One of my biggest forgiveness lessons has been the special relationship with my dad. My earliest memory is of Dad bouncing me on his shoulders down the hall at bedtime. He crooned his rich baritone, “She’s a dear little dolly.” On my office desk I had a picture of my daughter on Dad’s shoulders, but I didn’t make the connection for several years.
Dad once told me, “Of all my eight children, you’re my favorite.” That’s because I fulfilled his lost dreams. Education was supreme on his list. He had to quit the University of Michigan when he was drafted into World War II, so he was ecstatic when I got my Master’s degree there. To this day he crows about my high-school valedictory speech. In his private world of dementia, the speech has grown to a standing ovation in front of an audience of 20,000, including famous dignitaries. The hospice worker who visited Dad recently remarked, “You’re the apple of his eye.” Still, after all these years.
The special love relationship is about filling our inner vacuum with someone who seems more special or has the qualities we think we lack. We feel incomplete without those qualities and hope to capture them from that special person. We don’t love ourselves, so that special someone becomes our hope of salvation. It’s a ruse, though. It’s a set-up to fail. Underneath the seeming love we hate that person for being “better” than us. This hate springs forth when the person disappoints us and doesn’t save us from our misery.
A Course In Miracles describes special hate relationships in addition to special love ones, though in truth they are the same. The special hate relationship appears more honest because we openly admit we hate our chosen scapegoat. That person mirrors something we can’t stand in ourselves, but because we can’t look at our own darkness, we project it onto him. Both types of special relationships end up in failure, because we identify with the ego and do not own our true Identity as Love. When we know we’re whole, we don’t need special relationships. We don’t need to blame other people or get them to love us.
A Course in Miracles tells us what we think is love is hate in disguise. Because we hate ourselves, we believe we are these bodies that are separate, alone, and eventually die. We choose the special love relationship as a way of feeling better. It is a substitute for God’s love. It’s based on bodies or things that do our bidding, fulfill our expectations, and make us feel whole. I have a special love relationship with Dad, while my brother has a special hate relationship with him. My brother became a drug addict, while I had a successful career. Would I still have been the favorite daughter if I’d gotten C’s and dropped out of school like my brother? Would I have been Dad’s favorite if I’d liked my mom better than him? Conversely, would he have been my hero if he’d scorned me, as he did my brother? Would I have admired Dad if he wasn’t so smart?
Recently my special love relationship with Dad has turned to a special hate relationship. For the past year I’ve been wiping Dad’s butt. This was not how I wanted him to go out. Watching Dad pee all over himself, confuse Poligrip for toothpaste, and wear pants with poop smears have not been the finest images of my hero and first love. His resonant baritone has become a high-pitched, annoying whine. Now that he can’t finish a coherent sentence or figure out how to put on his seat belt, he’s not so smart, and I have kicked him off his pedestal.
The other day I got a whiff of urine and immediately thought of Dad. When I was a child it was Old Spice. You don’t see heroes reduced to wearing Depends in the movies. Not pretty, but rich fodder for the Holy Spirit. I’ve never liked bodies much to begin with, but poop and pee have shown me, ironically, how much I do value the body.
As I was writing this article, I told my Course study group about it and a friend said, “You still value the crap with your dad. As long as I’ve known you you’ve talked about your problems with him, so that means you value them.” The ego in me revolted, so I knew he’d hit a nerve. I looked at what he said and remembered the lines, “I am responsible for what I see. I choose the feelings I experience and decide upon the goal I would achieve. And everything that seems to happen to me I ask for, and receive as I have asked.” (T-21.II.2:3-5) I’m still making the body real or I wouldn’t get angry. If I’m honest, I have to acknowledge I do choose this appearance. In spite of my protests that I don’t believe in the body and want my dad’s crummy body gone, I’ve been valuing it. That’s embarrassing to admit, but since we’re all insane, I’m in good company.
The crap in Dad’s pants is a reflection of the nasty crap in my mind. I choose to see him as his body and not as the holy Son of God. I obviously value the ego and the crap of this world, so that’s what’s reflected. “[The world] is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition.” (T-21.in.1:5) A Course in Miracles reminds us that when we see a brother as a body, we’re attacking him. We’re also attacking ourselves, for as we see him, we see ourselves. See the Christ, and we know we are the Christ. See the body, and we’re trapped in a hellish dream. The utter ugliness of the ego astounds me, but I wouldn’t be able to face it if the Course hadn’t warned me and encouraged me to look. Each time I get honest and forgive myself, another block to the awareness of love’s presence is removed.
When I see Dad as a body, I feel guilty. I feel like a bad daughter, like I’m not living up to our special deal. I’m supposed to adore him, not think, “Why haven’t you died already?!” Hospice tells me to cherish these final days with him and see them as precious, but instead the ego’s murderous thought system is in full swing. I rationalize my hatred of his body with, “The body’s not real anyway, and I know I’ll have a connection with him when he’s gone.” But that doesn’t excuse my grumbling. Since I’m not at peace, I’m choosing the ego thought system. My dad’s not his body. He’s the Christ, but I choose to see his body so I can stay tied to my own body, and this world. As the Course says, “I never see my brother as he is ... what I see in him is merely what I wish to see.” (W-pII.335.1:2-3)
Dad’s incontinence and cognitive decline have been an excellent classroom. My bitterness over his condition is the ego’s way of keeping me stuck in the world. As Lesson 195 states, “We have been given everything. If we refuse to recognize it, we are not entitled therefore to our bitterness ....” (W-pI.195.9.2-3) Since we ask for everything that happens to us, I have asked my dad to appear this way. Again, I hate to admit that. But as I do, I am freed.
Two psychic friends have explored the dynamics between Dad and me. As I’ve complained bitterly that he hasn’t chosen to leave his yucky body, they’ve answered, “He’s chosen to stay to help you learn to let go.” That made me even angrier which meant, of course, that it was accurate. The ego had convinced me that I had already let go since I wanted him to die. So, I looked at my guilt around being a bad daughter and forgave it. As soon as I did, Dad took a turn for the worse and we put him in hospice. I thought when I suggested hospice to my siblings they’d revolt, but they were in accord. If I had still felt guilty, I think they may have resisted, reflecting my own turmoil.
The days when I actually see Dad as the Christ, his dementia and incontinence don’t bother me much. That’s my miracle. I need to choose to be miracle-minded more often. The Holy Spirit never abandons us, and in the midst of this special relationship is the symbol of God’s love. I know Dad loves me no matter what. I screamed at him after he had a mild stroke and couldn’t eat or stand well, and when I apologized he said, “That’s okay, Honey, you were having a rough time.” He wanted me to go into journalism and I went into social work, and he loved me just the same. Due to his dementia he never got excited about the fulfillment of the journalism dream. When I wrote a book I said, “Look, Dad, here’s the book I wrote!” He thumbed through it, set it aside, and never mentioned it again.
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Another facet of Dad’s and my special relationship was the effect it had on my interaction with my mom. Dad’s special love relationships with women started with his own mom – Dad adored her and she adored him. Her sudden death when he was 19 was a trauma he never recovered from. Curiously, both of his marriages lasted 19 years. His mom was overweight and his two wives were exceptionally slender. He told me that he couldn’t have sex with a heavy woman because he’d think of his mom. I suspect he felt too guilty to love his wives completely, because somehow that would betray his love for his mother. Special love, with a special person, excludes others. “Here, where the illusion of love is accepted in love’s place, love is perceived as separation and exclusion.” (T-16.V.3:8)
Dad displaced his love for his wives onto his first born daughters, my oldest sister and me. This led to special hate relationships with his wives. He hid behind the face of innocence – he was just being a good dad. Besides, his daughters adored him while his wives bitched at him. My guess is he denied himself love by focusing on his daughters instead of his wives, because he didn’t think he deserved love. He took my sister on vacation with him instead of his first wife. I was the one who was allowed to interrupt his newspaper time, not Mom. He gladly corrected all my school papers and lavished praise on me. When he married my then 24 year old mom, he brought his 17 year old daughter with him. The jealousy between them created a tense household. When I asked my sister how it was when I was a baby she said, “It was awful! Dad and your mom fought all the time.” When I asked my dad he said, “It was a wonderful time! You were such a sweet little girl.”
Dad adored me while Mom told me I was too big for my britches. I could have Dad’s love or Mom’s, but not both. When my mom threatened divorce when I was 13, she hollered to us kids, “Pick who you want to mir with!” I wasted no time in piping up, “I’m going with Dad!” Dad’s special love was my substitute for Mom’s love. Likewise, parental love is always a substitute for God’s love.
A Course in Miracles states we feel guilty because we attacked God and stole His love. “The ego values only what it takes. This leads to the fourth law of chaos. This seeming law is the belief you have what you have taken. By this, another’s loss becomes your gain.” (T-23.II.9:1-4) I felt guilty for stealing Dad’s love from Mom. I got what she was supposed to get, and as a result she and I had a special hate relationship. I also felt guilty about getting more love than my brother. When he was in treatment for drug addiction we went to a family meeting. He commented, “Yea, Lor, you got Dad and I got Mom.” This meant I got the healthy parent and he got the crazy one. He ended up being a drug dealer while I got a scholarship, so I had to compensate for my guilt with obsessive-compulsive perfectionism. I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class. I was frantically trying to cover my guilt with extreme studying.
My parents divorced when I was 17 and Mom and I got in a knock-down, dragged-out fight. She began choking me and sneered, “I brought you into this life and I can take you out!” She refused to let go of my neck until I admitted that she was the master of the house. In a classic Freudian Oedipal/Electra complex, she yelled, “You’ve always wanted your dad. Now you can have him!” I had sinned, and therefore deserved attack and death, which is A Course In Miracles’ second law of chaos. (T-23.II.4:1) My mother felt betrayed when I stole her husband and home from her. She was forced out of her home and lost custody of her kids. Since I remained in her home, she stole my clothes and burned them. Hence, we both got to say to each other, “Behold me, brother, at your hand I die!” (T-27.I.4:6)The Course says, “To believe that special relationships, with special love, can offer you salvation is the belief that separation is salvation.” (T-15.V.3:1) Dad’s adoration for me, and mine for him, set the template for my lifelong addiction to finding the perfect soul mate. I quested for the perfect man who would love me completely, so I would feel whole. I threw out two marriages in my fruitless search for the love I could only find inside. How could I receive love when I was sinful and guilty for stealing Dad’s love from Mom? The two men I married were similar to Dad in that they tolerated my craziness and still loved me. Those marriages were not that bad, but I had to have perfection.
I started healing from my addictive soul mate search through A Course in Miracles. I forgave myself for being insane and forgave my husbands and lovers for what they did not do. I learned to take responsibility for every situation, even when my men seemed to be doing things to me. I took seriously the adage, “You do not realize that you are making them act out for you, for if you did the guilt would not be theirs, and the illusion of satisfaction would be gone.” (T-18.II.5:6) I stopped picking fights and blaming. My current partner is a student of ACIM, and we’ve given our relationship to the Holy Spirit for Its purpose. This holy relationship is not perfect in form, but it’s perfect for our growth. It’s a wonderful blessing, and I’m finally at peace in a relationship.
The Course taught me, “You seek but for your own completion.” (T-16.IV.8:3) Through the forgiveness of A Course in Miracles, I stopped seeking the special relationship. In its place I found my Self as the holy Child of God. This is the only true and lasting soul mate.
Lorri Coburn, MSW, is the author of *Breaking Free: How Forgiveness and A Course in Miracles Can Set You Free*, which is available in the Community Miracles Center bookstore. She will be speaking at the North Central Regional *A Course in Miracles* Conference in Cleveland in June, 2012. To find her on Facebook or watch her YouTube videos, go to www.lorricoburn.com. Y
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This article appeared in the January 2012 (Vol. 25 No.11) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members,Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.