PAIN: My Father’s Back

My Writing

My Father's Back Julia Marks

In the chaotic swirl that has been my last few weeks, I planned to categorize this essay with something a bit less direct.  Something more acceptable.

But I always came back to PAIN.  I didn’t want to be so stark in identifying what this was about, but, in the end, there was no way around it.

It’s about pain.

The conflict with being in pain and being a person of God is that as we turn our lives over to God, we want the pain in our lives to be explained away somehow.  In that great promise that we call God’s love.  God’s love for us.  Individually.

God loves us.  My pain is somehow part of that love.


So as I work on the tapestry that is the picture of my conception – the tangle in the bathtub between a woman seeking a way out of being disposed of because of her act of betrayal and a man on fire – trying my best to lift each delicate thread and cleanse it of the thunderbolt of grief that is attached to each, I am always left with the image of my father leaving.

The bathtub was in Virginia.  My mother was headed back to her mother in Maine.  And my father was being called out to the west coast to work on something or other.  Inventing a solution.  Applying his brilliance.

Which was almost always done over there.

Not here.

There was very little time in my life when there was my father’s face before me.

And even when there was that one opportunity, it was just a chance for me to be present to his fire.

That was his feeling towards me.

The rage.

At my existence.

That never dimmed.

I am the child of irresponsibility and fury.

The fire in my soul that my father gifted me I have come to understand and accept.

But as I work on that tapestry, I have always before me the image of my father’s back.

Walking away.

And I know that in this case, anyway, this man turning his back and walking away from me is about me being dispossessed.  Stripped of my identity as his daughter.  Robbed of the blessings that were due me as his child.

My only identity in relation to my father is my state of being unacknowledged.


I am not a bastard child.

Yet I am the Bastard of my family.

As a spiritual woman who walks behind God in all my steps I understand the true gift that learning to only walk behind my father is in life.  With God, however, I am not unacknowledged.

I know that I followed my father, even though he was out of my sight most of my life, in my college education.  In my ability to “know” things, as he did.

In those explosions of brilliance that come my way and leave their trails of smashed light in my consciousness to sort through and build with.

I follow my father.

I follow God.

I even follow those nobhead priests in my life.

Who not only turn their backs on me, but usually give me a swift kick in their turning.

I am under orders to follow priests.  I remember the first time I received that command.  I was at a Mass at the Washington National Cathedral.  So after the Mass, I got up and literally followed the priests.  Realizing that I couldn’t actually follow them where they were ultimately going, I stopped and understood the implication.

Follow the priest.

So, you see, learning to follow my father whose constant state of being turned away from me gave me that very training that was to my a big part of my life.

With my father, the state of back-following was a constant.

With priests, however, it’s catch and catch can.  Follow the priest before me at the moment, until the path is broken.

In a way, this has given me an opportunity to understand the priesthood better.  That age-old tension between the Caiaphases of this world and with God, using the church as a kind of weapon against God while at the same time hiding inside it as though the church were a fortress to keep them separate from God.

But that’s a focus of understanding that is for another day.

But in a way, my relationship with priests makes even more plain the pain that I feel with seeing my father’s back ever before me.

The refusal to turn around and see me as I am.

A tender touch of my hand.

I sometimes think that this is my deepest sin: my inability to accept this state of being for me.

My absolute inability to accept that it is God’s love that I never saw love for me in my father’s eyes.

The word I have for this for God is, No.

Just, No.

Unlike many people I have heard, I don’t believe that it is wrong to say, No, to God.  Not when there is a choice before us.  Not when the time for saying, Yes, is not here.  Not when our pressing needs in reality conflict with God’s plan for us.

But my saying, No, to God isn’t like that.  It’s not temporal.  It’s not a negotiation with God.

My, No, is absolute.

As absolute as this condition has been in my life.

And because of that, I feel it is my all-pervasive sin.

I am saying, in the end, that I don’t want to be me if that is who I am.

The daughter whose only connection with her father is seeing his back walking away.

I don’t want healing for this.

I don’t want understanding.

I don’t want to understand why, even though it is, like so much else in my life, part of my “training,” it has to hurt me down to my very essence.

I don’t want to be in pain.

But, more than that, I don’t want to sin against God by saying, No, I don’t want this pain.

But there it is, an every-instant existing sin.

As part of my identity.

Part of my DNA, so to speak.

Part of who I am.

Julia, the woman who sees her father’s back in her imagination and says, No.

It’s not much of an identity.

But it’s me.


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