Guest Post: My Dad & I, by Joni Leimgruber

This is something new for LifeConfetti.

A GUEST POST.

I want you to meet Joni Leimgruber.

LifeConfetti is featuring this raw, emotional blog post about the complicated relationship between father and daughter, written by Joni.  Please read these words straight from her heart, and then check out her blog to read more.

Joni lives just outside Sydney in the beautiful Hawkesbury region with her husband and their three children. Having journeyed through depression, marriage breakdown and restoration and some of the other curve balls life can throw, she is passionate about cheering others on and encouraging them to embrace themselves and their story. She is terrible at telling jokes and regularly comes down with foot-in-mouth disease while blushing profusely.

Joni is midway through writing her first book, Stories: a personal insight into refugees in Australia. You can read about that here.

To share your story or for any other queries, contact her at joni (dot) leimgruber (at) gmail (dot) com.

You can find her blog at https://wordsbyjoni.wordpress.com/

She writes and tells stories.  Everyone has a story.  This is part of Joni’s story…  

*************************************

My dad was a broken man. He did his best but he really had been busted open by life.

And when broken relationships and family expectations and inner demons tore open his chest and exposed his insecurities, he stitched his skin back together tightly, with threads of denial, escape and addiction.

He was such a beautiful man, my dad. I always remember his hands – huge and very masculine. His nails were always short, he chewed them right down to the skin, right up until the end.

He was tall and handsome and he had the most beautiful smile. He’d fold himself up to take a seat and he’d listen. Really listen. This great big hulk of a man was a great listener, when you could get him to hear.

I always loved my dad. Right from when I was young and wondered what a dad even was and why did I need one anyway? Right from when I was 7 and met my dad and felt the fear of vulnerability and the sting of abandonment and rejection.

I loved him when I was 16 when we tried again and I cried and he fled and placed blame where it didn’t belong. I loved him when I was grown and when he walked me down that long, narrow aisle and held my arm as I moved towards a future of family and marriage and children.

I loved him when he played with my children and enjoyed being a grandpa and when he brought them gifts and made genuine effort to be in their world.

And I loved him when the doctors insisted he was living his last days and he denied and denied and denied, right up until the end.

I loved him when he told me that he loved me. For the very first – and very last – time. “You know I’ve always loved you, right?” he said softly, as we sat on the hospital bed in the quiet of early morning. It was his last lucid day and these are the words I choose to remember most.

Because after that day, after the cancer took him into deep sleep and slowly ejected him from his body, I remembered the pain and the disappointment and the deep, deep rejection.

I remembered all the words he’d said and all the ones he hadn’t, like “Happy Birthday” and “you’re so beautiful” and “I’ve got your back”.

I remembered when he laid blame at my 7 year old feet for the breakdown of relationship and when he promised he’d come – and didn’t. I remember how it hurt my brother and the guilt I felt for that. After all, he’d said it was my fault.

And then I remembered the walk along the river, exploring the seeds falling from trees, drinking coffee and chatting about everything and nothing. I remembered the drawings he did for my children, one each – bright and bold – and the fact that they’d always known he loved them.

I remembered the day he’d told me to go for it, that he believed in me, that he was sure I’d ace it at university, that I really should enroll ​if that was what I wanted to do.

And I remember when he looked at me – actually looked at me – on that hospital bed, in those final hours and told me that he loved me. That he had always loved me.

That memory brings pain and sadness. Because I loved my dad. I loved him so much. And it wasn’t until he was on his final days that he was able to tell me that he loved me too.

And after he went I had to come to terms with all the missed opportunities, the forgotten years, the non existent fond memories. I had to come to terms with what had been lost. But I also realized that if I could forgive my dad, if I could forgive the years of neglect, if I could forgive him for forgetting us, then I’d be able to remember those moments, those precious words and hold them close to my heart.

Because forgiving is sometimes choosing to remember the good bits, despite the bad bits. I won’t forget the hurt – the holes in my childhood are too great a reminder. But I choose to remember the good bits – because they’re so very valuable to me as a daughter, a mother, a sister – and as a wife who is learning to love again, learning to trust a man with her heart.

As much as I would’ve loved to have a great relationship with my dad, I’ve found that by forgiving him, I’ve been able to hold onto the small gifts he gave me – and nothing can erase them from this story.

When his rejection and absence ripped open my own chest, and when my insecurities and disappointments and fears were open and lying vulnerable to the world, I knew I had a choice. I could pick up that needle and thread it with what I had at that moment. I could stitch my chest back together with a solid vein of independence and I could build a strong cocoon around my heart. I could use bricks of anger and denial and justification – I could pile them up, one on top of the other, until I was safe in there. But in that moment I chose to take a different path. I’d seen what it had done to my dad. I’d seen what he’d lost in his life.

His fear of love and vulnerability meant that when he died, he was estranged from most of his children and his close relationships had all broken down. While he wasn’t alone when he died – he was well loved – he died under a pall of what could have been.

So when my dad died I made a decision. I would try really hard to learn from his mistakes. I’d try to remember the good parts and I’d also try to remember the bad parts – so that I could learn and try different things. Other ways of healing and protecting and loving.

So I etched the words into my wrist as a reminder to love fearlessly. As a reminder that love is never something to allow fear to keep us from. I wanted to remind myself every day that love is for the brave ones. It’s for the ones who feel the fear and love anyway. It’s for the ones who are determined to live a full and generous life.

And so I forgave my dad. I still miss him and sometimes, I’m really mad at him. Sometimes I feel sad about what we missed and at other times, the happy memories make me smile.

And I’m grateful for what he taught me. He taught me to love fearlessly and he taught me that even when fear exists, he taught me to love anyway, even if that means that sometimes I have to love fearfully.

Best of all? I’ll always love my dad. Because thanks to forgiveness, I can see the good now, not just the bad.

Author: Jennifer Lilley Collins

I'm a Mom, wife, daughter, and friend navigating life with metastatic breast cancer while finding joy in the everyday and spreading hope, love, and inspiration along the way.

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