6. Daddy’s Little Girl

6. Daddy’s Little Girl

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Daddy’s Little Girl

Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.

~Criss Jami, Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile

Ours wasn’t your typical father/daughter relationship. The words “warm and fuzzy” simply didn’t apply. I can’t remember my dad saying, “I love you.” There were no affectionate kisses. No hugs.

What I do remember is a lingering sense of impending doom as I wondered when the next verbal explosion might occur. Most of my memories of my father are of terse exchanges during the week or alcohol-induced outbursts on weekends, of being told on numerous occasions that I was not wanted, that I was an accident.

It’s understandable, then, that as I grew up I struggled to find a way to make my father love me, or at the very least make him proud. That struggle happily resulted in high marks in school—so high, in fact, that I was valedictorian of my graduating class. At last, my dad had to be proud of me—he even said so, promising to stand and applaud when I received my award.

Graduation day dawned bright and sunny, made brighter by the knowledge that my dad had not had a single drink in nearly three months. As the biggest moment of my young life approached, my heart sank. My dad had left the house early that morning to run errands. As the minutes ticked by, I realized that the length of his absence likely would be directly related to his degree of drunkenness when he returned. As anyone who has lived with an alcoholic can tell you, we can often tell by that person’s facial features whether or not they have succumbed to the “demon drink.” As I saw my father pull into the driveway, I knew instantly that he had not only succumbed to the demon, he had completely surrendered. He was falling-down drunk.

The next few hours were a haze of anxiety, disappointment, and fear as I wondered if my big day would end in humiliation if my father decided to become vocal at the graduation ceremony. He didn’t.

And that should have been the proverbial happy ending. But when he walked me down the aisle at my wedding a few months later—drunk once again—I couldn’t find it in my heart to forgive him. He had cast a horrible shadow over yet another momentous occasion in my life.

We maintained a cordial but “arm’s length” relationship for several years.

Then just eight short years after that nerve-wracking graduation day, my dad was gone, dead of lung cancer at the age of fifty-six. I no longer had to dread his outbursts. I also no longer had the opportunity to try to repair an obviously damaged relationship.

Over the next two decades, my thoughts often drifted to my relationship—or lack thereof—with my dad. Surprisingly, even though I still felt saddened, and at times angry, about our dysfunctional relationship, I found myself wondering what had happened in his short life to make him so unhappy.

In 2000, I visited France and the Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, and I began to understand my father and the man he was—somewhat distant, extremely proud of his service to his country, and stubbornly patriotic. As I stood on that desolate windswept beach in France, I saw the 9,386 cold stone crosses commemorating the soldiers who died there in World War II. I felt closer to my father than I ever had.

At the tender age of seventeen, my father had enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps by lying about his age. Just sixteen months later, he spent three weeks battling the enemy, up close and personal. Most recall the battle of Iwo Jima as the setting of the immortal “raising of the American flag,” etched in our memories by the famous photograph: six war-weary young soldiers struggling to raise the flag of the country they had pledged to serve, honor and defend. I believe my father, however, remembered—though rarely spoke of—something entirely different. Being left on an island filled with the enemy. Hand-to-hand combat. The “kill or be killed” mentality drilled into him for his own safety. Buddies falling dead at his side. The only battle by the U.S. Marine Corps in which the overall American casualties exceeded those of the Japanese.

Some who returned from that fierce battle were able to block out the horror and live fairly normal lives. I don’t think my father was one of those “lucky” ones. I now realize that his frequent drunken weekend-long discourses about being a marine and fighting in what was considered one of the bloodiest battles of World War II were an indication of how profoundly those experiences had affected him.

As I reflect on our relationship, I hold firm to the belief that life is about choices.

Perhaps my father made some poor choices while I was growing up—perhaps there was a reason. Will I choose to hold the effects of my father’s service to his country against him? His drinking, the verbal abuse, his inability to show affection?

No.

I can choose resentment or I can choose to forgive and be proud of the honorable man that was my father; the man who had integrity, an incredible work ethic and was as generous as anyone I know. I choose the latter.

And now, more than twenty years after his death, I can also choose to be Daddy’s little girl.

~Linda Bruno

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