Adam got well.
After a long, hard winter of radiation, infections, a second operation, antibiotics, his hair started growing back–first with wispy strands, finally morphing into a confident mop. He let it get long; I didn’t object. He finished his junior year in high school, and we celebrated by going cycling in Europe as a family. The following year he finished high school and started his first year at a prestigious college in Atlanta.
But I found myself emotionally distanced from him. A little voice in the back of my mind told me I should be more grateful, more joyful. I hope I disguised my emotional desert well and did the right things as a father. It was depression, I told myself, and I’m sure that’s part of it, but the emotional distance from Adam was specific and held a thinly veiled streak of anger.
Many months, perhaps years, passed before I realized my anger was in response to his illness. He quite unintentionally terrorized me with the specter of grief that came from nearly losing him. And he also held the power to terrorize me again. I feared to get too close.
But if I were to have an authentic father-son relationship, I had to get over my fear and my anger. I had to forgive my son for having a brain tumor. The tumor wasn’t his fault, obviously, and it wasn’t his choice to make me vulnerable or to hurt me. But emotionally, I somehow held him responsible.
Once I understood that neither Adam, nor his tumor, caused my fear, my anger dissolved easily. My fear of loss came from something within me, something beyond my ability to give up: the power of love. And that love is without choice; he was born, I held him, I loved him.
Love is always a risk. Give your heart away, and it can get weighed down so that it can drag you to the depths and destroy you. If I were to continue to love him, I had to forgive him–even though he was innocent–and I had to accept the consequences of love.
Forgiving Adam for his tumor is not so much granting absolution as it is granting permission to hurt me again. It is saying Go ahead, get sick if need be, because I will be there and I will not flinch, I will not distance myself, I will not walk away. Because fear of loss is the cost of love, the dark side of the coin whose other side is shining joy. And Adam gives me great joy.
I am awed now by the infinitely better love of our heavenly Father who loves me and forgives me–and I am not innocent. He gives me permission to get sick, to sin, to live like a prodigal son–not encouragement, but permission–even though what I do may break His heart, cause angels to weep, and the world to become more like hell than heaven. Yet He promises to be home waiting, ready to get up and run to meet me. What I now understand in a small way is the cost of that great love, the dark side of the coin He is willing to pay because in some unimaginable way I must give Him great joy.
If this sounds like I am special in the eyes of God, I am. So is Adam. But the good news is, so are you. You give Him great joy.