No matter what direction I turn, I find myself standing face-to-face with someone I’ve hurt. Be it some random public interaction with someone from my past or someone within my own family dynamic, I am repeatedly reminded of the lasting pain I’ve caused in the lives of other people as a result of my horrid choices. And recently, it has gotten worse.
Today is the official mainstream release date of my second book, Life Noir. It’s Book #1 in a series of four books about how I hit rock bottom and managed to claw my way back to what resembles a normal life. It is written as a first-person memoir, chronicling my life from my pubescent years in high school in the 90s, all the way up until the moment I walked out of freedom and into prison on November 2, 2012.
I would not breathe free air again for the next 25 months.
“763 days. That’s 18,322 hours. That’s 1,098,720 minutes.
And I felt every — single — one.”
–Life Noir, p. 210
I have never pretended to think my choices only impacted me. And until the other day, I thought I was at least mostly aware of how I’d hurt the people I love. But then, out of nowhere, something else was brought to my attention. It seems that my daughter has not been dealing with things well lately. As her father, I have always had a positive (and, for the record, appropriate) relationship with my daughter. She grew up bragging that she was a “daddy’s girl” and even today, we (mostly) get along great. She makes noticeable efforts to relate to me by cheering for my favorite baseball team (the Boston Red Sox) with me, reading books she knows I’ve read and liked (such as the Left Behind series), and asking me to help her with her considerable knack for crafts and creativity. On the surface, we have a great father/daughter relationship. But below the surface, things are not so well.
Without going into detail about the issues my daughter is having, suffice it to say she has been having some silent-but-serious struggles. These struggles prompted several students at her school to tell the school counselor, who subsequently spoke with my daughter, then called my wife. As it turns out, my daughter is still feeling a lasting sense of abandonment and trauma from my three-year absence (two years in prison and an additional year before the Kansas Department of Corrections would let me see her).
I do everything I can think of to try to restore our father/daughter relationship, but the fact of the matter is, there will always be that three-year hole in her life when she was without a father figure in her life. And it causes me lasting pain to know that it was my own destructive choices which caused a cascading domino effect, leading to the traumatization of my only child. How am I not supposed to hate myself for this?
In my car, I listen to a lot of SiriusXM Satelite Radio. If asked, most of the people who know me would assume my channel-of-choice would probably be the 90s on 9. But honestly, it’s not. Sure, I like to jam some 90s music once in a while. But more often than not, my radio is set on SiriusXM Channel 128: Joel Osteen Radio. Pastoring from Houston, Texas, Joel Osteen is a nondenominational Christian pastor with a huge church and a nationally-syndicated broadcast of his sermons. In recent months, my wife and I have been making a concerted effort together to grow in our faith. And for me, listening to Joel Osteen’s sermons in my car whenever I drive has become a notable part of that. Joel’s father was also a nationally-known pastor, John Osteen; Joel loves to talk about his dad and how he had such a great father. Joel often credits his father with much of his own success.
I had a great father. My choices were never his fault; there were a few major contributing variables regarding the choices leading to my imprisonment, and none of them were the fault of my father. However, I also know that my daughter can’t really brag that she had a great father. In the eyes of many people (including a significant number of Christians), I am the worst kind of person because of the choice I made which ended with me going to prison. If there’s one thing Joel Osteen talks about repeatedly, it is God’s unconditional forgiveness when someone comes to God with a repentant heart. And that, essentially, is me. In fact, the subtitle of my book, Life Noir, is: “A Repenting Villain’s Memoir.” Therefore, I know God has forgiven me and I’ve put the entirety of my faith in Him. But that does not change the fact that the choices of my past have hurt the people I love most.
Today is the day my Memoir is officially being released. According to Webster’s Dictionary defines a memoir as “a narrative composed from personal experience” — a book by me and about me. And yet, if there is one thing I’ve painfully learned throughout my experiences, it is this: My life is not about me; my life is about the ones I love.
My daughter has told me time and time again that she forgives me for being gone. And while I believe her, I know she is still dealing with the aftermath of my choices, even if those choices were made nearly a decade ago. She did nothing wrong; she merely had me as her father. And her father made a terrible choice which had a painful impact on her life — this will never change.
My sins are not her sins, and she shouldn’t have to suffer for what I did. But she does.
How am I not supposed to hate myself for this?
I keep asking God this question — I’m still waiting for an answer.