The night before last I had a dream that has stayed with me. My dreams rise out of my body to teach and to comfort me so I pay close attention. I had recently written tributes for two men, Lynn Rogers, bear biologist, and Rupert Sheldrake, biologist and plant physicist. Both of these men mentored me like a “father” each encouraged me to believe in myself, celebrated my original thinking and told me to trust my intuition. Writing about these mentors reminded me of my own father with whom I had a most difficult relationship…
I am talking to my mother (she has been dead for 13 years) about having found someone who could help me with math and stuff I can’t do because of dyslexia. In this conversation my mother is not a personal figure (when she appears as herself it usually means that I am going to face some difficulty – As an impersonal ‘great mother’ figure she is very helpful). She replies that my father wanted to teach me all these things but he just couldn’t. So many problems were in the way. I choke up weeping over this knowing (and my tears carry over into waking) because I know that “my mother” is speaking the truth. I feel such heartbreak for both my dad and for me. Neither of us had a chance… as I awaken from this dream in the middle of the night Lily b., my dove, is bellowing. He is reiterating the truth of the dream.
My father died suddenly from a blood infection that he acquired in the hospital after being operated on for colon cancer. The last time I saw him he smiled and called me “his girl,” an endearment he never used to describe his daughter during all the years of her life.
The morning he died I dreamed he became a beaver.
A pure white dove appeared at my bird feeder and stayed for just that one day.
The night after my father’s death his brother, my uncle, bit into some pasta and discovered to his astonishment and disbelief that he had bitten into a tiny white stone dove that had found its way into his pasta…my uncle never recovered from this shock and placed the diminutive stone dove on his fireplace mantle and kept it there until the time of his death…It wasn’t until this writing that I remembered that my uncle loved birds and kept them as beloved pets. (Like me, he had a very difficult relationship with my father who he said threw tantrums and rages that made him impossible to be around.)
Birds were Messengers from the Beyond.
I recalled my experience in Assisi Italy (My father was Italian immigrating to this country from Rome when he was twelve years old). When white doves landed around me in a circle one morning at dawn I felt that I was being blessed by something beyond my comprehension… My life long love of wild doves soon turned into an obsession to have a dove of my own.
Birds were Messengers.
A few months after my father’s death I acquired an African Collared dove that I named Lily and re named Lily b when I discovered he was a boy. Lily b was a free flying house bird. Every morning when I wrote something important in my journal he would coo repeatedly. Because I recorded these responses of his on a daily basis it became impossible to ignore what was happening. This bird was reading my mind.
I began corresponding with Biologist Rupert Sheldrake who was studying telepathy in animals. Lily b’s telepathic ability became part of Rupert’s data bank. I remained bewildered – in awe that such a thing was possible until the same thing began to happen with other animals I was studying as a naturalist and I finally came to believe that the extraordinary experiences I had with animals and plants throughout my life were real.
Birds were Messengers.
Lily b became a father at three years of age and I thought I learned more about what fathering meant from this bird’s behavior than I ever had from a human up to that point. Lily b was an incredibly loving parent who fed and preened his offspring with a dedication that astounded me. And yet, when it was time for his dovelets to leave the nest, he chased them away pecking at their wings even as they fluttered around him anxiously seeking more food. He maintained a deep abiding attachment to each of his three mates throughout their lives. Yet none of these normal dove activities ever interrupted the telepathic communication that routinely occurred between this bird and myself.
Birds are Messengers.
Vaguely, I associated Lily b with my father but without accompanying awareness of what this relationship actually might auger for me personally or transpersonally. Gradually after Lily b arrival I began to remember that in between the cracks of my father’s unpredictable rages throughout my childhood he demonstrated his love to us through some deeply caring actions.
Birds are Messengers.
Long buried memories began to surface… My father taking me to the zoo and buying me a child’s umbrella when it rained, the day we went to the circus when he presented me with my first real lizard, the night he introduced me to ruby pomegranate seeds. He brought home metal toy birds that chirped for me when he wound them up. Whenever we went to the beach he would bury my brother and me in the sand and build elaborate sand trains with cabooses for us to play in. When I threw up or needed to go to the hospital it was my father that took me. He was the parent that read us stories at night. He fired my imagination with his fascination for the workings of the universe and the mystery of the stars. When my mother decreed that either of “his” two children needed a spanking he would dutifully come in our bedroom to discipline us after he came home from work. My brother and I stuffed books into the back of our pants so the spankings never hurt, and we thought ourselves so clever because we had outwitted our father. It never occurred to either of us that he saw through this ruse and ignored it!
How could I have forgotten all these stories for so long?
Birds are Messengers.
Later, much later, I learned to respect my father for the way he financially provided for his family putting both his children through college (as undergraduates). He taught us not to waste resources like electricity or heat, to be financially frugal. To this day I never leave a room without turning the lights off and am happy to live in a small warm space!
Birds are Messengers.
Why did it take me so long to appreciate my father? Violence. As children we both learned that we couldn’t trust a man who took out his explosive rage on us for reasons that we could not comprehend. As adolescents my mother ridiculed her husband’s verbally abusive behavior (my father was never physically violent) and taught us by example to dismiss our father as irrelevant. And yet, she stayed in a marriage she despised, modeling to her children that raging like a madman was somehow acceptable because she put up with it too. She taught us to be non – violent but she “endured”… and my parents both saturated themselves with alcohol to fuel vicious attacks on each other that occurred on a daily basis. Dinners were a nightmare. The fact that my father was never accountable for his actions helped seal our mutual fate as children though I could never have articulated that truth because neither of my parents were self responsible when it came to their actions. Eventually my brother and I both began to hate him, becoming unconscious collaborators (along with help from our mother) collapsing the bridge to positive fathering on any level. My brother and I were orphaned.
The result of this breakdown was that neither of us had a positive internal father image to emulate. The consequences were catastrophic. My little brother turned that violence on himself, committing suicide after graduating from Harvard. How could an adolescent boy possibly bridge the gap from adolescence to adulthood on his own?
Although I survived, I married another violent man, ended up battered, divorced him, and found other vicious egregious men to take his place repeating the destructive pattern I had learned as a child. Allowing myself to be abused repeatedly as a young mother I modeled the victim becoming a mother my children despised. Every abuser needs a victim and I played the part well.
Violence begets violence whether we choose it or not.
When my oldest son was born, he had bizarre and violent tantrums, and even as a toddler he hit me and told me he hated me. I was stunned by the force of this hatred – I could feel it on a visceral level. His frightening behavior made no sense to me, and I wondered what I could have done to deserve such treatment from my own child. Was I demented? By the time Chris became an adolescent I was physically afraid of him. It would be years before the consequences of an underlying pattern of intergenerational family violence would reveal itself to me.
Violence begets violence (or its opposite – victim) and personal choice isn’t enough to shift the pattern.
When my children left home I began to cobble together the fragments of my life. With years of intensive work I eventually developed into a self – directed woman, who was for the most part, author of her own destiny. The weak spot was my children who I continued to long for, years after they had rendered me useless and invisible. “She’s nothing but a victim” is the story they continue to tell to this day…
One spring night, early during the process of self recovery, I was driving home in the rain. Tiny frogs and toads were hopping all across the warm wet pavement and I was paralyzed by the thought that I was not going to be able to avoid killing some of them. Pulling over to the side of the deserted country road I got out of the car feeling utterly helpless. My heart ached with misery.
The powerful thought sounded like a voice. ‘Look up into the sky’. Although it was raining, I did, and what I saw above me was a shattered mirror that was reassembling itself under a star cracked night. I felt as if I had been struck by lightening, and that this vision of the shattered mirror was about me rebirthing myself.
When I found the courage to get back into my car I crawled through the dark swerving every few seconds to avoid killing a frog or toad. Miraculously, I managed to get home without squashing one beloved amphibian. I reached the obvious conclusion that under normal circumstances I could not have made this 40 minute drive without incident. I had to have had help.
Frogs are Guardians of the Waters and Messengers too…
As I developed into the woman I now deeply respect, I took responsibility for my part in the chaos of my life, the victim “hood” I was born into and perpetuated albeit unconsciously. I included the importance of acknowledging the relationship between my fiery temper and my father’s rages. I struck out too on occasion; the difference between us was that when I did get angry I became paralyzed with guilt apologizing too profusely. My children interpreted my sorrowing as weakness, no doubt because I routinely took responsibility for more than my share, to the detriment of us all.
Learning how to let go of baggage that belonged to others was probably the most difficult challenge I faced, especially with my children. The roots of entitlement and lack of accountability characterized the lives of both of my parents and now those of my children. In time I discovered this behavior was more about them than me, separating the seeds from chafe. Today I hold my 50 (and 50 plus) year old adult children accountable for their disgraceful treatment of me, just as I held both my parents accountable for irresponsible actions that literally destroyed our family. But I am digressing from my story.
In my forties when it seemed that all was lost my Father opened his heart.
After one heated telephone exchange my father hung up on me. No surprise there. But what happened next unhinged me. This time my father (now in his sixties) called me right back and apologized for his behavior. That one apology opened the door to others, and led to a reconciliation between a father and his daughter that continues to deepen today, years after my father’s death. By that time I was more than ready to re-weave the broken connection between us but without evidence of some accountability on his part there was no way I knew of to open the door until he made this one gesture. During the last ten years of his life I got to know my father as a person and together we developed a relationship that had meaning for us both.
To my absolute horror I also learned that we had to communicate in secret because my mother could not tolerate the fact that my father had developed a relationship with his own daughter and he refused to cross her. My mother also told him I had plenty of money. In truth I was living below the poverty line and had my entire adult life. My dad offered us financial help, but my mother found out and that was the end of that.
During those last years I learned a lot about my dad’s family, how his father had beaten him, his brothers and sisters, his mother, the ugly obscene part overt violence had played out in his own life as a child, how he had tried desperately to protect his own mother and stayed loyal to her visiting her (although she rarely knew him) once a week until her death. My father had also put his brothers through college… I also came to understand the part covert violence played in the dance between my mother and father. My mother controlled through deadly silences, secrecy, and lies, fear of abandonment, perfect correlates to her husband’s irresponsible explosive rages. Silence and Rage make grotesque bedmates and both destroy relationships.
Today I honor my dad for his accomplishments. I can see the pattern of violence that he was unable to break, understanding that in an opposite way I too perpetuated the same cycle of violence and abuse by becoming a victim. Today I can, and have forgiven us both.
Most important are the deeply touching childhood memories that thanks to Lily b’s connection to the Beyond, and perhaps as part of his mission as a Bird Messenger, filtered back into my life enriching it in ways I could never have imagined. There is a sense of peace between my dad and I that literally “passes all understanding.”
Whenever I think of him I weep over the loss of having a father for most of my life. I know now that he cared for his daughter deeply and that brings me some comfort.
Lily b is still with me at thirty years old, and just commented on my last sentence. It has taken me all these years to comprehend that this bird was not only a personal link between my father and me from the beginning but that Lily b carries a universal “charge” – one that embodies Peace.
Lily b. also reminds me that my father and I did the best we could with a script that left us both floundering, caught in a dark net of violence,and chaos, an overreaching intergenerational family pattern that extended far beyond our comprehension. Unfortunately, this pattern has not been broken and it will continue to affect generations to come.
Lily b is right: My father and I really never had a chance…
That we salvaged any relationship is something of a miracle, and Lily B orchestrated that by providing me with information and a context for reconciliation. To “re member” is to return the pieces to the whole. Lily b helped me find my way home to a father, a man I always loved but forgot I knew.
Birds are Messengers from the Beyond.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.
Categories: abuse, animals, Death and Dying, Divine Feminine, Domestic Violence, Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, Ecofeminism, Embodiment, environment, Family, General, Love, Mother Earth, Nature