentional but I dare say that a majority of the impact our parents had in our lives was unintentional. Through the actions or inactions of our parents, they helped shape us into the adults that we are now.

I’m defining a parent as the person(s) who raised you. If you’re lucky, you were raised by someone who loves you, no matter if they are your biological parent(s) or not. A parent can come in many forms: biological, step-parent, adopted parent(s), single parent, care-giver, grandparent(s), etc., etc.

For one reason or another, your “parent(s)” may change. The reasons are numerous. In my case, I had two loving parents. They also gave birth to a daughter about 15 months later but then another 13 months later, she died. Can you image the impact that this had on me, a two year old, and my sister, who had just turned one? We then lived with our grandparents and their one and a half year old boy. Yes, my grandmother gave birth to a child four days before I turned one. My dad worked and we lived with them for over two years.

Then, when I was four and a half, my dad remarried. My dad and my second mom had a daughter one and a half years later and that was it. When I talk about my “mom,” my second mom is one I am talking about. I didn’t think of her as a step-mom. She raised me. She loved me. I love and miss her very much. Except for a short period in 4th grade, I never thought of her as my step-mother. I knew she was but she was my mom. Some people never knew that she was my step-mother. Some people may have even forgotten about it. It was not a secret. It just was something we never discussed.

My mother was a very godly influence. She loved God and did her best to serve Him. That’s one of the reasons my dad married her but not for the reason you would think. My dad married her because he knew she would raise his kids the way he knew they should be raised but not how he wanted to live. He wanted us to be raised up as Christians serving God, going to church, going to a Christian school, and being what he knew he should be also. But, my dad was not a good man. My dad, to name some of his qualities, was a cheat, liar, manipulator, and later, much, much worse. My dad was two-faced. For over twenty years, he pretended to be a good Christian but in reality he served himself and did whatever he wanted. For years, people thought of him as a good Christian but it was all a show, smoke and mirrors, a fa├žade he hid behind because he wanted to live like the world but he wanted the church to think of him as Godly.

While growing up, I looked up to my father. I admired him and wanted to be just like him when I grew up. My dad taught me how to work. During the summer, I would go with him to his jobs and help him. He taught me chess. He taught me how to win and lose graciously. He taught me to obey and to fear him but I don’t remember him being cruel to me. I’m told by others that he used to belittle us as kids but I don’t really remember that but I know that the way he treated me had an impact on my life. My parents had their problems but they kept them hid from us. It’s not until you look back that you realize that something was not quite right. For the most part, I grew up in, what I thought, was a pretty stable home. It wasn’t until the oldest two moved out of the house that he stopped caring about appearances of his double life around the house.

When I was in my late teens, we moved to a house with a laundry and storage room attached to the back of the house. This is where I lived. I had to go out the sliding glass door in the living room to the back yard and into my room. Sometimes, late at night, I’d go look through the hole in the curtain through the glass door to see what my dad was watching. To say the least, it wasn’t wholesome. I’d ask him questions about music and other things. It didn’t always jive with what I was being taught at church and school. What it taught me and what I remember thinking was, “As a parent, you teach your kids the highest standards but as an adult you don’t have to live up to those high standards, you get to pick your own standards.” Basically, I learned hypocrisy. I learned “do as I say, not as I do.” I was in my early twenties and by this time I was out on my own doing my own thing.

One day my dad found something in my car that made him realize I was obviously disobeying God and living in sin but my dad didn’t confront me about my sin or say anything negative about it. A couple years later, I realized why. He was living in his own sin. At first, when I found out, I thought it was cool and that my dad wasn’t a “square.” What I realized later is that it was a justification of my own sin. I found out that I was following down the same path as my father without even knowing it. I was not as entrenched into the sin of the world like he was but it would have only been a matter of time. By the grace of God, He pulled me back to Himself.

When Tina was very young, her parents divorced. Her mom, Chris, then marries a man because he got her pregnant, After the marriage, she had a miscarriage. This man makes her and her brother’s life a living hell by beating them severely for the smallest infractions. Tina still has scars on her body from the physical abuse she suffered. Daniel ends up in prison, not because of Chris but because of a baby-sitter. Chris & her two children move across the country to New Hampshire. Daniel gets out and moves to NH and the beatings begin again but this time the sexual abuse starts also. Again, Daniel goes to prison but not for what he did to Tina, but for beating Tom, indecent exposure, and sexually abusing some other child. For years, Chris makes Tina and Tom visit Daniel in prison every week. Chris is mostly an absentee mom. She’s working, school and church. Tina and Tom are left alone a lot to fend for themselves.

When Tina is 15, she’s raped twice by an adult, someone she looked up to. That trust was broken. When it’s finally revealed to her mother, she calls the pastor and a series of events sends her to Colorado. After the baby has been born, adopted to loving parents, she lives there for a while until she’s forced to go back to NH. She’s now forced to go to church where the man who raped her is still attending. She’s finally able to leave home and go to college.

While at college, her father, who divorced Chris and is now married to someone else, comes to visit her in WI. She has not seen him since she was a couple years old. He’s now trying to be a dad. With all the lies that her biological parents have told her about each other about why they did not remain married, it’s kind of confusing on whom to believe.

Finally, thirteen years later, the past is drug up and police become involved and it hits the media like a wildfire. What’s Tina’s mom’s response to all of this? Silence and then betrayal. She used to call every week or two, now nothing. Why? My guess is self-preservation because Tina not only told of the rape of Ernie but also of the physical and sexual abuse of Daniel, Chris’ husband. Then, at trial, instead of trying to help get justice for Tina, she lies.

THE BIGGEST WAY OUR PARENTS AFFECT US IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS. In this case, I’m not referring to how we relate to one another, although that is affected also. What I’m talking about is the long term family interactions we have with our parents and our kids have with our parents. It would be great if we all had great relationships with our parents but sometimes our interactions with our parents are broken and bruised. It would nice if they could all be mended and healed but sometimes it can’t or won’t ever be fixed.

I’m thinking about all of this because this month, 17 years ago, a relationship with my mother was permanently severed and was severely broken with my father due to the self-centered actions of one person. Seventeen years ago this week was the last time I ever talked with my mother. Because of our conversation, I spent a day in prayer and fasting asking for God to turn my dad’s heart back to Him. I knew things were bad and I knew my dad lived in sin and that he didn’t bother hiding it any more. Now he was trying to get my mother to leave him so that he still looked like the good guy. I cried with my mom. What does a son tell a mother whose father is a horrible husband?

About a week later, I got a phone call that my mom had disappeared. On Halloween, October 31st, I was informed that they had found her. Two weeks later, my father was arrested and confessed. He was 50 years old and has now spent almost 25% of his life in a state prison. About every six months, I take my family to go see my dad. They did not understand the restrictions and rules that we had to follow or why we could not stay at grandpa’s place. We never explained it to them. A couple of weeks ago two of my children were watching the myth buster show of Jamie and Adam trying to break out of prison and they put two and two together. I’ve always told my dad that he’ll have to explain to them why he’s in prison. Our next visit will be an interesting one. It won’t be an easy one.

Sometimes relationships are damaged by the actions of parents. He took a beautiful person’s life. He took away the relationship that she could be having with her grandchildren today. He limited his own relationship with them because he lives in prison. He damaged severely the relationship with his own parents. His three children have tried to maintain some sort of relationship with him but it’s hard to trust, even after so long. Forgive and forget is not even an option. Consequences for him have an impact on us. He has been forgiven. I pray that his grandkids forgive him also.

Tina and I both think a lot about telling the children about our families. Some day we will have to explain why Tina’s mom does not visit or call. We pray that some day that relationship will be restored. We had to explain how Tina’s dad’s wife is not Tina’s mom. After not being in Tina’s life for about 18 years, he’s being a grandpa to our kids. We’ve explained that my mom is not alive and that her friends have “adopted” our kids as their grandkids since my parents can’t. They do a great job. They have adopted our whole family as theirs and we love them very much. Some day we’ll tell the kids about their sister and the situation that happened. We’ll explain that she was adopted, loved, and raised by a great family who loves God. We pray that some day we’ll have a relationship with her.

That’s the impact that our parents had on us. I pray that we have a better impact on our children.

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