Though I watched a lot of TV growing up, I do not recall ever wishing that my nuclear family dynamics were like the fictional ones I viewed faithfully each week. I never wished my dad was like Jim Anderson (“Father Knows Best”), James Evans, Sr. (“Good Times”) or Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable (“The Cosby Show”).
All of these fathers were present in their homes, married to the mothers; mine was not. However, I only wanted to see more of William Lee Dugas, II (“Billy”). I didn’t necessarily have to live with him or have him be married to my mom. I knew my family was different because I connected with Ann Romano’s single-mom household (“One Day at a Time”) in ways that I never did with other shows. And I was okay with that difference.
Living at least half of my childhood with Deacon Julius Brown, my maternal grandfather, I experienced the love,
strong discipline, guidance, high expectations and encouragement for achieving excellence that we look for from our fathers (figures). Deference to his patriarchy was something I honored and respected while vowing my home would be different when I became an adult. There was a sense that he knew best as the man of the household, the breadwinner, etc. He was father enough for all of his grandchildren whose own dads were in various ways and degrees absent from our lives. I spent two decades not aware that I was missing anything from Billy’s absence.
Not until I was a young adult in and just beyond college did I begin to experience the results of Billy not being present in my life on a daily basis. In those years, somehow, I came to an understanding that no one could be close to me without being close to me. His seasonal visits became an insufficient proximity to claim appropriate parental intimacy and authority to dole out advice about any subject – major or minor. I was incredibly bothered by it all and for years I didn’t understand why. For years I struggled with our conflict and the search for some kind of resolution that would end our estrangement and which necessitated the notion of forgiveness which seemed to be perpetually elusive.
That struggle turned out to be my foundational lesson on forgiveness.
So, this Father’s Day as I read posts and comments on social media which represent the diverse experiences we all have with fatherhood, I share my story with Billy. With him I learned that forgiveness cannot be rushed. With him I learned that we all love differently and that we should strive to be in a place to accept another’s love for what it is, not what we need it to be. (I’m still mastering this lesson.) Of course, all of these lessons and understandings are important as we consider our sexuality and spirituality and engaging with others intimately.
Below is a reflection I wrote a few days before Billy died in 2005. I included it within the worship bulletin of his memorial service. I pray that it blesses even more hearts and souls. 😉
Mending That Which Has Been Broken:
From candi to Billy
So many thoughts flood my soul right now – as a journey comes to an end, the journey of a father/daughter relationship. The final leg of this journey began about one year ago when Daddy was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. With surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation the doctors predicted his life could be extended up to two years. Without treatment, the time would be less. Wanting to live as long as possible, Daddy opted for the treatment – and extended his time with us for about a year.
Traditionally, most families do not discuss the causes of a loved one’s physical death or the challenging times leading up to it, but since when am I a traditionalist? (I wonder where that comes from?) Anyway, my non-traditional ways are always rooted in thoughtful reasoning. Funerals, homegoing/memorial services, and celebrations of life really are more for those of us left on earth than it is for the soul that has returned to its Creator. So, here we go . . .
On these pages I am sharing more than what is traditionally revealed – the real deal – as my dad always encouraged me to do my whole life. My prayer is that Daddy’s and my testimony ministers to your soul and especially speaks to any of you who still may be experiencing broken relationships with anyone on any level. Know that with G~d there is always hope and opportunity for anything broken – even shattered – to be mended.
Childhood Memories – the Beginning of a Journey
As a child, truly, I was a daddy’s girl. I simply and utterly adored my daddy. I remember my stomach being tied in knots for weeks when I anticipated my visits with him. Our times together were filled with sooo much fun. I loved meeting all of his friends and being introduced as his daughter. Daddy seemed to know everybody. And everybody seemed to love him – and I was his daughter. That made me someone special!
During Daddy’s last stay at the Macon Medical Center, I was reminded of one of those fun times. Charles Hicks had called me to tell me that he was going to spend the night with Daddy at the Center. This same night, one of Charles’ sons hooked up a video game so he and Daddy could play Monday Night Football. This video game story conjured up a memory that I had not remembered in a while.
When I was about my daughter’s age, I recall visiting Daddy at 201 Georgia Ave. in Fort Valley (GA). Often Charles would come from Reynolds and the three of us would stay up until 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning playing Daddy’s video game system that he bought from Sears. We played so long and hard that we developed calluses on our thumbs! What a great memory!
I also remember that if my dad was anything, he was COOL! He loved music and cars and gadgets – what else could you ask
for in a father? Daddy not only taught me how to drive, he taught me to drive a stick! And because of him I received my FCC license, allowing me to be a disc jockey. Daddy taught me how to mix music and make tapes. How cool is it for your dad to be a DJ and to be the voice announcing the exciting half-time shows of the Fort Valley State Wildcats!
As a child, for me, there was no greater knowledge than being Billy Dugas’ daughter.
These sweet, sweet memories all happened before I entered college. While Daddy was the one to escort me to my freshman year at the University of Florida, he did not continue to support me beyond that. While I was at UF I learned of his substance abuse and our relationship was strained for many years thereafter. During this estranged time we struggled . . . hard – apart and together. When we did talk, he sought assurance that I knew he loved me. Looking back, I don’t think that I ever doubted he loved me. My problem lied in the question, “Does he know how to love me?”
The easy answer to that question is, “No.” The more complex, but more accurate, answer lies in a Revelation that invites me to consider my expectations of how he should love me as a father. My prayers to G~d about mending, about healing, my relationship with Daddy were answered with the adjustment of my expectations through understanding and accepting Daddy for who he was. Fundamentally and holistically who he was – no more – no less. My prayers were answered by deciding that I would no longer expect from a human being that which should come from G~d – or from myself.
I am more than grateful to G~d that in the end I finally understood my struggle and the source of my anger. The source was never his habit, as Daddy was convinced, and the source was never him. The source was an imbalance between my expectations and reality. When G~d finally led me to this place of true understanding, I could absolutely release the struggle and the anger – forever. I was able to receive my dad’s love for me unconditionally. (Later, as I cleaned out his apartment, among his things, I even found evidence of his sincere and deep love for me.)
Insight on Timing and Forgiveness
Always know that G~d’s timing is impeccable. The intensity of my struggle all those years was magnified by my resistance of it. I wanted to know so badly why things were the way they were – so the struggle could be over. Yet G~d only provided a little bit of revelation here and there, scattered over the years. When I needed to know it all, I did. I am convinced that I could not have handled all the truth – all at one time.
Also I need y’all to know that you cannot rush or force forgiveness. Forgiveness is truly a miraculous gift from G~d. This is not an argument to encourage the harboring of grudges because G~d is clear that we are to forgive those who mistreat us, just as G~d forgives our mistreatment of G~d. However, as human beings, forgiveness of deep hurts is not a simple matter and G~d realizes this. That kind of forgiveness requires a process and G~d honors a sincere effort. Honor yourself as well as the other person and don’t rush it – or else both of you could end up far more wounded than you were initially. In the end I forgave my father and myself for any shortcomings and their consequences attached to our relationship. Only from this forgiveness and release could I stand and be a loving, compassionate part of his final days on earth.
Several times during these final days when I had to do something hard and I sought out family and/or friends to accompany me, for various reasons, they were unavailable. Certainly, G~d needed me to complete these tasks relying only on G~d’s help. My sole reliance upon G~d in those matters was significant. In those difficult times – wow – I was so keenly aware of G~d’s presence – a warm, enveloping and embracing presence, the sense of cool air surrounding my shoulders, the unmistakable peace that filled my soul . . . Truly, even when others did accompany me, at the end of the day, still it was just me going through the papers. Still it was just me making the decisions. (Constantly I always hoped and prayed that I was making the right ones.)
Often there were poignant moments in which I realized the gravity of what I was doing. One of those times occurred during my final visit to Daddy’s apartment in Macon; I was keenly aware that it was the last time. This knowledge added a weight, an implication that I was not conscious of before that day. Walking through the rooms, placing items in boxes – or in trash bags, I remember asking myself, “How do you pack up a man’s life?”
In the end, Daddy didn’t have much in the way of material possessions – at least according to the world’s standards. He lost most of that over the last 20 years, a consequence of all kinds of reasons. Yet the worth contained in the items he did have is invaluable. The pictures, the letters, the trophies, the mementos, and of course, the vast vinyl record collection.
How do you pack up those things that meant so much to him?
How do you pack up a man’s life?
How does a person step in (back in) another person’s life, deciding what to do with this? What to do with that?
How do you pack up a man’s life?
Certainly, Daddy and I discussed the fact that he was leaving all of his possessions to me, for me to do with them what I thought best. Yet his specific guidance with this inheritance was limited. In fact, he admitted to me that he could avoid making the tough decisions by assigning the decision making to me. Classic Billy. Ya gotta love him, though.
Classic candi, conversely, is to accept the challenge, boosted in ego and confidence to take on such an awesome task. Simultaneously, in the midst of execution, I doubted that I was doing – not the right thing because right tends to be relative most of the time – but doubting that I was doing the best thing – for his stuff and certainly for him (his mental and physical health).
More than how do you pack up a man’s things – how do you make decisions that affect the quality of his life? I decided to move him to Atlanta from Macon, believing our choices for care were more plentiful and more diverse. Yet, now, when circumstances are less than perfect, my confidence in my decision wavers. So when I sit at his bedside and he is uncomfortable or agitated or sad or challenged, I tell him that I hope I am making good decisions. I hope I really am doing the best available to me for him.
The End of the Journey
Somewhere in my 20s I began to consider the consequences of the fact that I was an only child – and the consequences of the fact that my father was a recovering substance abuser. I began to consider that I had a significant responsibility to take care of my parents at the end of their lives. I determined and accepted that I probably would have to take care of my dad in a more substantial way than I would for my mom. However, I never thought it would be this soon – that it would be now.
As I write this I know we are nearing the end – an end I knew was coming, but walking the reality of it is sometimes surreal. So I pray most earnestly in this moment, Daddy, that you are comfortable and not in pain in any way. I pray for you to experience a freedom that you never have before – for truly you deserve that – a painless freedom, an utter freedom, nothing to bind you. I pray, Daddy, that you know without a doubt how much G~d loves you. G~d loves you immensely – and so do I.
I have always loved you and I always will.
Thank you, Daddy, for loving me.
I am truly sorry for the times that my issues and my inability to deal with them well caused you pain and anguish. I pray that you receive my forgiveness of you, that you receive G~d’s forgiveness, and that you forgive yourself. I pray that in the end, I have honored you and your memory with the proper handling of you, your property, and your affairs. I pray that I represent you and your initials well as I continue to live my life. I owe my love of music, and gadgets, and stick shifts to you – William Lee Dugas – Billy.
I honor you with my life, for without you, I would not be me. I can make this statement today with sincere, pure pride. (I bless G~d immensely for this ability.)
named after my father and I will forever be proud to say that
William Lee Dugas
was MY dad.
AMEN, G~d. AMEN.
(c) 2013, 2005 candi dugas, llc