My dad, may he rest in peace, was not a very good man. He was depressed, balding, severely bipolar, a very poor provider, diabetic, full of self-loathing, lazy, he liked puns, and he didn’t live long enough for me to understand what it even is that makes a person good.
My parents divorced when I was nine, because of his mishandling of his bipolar disorder, his unwillingness to take medication (he felt he needed to use his agency to overcome it), and his inability to help our family survive financially. That, mixed with his Type I diabetes, took him out of the game when he was 45 and I was 13.
I did not like him when he died.
I didn’t understand his disease at all and felt like he’d cursed our family on purpose. I didn’t like him because I felt like he didn’t work hard enough to get to know me, and I was certain that he’d chosen his manic-depression over me.Of course, I felt immensely guilty for not liking him. For not coming to some sort of understanding while he was alive.
And the two days after he died, I heard that Mike and the Mechanics song “In the Living Years” 17 times. What a way to sock it to me.
I moped for a couple of years over having a dead dad, who I didn’t think would make it to heaven, who couldn’t be a part of our eternal family, if we even got to have one. But then there came a desperation to work out things somehow, to apologize, to get him to apologize, to understand what was happening to him.
Luckily, I’m Mormon, and while most doctrines about the afterlife aren’t very explicit, we’ve got a lot of information. Plus, at least we believe that he’s somewhere in the Spirit World, doing something. And that was enough belief for me to start praying for this reconciliation between father and daughter. It took awhile but somewhere near age 16, I had an experience while praying during which I felt a deep love and understanding for my dad, and distinctly felt his desires and will. His begging for forgiveness, his aching for his family. I was entirely certain however from this feeling that he was still messed up. Still working out a lot of his life and what it had meant.
Then periodically I would get a sense of him, like a yearly visit to my mind or heart. I felt like he was growing up as I was growing up. Maybe that he was in some sort of therapy. He liked himself a bit more every time I felt him, more confident in himself. The mania that scared me as a kid and the depression that offended me seemed to be gone. I just couldn’t get a feel for that anymore, though it seemed clear that it didn’t disappear from him completely or immediately.
Then my last year in Provo, 13 years after he died, I went to a Tabernacle Choir concert. If I were the visionary type, it would have been a vision, but I had never sensed my dad so strongly in my whole life. I actually felt a presence, whereas before it was just a feeling. He felt whole. Loving. Well-adjusted. I felt belonging, like he was claiming me as his daughter.
I am certain of it. In the same way that I am certain about our revealed theology about the hereafter and heaven. But it is uncanny isn’t it? That I sensed my dad growing up while I was growing up. That my dad seemed to become more of a well-adjusted adult while I was becoming a, ahem, well-adjusted adult. I might have made this all up. To take care of my heart. To own my dad. To own my own difficult experiences, or to give myself a father for a Mormon afterlife that mandates eternal families. Did I make this all up?
I don’t think I did. I cannot write off those experiences so easily, and I don’t want to. Then the question comes, what’s the harm in the creation of this doctrine, this pre-resurrection progression? We know there’s something that happens in that time, why not, for me and my own personal beliefs, this?
I believe that life experience creates a need for doctrine not yet revealed. I believe in personal revelation and God’s power and willingness to share understanding when it’s asked for. I would never preach it (get your own personal revelation–sheesh!) but I wonder what the risk factor is? Surely most of you don’t question this personal revelation because it’s a feel good kind, from which only good seems to come. But where does one draw the line of personal revelation? And how does one draw that line when revelation comes in answer to such an earnest question from a daughter with a dead, dead-beat dad wanting an eternal family?