7. Root

Root

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

Exodus 34:6-7

Lee entered the picture when I was nine. He came across my mother in the new church she attended when he met an unfamiliar lonely woman at a singles group. Lee later said to me that God told him to marry her. I don’t envy his calling. He arrived at the scene of a sinking ship. In the nearby water he found a shell-shocked woman scrambling to get in his lifeboat, two kids on board who’d rather drown with their dad than trust him, and a vengeful man firing the last available turret above water in their direction. 

Lee patiently courted my mom for about a year and a half, respecting her boundaries. Though it still was a little fast for her, she learned to trust again. When visiting our home, he attempted to enter our world with kind gestures and open arms only to find stiff resistance. We felt violated. This new man entered our home, ate at our table and sought our friendship. Our loyalty remained with dad. Anyone who opposed him the way Lee or mom did was anathema in our eyes. We wanted our dad, not a marionette attempting to be a real one.

Shortly after the divorce finalized, mom and Lee married. One of their wedding photos features two young boys with glum faces, tilted shoulders and arms limping at their sides. We didn’t smile much, and when we did it was rarely genuine. Though we resented having a new father figure invade our lives while technically still having one, we weren’t sabotaging Lee’s wedding photo. Several with dad were similar.

In one such snapshot we stood in the front of the green bushes on the side of the new church he landed at after the split, Pine Lake Covenant. Behind and between us, he stood, resting his hand on each of our shoulders. We all wore dark clothes, my dad’s outfit blacked out. He wore impenetrable, circular spectacles, a blazer dipped in pitch, and a charcoal fedora. His expression laid flat outlined by his goatee. The only hints of smiles on our faces were caused by raised cheeks helping squinting eyes hide from the rays of the sun.

Despite Lee’s best efforts, having never fathered children of his own, he often sunk into his former bachelor lifestyle. He drowned out his unquiet mind with television or movies, which became our primary means of bonding. Although his salary as an engineer put food on the table and allowed us to keep our house and school district, the hauntings of his past hamstrung him, preventing Lee from being all that we needed him to be.

All of the iniquity polluting my pedigree from upstream prevented my brother and I from knowing who we were. We both bloomed very slowly in tainted, weedy soil as their shortcomings choked out the nutrients and sunlight we needed to flourish. 

I came into the world whole, without inhibitions or self consciousness, truly naked and not ashamed. The once innocent, carefree and hopeful little drummer boy was unable to escape the momentum of generational iniquity. The sins of my parents stripped away paradise, unveiling my once sinless eyes to the knowledge of good and evil. This traumatic wound gouged a hole that would provide ample room and fertile ground for my own addictions to take root.1

  1. Dr. Gabor Maté explores the consequences of childhood trauma in his book entitled When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress. He posits that nearly all unhealthy behaviors and even some physical ailments are rooted in some form of childhood trauma.

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