I returned to NYC after a lovely Thanksgiving at my cabin to find a letter from My Jailed Deaf Dad waiting for me. He included a letter he wrote to the Board of Pardon & Paroles that he wants me to review and translate to English.
In it, he accepts responsibility for the crime he committed, admits his problems with drugs and alcohol and sets forth a plan for a positive future. He pledges to stay sober & volunteer as a guest speaker at schools --particularly Deaf schools-- about his troubled life, the mistakes he made, and the dangers of drugs and alcohol. (Hey, maybe Chris Brown could attend?)
To say I'm surprised is the understatement of the year. Sure, his letter is written as a plea to be released so it's rife with the "right" words that the Parole Board wants to hear. But it's an important step towards healing and forgiveness. It's a step Dad has been afraid to take for years fearing that I (and my brother, too) would disown him as the rest of his family has.
As I've learned from working with domestic violence groups, abusers can be healed. One of the most effective ways of changing an abuser's conduct is to show them, tangibly, how their behavior has negatively impacted the lives of their children. This is the same principle used in interventions. Friends and family write letters expressing all their feelings about the abuse and how the abuser's behavior has been destructive. Once the abuser is ambushed, the letters are read aloud and, hopefully, the abuser will agree to got to rehab.
A few months ago, Dad read my memoir, "Burn Down the Ground" where I laid my truth bare. He was upset, of course, at reading about how I felt about him as my hero and, worse, as my villain. He was also afraid of his Deaf life being ruined. However, perhaps for the first time ever, he was confronted with the collateral damage of his abuse: Me, his "baby girl."Basically, my memoir was a 331 page intervention letter.
In the past, he's always denied responsibility and has defiantly rejected the idea that maybe he's an alcoholic. I've wondered if he thought I believed him. Now, there is no wondering. No running away. No hiding. When one owns up to one's mistakes is when forgiveness comes easiest. It's time for the truth to set him free and for the healing to begin.
The book has been out for several months now and Dad's fear has transformed into hope. He is seeing how positive the reactions have been from readers, that his old friends have come out of the woodwork and have not rejected him but are willing to embrace him, flaws and all. He's also seen how I've traveled the country speaking at schools, domestic violence groups and charities making a real difference. He recognizes now that his Deaf life isn't ruined, but beginning anew. Like we've done literally and figuratively our whole lives, we are "burning down the ground" and starting fresh.
Like Mom always said, "It can't be pretty without being ugly first."