I have been 'taking a trip down memory lane' recently as I am sorting through letters that my father wrote to my mother and myself when he was put in prison. The letters date back to 1976 when he first arrived in Hennepin County Jail. My intention in sorting through these letters is to compile them as memoirs from my father in a book, sharing insights from a person who has had a father in prison most of their life and recognizing God's love for my father even through all of his actions. I haven't read these letters for years and didn't even realize some of them existed.
The most profound thought that came to my mind, as I began sorting through the 20 some years worth of letters, wasn't how awful the nature of my father's crime was or the things he chose to share with me about everyday life in prison, but was the sacrificial love that my mother chose to show him and me.
For the longest time, my father thought he was going to beat the system, actually right up until his death, and be released from prison. There was a time when he came to grips with reality, a short time, and saw that he wasn't going to be released and as he described it, "I love you Bev, but I don't think things are going to work out very good."
He knew what he had done and he knew that there was a good chance that my mother would abandon him.
I had grown up thinking that my mother was a sucker in staying with my him for as long as she did. She stayed with him for several years after he was put away. I believed it was her upbringing and naivety or insecurity that kept her with him for so long. When I went back to the letters he wrote her from prison, I saw something different.
My father pleaded with her to stay with him.
"Bev, what I got to say is that I love you and Traci very much and I have done a lot of bad things to you two. I don't know if something is wrong with me or not. My head hurts a lot and that all I do is think about you two guys and all the good things that we had. And all the good things we could have had if I would have not done things.
I know that you are hurt very much from all of this and you are about to give up. All I can do I can do is pray to God that you will not give up and that you will try to still want me and love me.
And if you can't love me, please stay with me because a little bit of love or bad love is better than no love at all."
He later went on, in other letters, declaring how he would end his life if he didn't have us. I remember my mother coming to me, when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and asking my permission to divorce my father. She had stayed with him nearly five years after he was put away.
I can't imagine all the heartache she must have gone through in those five years of visiting, writing, and receiving phone calls from him. I remember taking trips to the prison and entering the visiting room with all the other inmates and their families. I was an environment I was unaccustomed. It was certainly an environment my mother was unaccustomed to; growing up in a suburban, two-parent, church-attending home.
If I had been in my mother's shoes, I would have bailed as soon as I could get myself a divorce attorney. I wouldn't have thought about my actions and the consequences it would have on the person who had hurt me most in life. I would have wanted to do the opposite. I would have taken my daughter and ran as far as I could have, letting him rot in prison for what he had done.
My mom was a gentle spirit though. She had a way of just being there for people, that I am not so sure has been passed down to me. I think she stayed as long as she could and had compassion on my father when he didn't deserve compassion, a Christ-like compassion. Maybe she was thinking about me as well; how by knowing that my father and mother were still married would create a sense of security where there really was none.
Either way, I now see my mother's actions as a sacrificial love toward my father and myself. Not an insecure reaction to a horrible situation as I have seen it for so many years.
My mother and father are both dead now. But my hope is, that I will see them both in a different light as the words from these letters unfold.