Forgiveness, With Reckless Abandon

I was 4 years old the summer night my father took me to the little league baseball game at that old field.

I grew old that night when he left me there, abandoned.

Right behind that old backstop, I stood. Alone. The heat of the day dying in the magic of lights and young fastballs. Grandads shouting attaboy love over their DR Peppers. My dad preferred a beer. He preferred about 7 of them at one time back then.

“Stay right there, now, I’ll be back.”

I remember he shouted it across the street at me from the car. A 4 year old boy knows when his daddy’s drunk. He is no fool. He knows the foolery of a man who had gathered 2 or 3 other foolish drunks into what was to be a father/ son night of baseball wisdom and lore.

“I’ll be back. You stay right there now,” he echoed.

I felt the old Chevy thunder away, up the main street of Weaverville, North Carolina. Into the night. Gone.

A four year old knows, too, when a yonder beer joint holds more allure than the here and now of an only son.

I was a quiet, obedient child, standing left in the ball game crowd behind that backstop. The spell of the game, broken. Shattered, I suppose, under the weight of having to become more man than child.

I didn’t linger long in the abandonment. I abandoned the place. Turned and walked down little Brown Street, calm as the summer dusk under its canopy of trees, turned through a yard, crossed a field, climbed a fence and scuffed my sneakers up to my mom. I found her still working in the yard by the porch light and the moon. And instantly I found how it feels to be held by arms of fitful gratitude. For the first time I felt the pulse of my mother’s fury at the man who helped her put me in this world.

I don’t know what she said to him. I’ll never know what he felt when he and the fellow drunks found me gone from the ballpark. We never spoke of it again.

But I remember being some comfort to my mom, there in the yard. The small town boy knew he had to be her man of that hour. In this, there is nothing noble. Not a thing that is good, for the boy or the man.

From there I grew into the equivalent of a rock upon a shore. The seas of others crashing it, resting upon it, held by the rock, which eroded little over time. A stalwart. The weight, good and strong. This is not the calling of a child. Nor entirely a man. This is the sturdy false ground of the codependent. It took me years to make the rock give way.

But I did. At 17, I turned from the drunken father and walked away. Stopped trying to talk him out of being a drunk and let God alone make a man out of him. Leaving it to them.

My father hit bottom and bounced. He turned into one of the most beautiful men you could know. Graceful and sweet, magnetic and kind and hilarious. So full of love.

Forgiven. Loved. Missed to this day.

But his little boy has to keep walking away from the backstop. He has to keep ceasing to become a false hero. He must keep turning toward home to find refuge, without making himself a savior of everyone along his way.

I remain guilty of making things more than all right for people when they are not. I give care and care too little about taking some. These are hallmarks of adult children of alcoholics. I am devout about not letting them mark my course toward home from here.

Codependency is doing for others what they are more than able to do for themselves. I could not school my dad into being the great man of his calling. He had to do it himself, with help not entirely of this world.

We buried him not very far from that old backstop, just outside that little town, and oh how we cried. I visited his grave a few days ago, and damned if the tears didn’t come down again, years after we grieved his casket into that ground. But they carry salt of his wisdom, a tide of his rejoining to me. A coming home. My dad walks with me now on my road. Proud. And to me he whispers, “Be kind, son, but be no one’s fool. You were wise to get over being a fool for me, and look at how I became. Forgive, but let those you love carry some of the water. Let them take a wave or two, and spare the rock.”

“Oh, and take in a ball game,” he whispers. “Listen for me in the thrum of the crowd. In the wind off a fast ball, you might have thrown. I’m there. And you I will never leave. Never again.”

14 Responses to “Forgiveness, With Reckless Abandon”

  1. so beautiful, bittersweet, and poignant. thank you for sharing, Michael

  2. Rhonda Kale Says:

    Thank you so much for writing & sharing this. I am also an adult child of an alcoholic, whom we buried 2 weeks ago at the age of 81, so I can feel your pain….

  3. Susan Webb Says:

    Thank you Michael.
    Your words could almost be my life story.
    Thank you from Leicester NC

  4. Michael, I heard you speak many years ago at Mt Bethel Baptist Cchurch, in Belton, SC. I have never forgotten about your story..Also, I watch you on Channel 4….margene Murdock

  5. Jennie Sullivan Says:

    I am also the child of a an alcoholic father who I loved so very much. I too remember the nights we had to get away and stay with anyone that would let a Mother with 4 children stay and there were many. Today, those memories are hard. My Mom is gone but she was the one who bore the burden, as I know in my heart. My Dad left us at the early age of 45 and I can remember feeling so guilty for some of my feelings at the time of his death. Thank you so very much for the blessing of writing you have and that you share with us. Jennie Sullivan

  6. For something that hurts so deeply you articulated it beautifuly.
    Thank you.

  7. Kathy McGuffin Says:

    Beautiful but sad story. Thank you for sharing. 🙏😊

  8. Jill Kremer Says:

    This story always has, and always will, break my heart.

    • Thank you, Jill. And isn’t it a miracle — most healing — what my father became? He never fully forgave himself his past. But Love forgives. Love receives. His welcome to the presence of God, most lovely.

  9. Beautiful words Michael. So sorry you had to experience abandonment at 4 yrs old. You are a strong inspirational man.

  10. Where is your dad buried ?

    • Jane, he’s on the West Cemetery, Weaverville, NC

      • wjhollifield Says:

        I have family buried there too . I am from Weaverville but moved to Travelers Rest in1972 when my Dad was transferred with his company .. I still have family there … Brenda Bishop is my aunt .. I think she went to church with you .. I remember things about Weaverville .. like .. story time under the huge tree across from the old library .. I remember the library had a screen door in it .. I remember the public water fountain across the street from the furniture store .. I remember the drug store with the soda fountains … all good memories of family and days gone by
        O

      • My friend, SO many fond memories, and I share each one. Thank you so much for this. Please share this all you want. So honored. m

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