It’s been so long since that last day we talked and you’re on my heart today. I miss you, Dad!
Remember that day, Dad? You sat in that room, mostly silent and sober. I think about that day, and all the days and years that led up to it. It all seems so long ago now.
You were my hero, growing up. I wanted to be just like you!
I have often told people, “My dad could do just about anything! He was a child prodigy—a fine violinist, and a darned good fiddler! Dad could ballroom dance like a Fred Astaire, and swim like Johnny Weissmuller of “Tarzan” fame. He was also a wonderful sketch artist. My dad could be the funniest, most charismatic person in any room. He was, in fact, the most gifted person I ever knew”—but, maybe the most tragic back then.
That day, sitting next to your bed in that hospital room in Paris, Arkansas, it was so important to me to share what I did, even at the risk of upsetting you. And, by the pained look on your face, as I had to leave you that day, I guess it did. But, time was running out, Dad, and it seemed too late to talk through all those other things that might have helped heal our family years before.
This letter is not meant to open old wounds, Dad, but to say some things that might be healing for any of us, even now! I pray you finally understand and have forgiven. I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness since then. The world could use a lot of it, just now! I thought you would be proud to know, Donna and I even wrote a wonderful stage play about that.
“Ten Boom the Musical” is based on the powerful true story of a Dutch woman named Corrie ten Boom. She and her Christian family were sent to concentration camps, after hiding hundreds of Jews from the Nazis. But, the heart of the play is about what gave them the courage to endure. Joyful family memories and faith in God helped Corrie and her sister Betsie bring hope to others in those terrible times. Love and forgiveness helped them find victory, even there!
It was because of you, Dad, that I grew up to be a professional singer for many years, and a lover of music. I remember the pains you took, teaching me and my sisters to sing close harmonies, when we were about thirteen, ten and nine years old. Remember?
Doing dishes after dinner each night was more than a chore for Judy, Donna and me. We would always argue about who got to wash or dry. Judy always washed, of course, because she was the biggest, and could be pretty intimidating! :o) Donna would cry about that. I just got mad. So, the jousting went on each evening!
I remember the night you finally laid down the law! You came into the kitchen and sat the three of us down on that redwood bench by our picnic dinner table. “From now on, I don’t want to hear another argument! If you’re going to make a sound, it will only be to SING! Doe-Ra-Me,” you sang. That’s how it began.
Night after night, we practiced musical scales for what seemed hours. Sometimes to the point of tears—mostly ours, “Daddy, I’m too tired” or “I can’t do it.” For you, it must have been like pulling teeth, trying to teach three squirmy girls the discipline of learning and singing music. But, you persisted, as Judy sang the alto, I sang tenor, and our little sister Donna sang the lead.
Eventually, we were so proficient, all we wanted to DO was sing. You taught us mostly “barbershop quartet” songs—“Sweet Adeline,” “In the Evening By the Moonlight,” “Now is the Hour,” etc. No rock ‘n’ roll, as we might have wanted to sing in the fifties. But, we have to admit now, it really was a beautiful blend, those sister harmonies, and we had fun, after all. Thanks, Dad!
You had long-since given up your dreams of being a professional musician, needing to “get a real job and feed all of us.” You became an electrician then, and it seemed your own personal light went out. I know mom never encouraged your music, and even seemed a bit jealous of it, sadly. Not to blame her—the years had taken away the heart to pursue your dreams, only to mourn the loss of them.
Even so, because of you, three young girls also learned to dance and swim really well. You taught me to play a ukulele and encouraged my acting in school plays, and singing with school and Bay Area dance bands. We learned to fish off the pier in Monterey Bay, and to jump the waves and discover seashells on the beach in Carmel. We learned to catch crawfish with bacon, and swing out on a tree rope to drop into a swimming hole at the “big dam” near our riverside home in Boulder Creek. You made a pull-cart to fit our beloved Australian Shepherd, “Duchess,” so we could go for rides behind her. You taught us the ‘art’ of trimming a Christmas tree with cellophane rain; how to pitch a tent, and (at least for me) how to make the best darned pot of spaghetti, or sauerkraut and spareribs with dumplings, ever! I can even thank you now that you insisted we learn to mow and trim a lawn, and plant vegetables. That would come in handy later!
I so wanted to please you, Dad! I would like what you liked, and eat whatever you ate, even Limburger cheese on crackers. Although I never acquired a taste for beer, like you!
You were my hero, Dad! I guess that’s why the hurt came—the deep disappointment!
We were too young to understand “grown-up” things—like being in an unhappy marriage, too many bills and not enough money, or doing a 9-5 job you hated every day. I never understood why it was wrong to talk about “religion” or God at home, although Mom taught us that “Grace” dinner prayer, and let us go to a church now and then.
The hardest thing for us to understand was when you began to stay out late after work on so many Friday nights, only to come in, having drank up your paycheck at a local bar. After several volatile incidents on those nights, I remember the fear of seeing you come home then.
We never understood how you parked the car in our narrow garage; then barely making it through the back door, you would pass out on the laundry floor. On more sober nights, you could be jolly, wanting us to sing, or playing your violin—but, only for a while. Those were the nights we didn’t want to sing, but were afraid not to. Inevitably, you and Mom would fight, and the sometimes cruel name-calling came from both of you. You would turn into a raging bull then, and we all feared how it might end.
Remember, years before, Dad—the night a distraught friend of yours named “Bill” had gone home drunk one night, and threatened to kill himself. His wife called you to “Come help,” and for some reason you took all our family there with you. I was only seven then, and we were all traumatized when Bill shot himself right in front of us. I wondered, would you do that, too, on one of those Friday nights?
Those were scary times for us. Sad times, when we also learned about shame! Children of alcoholics suffer lasting pain. But, surely you knew that, Dad, being the victim of an alcoholic step-father when you were a small boy.
Do you even remember those nights when you would angrily stand the three of us girls in a row like soldiers, commanding us to, “Stand at attention, and pull in your stomach,” sometimes punching us there! But, the sometimes crude accusations and threats to three young, still virgin girls was the most painful part of it. “Oh, Daddy”… we would cry, fearfully. Maybe you were just mustering up courage to take control of your life. But, alcohol was never the answer, Dad.
The family music had stopped for us then!
When your anger subsided on those nights, and you finally ceased troubling us, you would begin to cry and shoo us out of your sight. Later, hearing you cry alone in the living room, I remember going out to console you, if only with a hug. I was too young to make sense of things you cried out about then. How you had lost your first wife, the real “love of your life.” How you missed her and your two now older children back in Pennsylvania. You missed playing your violin with all those orchestras. Your dreams were all gone.
You never stopped grieving over those losses, and even more so as the years went by. That was a lot of grief for young girls to bear, too, Dad! Getting it all mixed up then, I felt more sadness for you than I did for Mom, who must have hurt deeply all those years, hearing you call another, “the love of your life.”
I wondered, Dad, why you never went back to see your first family, to resolve any of that—why you couldn’t see you were driving away any of us. And why hadn’t you and Mom sought help somewhere—or, more importantly, given it to God?
It’s been years since I thought of these things, Dad. So why do I say them now, even for others to read? Is it that I haven’t forgiven you? No, Dad—truly I have! That’s what I want you to understand now. And I pray you’ve forgiven me for any pain I ever caused you in return.
Maybe someone out there can relate to this now. And maybe it will help them resolve some of their own painful memories; and forgive also. Addictions and dysfunction in families just continues, unless or until someone decides to make it stop. For me, Dad, Someone did!
That day, as you sat so silent in that hospital room, I couldn’t know it would be the last time we would see you. The doctor told us you might have a few months at best, because of the cancer.
I was desperate that day to share the one thing I finally knew for certain, that had changed everything for me and so many others. I prayed it would dispel all your pain, also.
Remember, Dad? It was 1984 when my own desperation had come to a head, after years of broken relationships, broken promises and my own failed dreams. My children were growing away from me, as yours did years before. Feeling “old” then, I also felt betrayed by other “saviors” in my life—even my music. The “raging bull” inside of me, found me in a large Nashville church, silent but angrily daring God to “show” himself, if he even existed.
And you know what, Dad? He did that!
Sitting there in a church pew—my defenses high; pain bottled up to where I couldn’t even cry anymore—the Lord spoke right out loud to me. “You’re going home, Susan.” Twice, He said it! There were not enough tissues to mop up the tears then, over years of confused beliefs and memories, losses and pain. It was a Voice that said I was truly LOVED, even so. Tears turned to joy then. I’d never known that!
I thought how He could dry your tears, Dad, if you could only know how much He loved you, too. I called you so many times, those first months after I heard His voice. It must have frustrated the fire out of you, but I had to try to make you understand. “The confusion is gone, Dad” I cried. “God is real, and He moved time and space to show me!”
I remember calling you one day, and you saying angrily, “I thought you were going to make something of yourself and now you’ve given it all up for religion!”
No, not religion, Dad, but I finally believed God more than any person! Your words that would have hurt me not so long ago, only made me love you more!
As physically strong as you were, you had often been like a needy, weeping child, trying to do life by your boot straps, yet never seeking what could have changed your life then—all our lives. That was the real tragedy.
That day by your bed, I did my best to tell you all the wonderful things I was learning, that you could know, too. I was happy when you said “yes” to let me pray with you then. As Donna and I turned to go, that last day, the look on your face was anything but joyful. But, both of us believed that God would somehow make up the difference—“replacing the years the locusts had eaten” of our lives. Less than a week later, the call came that you were gone. I cried that day, too, Dad, but was comforted to believe with all my heart, you were in God’s hands now, and we would see you again one day.
There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8). I finally learned what that verse means, Dad.
You’re not here to see it, but the world seems to have gone crazy these days! So many people’s hearts have become cold, unloving, unforgiving, and saddest of all, unbelieving in the only One able to set any of us free from our heartaches—our sins.
That’s why Donna and I set Corrie ten Boom’s story to music, Dad; to help others see the power of love and forgiveness. If anyone should have been bitter, seeing hate-filled people kill millions of others in World War 2, including many of her family—it was Corrie. But, she chose to love, not hate—her heart and the ministries of her life would always be toward peace. She learned to find joy in others, and to forgive, even a Nazi!
I can only imagine a world where everyone is like that. I’m thankful to believe you’re experiencing that first-hand, even now!
I love you always, Dad.
[Photo above, L to R: LaRue Parker “Dad” Croop, Susan Beyer, Judy Hunter, our dog Duchess, Donna Griggs, and our mother Mary Gribben Croop, c. 1948]