Free to Love (Dennis)
Dennis told us this testimony this past Father’s Day of his salvation and how God healed his relationship with his father. Thanks for passing on such an incredible story of how God brings His kingdom in our lives, Dennis!
I became a Christian in August 1966 through the witness of my sister, Rachel, who accepted Jesus as her Savior and Lord a few months earlier. I was twenty. Two years later, the Lord spoke to me and said that I needed to tell my father that I loved him. At first, I said no. Here’s why….
My earliest memory as a child, I must have been about three, is my mother sitting in front of her vanity’s mirror, combing her hair and telling me she hated my father and wished she had never married him. There is not much from Sigmund Freud that I ascribe to, but I do know that his transference theory – transferring one’s emotions to someone else and they receiving them as their own – is right on. My mother emotionally and spiritually transferred her hatred for my father to me, and I unknowingly received them as my own. From that point onward a wall was formed, which I now know was demonic, that kept me spiritually and emotionally estranged from him. Mom telling me that she hated Dad when I was three was just the beginning of how she criticized and ridiculed him throughout my childhood and teenage years.
Dad was a large strapping man and a super athlete. During his senior year in high school in 1927, Dad won a full football and basketball scholarship to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. His dream was to become a physical education teacher and a coach. The Great Depression of 1929 shattered his dream. Financial pressures forced him to drop out of school and move back home to Toledo, Ohio, to help his father run a laundry business. Dad never fulfilled his dream of becoming a coach, but that did not keep him from playing sports. Athletic federations and neighborhood sports booster leagues were popular in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. As soon as Dad returned home from college, he started playing football and baseball with his neighborhood buddies. One was Jack LaPorte, who had a beautiful younger sister, Sylvia. Jack’s father, an Italian immigrant from Naples, loved having the team over for homemade Italian food and wine. Wilford Belkofer met Sylvia LaPorte at one of those feasts, began dating and married in the fall of 1936. Somehow between 1936 and three years after my birth in 1946, they fell out of love.
I’m not sure of what caused their marital problems. But I do know that Mom suffered severe post-partum depression after my sister, Rachel, was born in 1937, which was the beginning of mental and emotional problems Mom suffered the rest of her life until she died in 1985. Dad died eight months earlier; both were 74.
During the 1950’s, Mom’s life became a roller coaster of highs and lows, long stints in mental hospitals and shock treatments to snap her out of crippling depression that followed manic episodes. Eventually, she was diagnosed as bipolar. Many of her bouts with depression and hospitalizations happened during the Christmas season, leaving me to be cared for by an Aunt Jo who lived next door. Sometimes my paternal grandmother would move in with Dad and me to help run the house with my aunt until Mom came home. Haunting memories of going to visit Mom in the mental ward, and the clanging of the nurse’s keys as she unlocked the huge metal door that kept patients from escaping, grip me to this very day. So do memories of the patients What I remember most are their eyes. Lifeless. Expressionless. Blank. Frozen. It was as if a dead person, a zombie if you will, was staring at me. And I saw the same deadness in Mom’s eyes. I now know that Valium, a drug that is used to supposedly stabilize emotions, is what stripped the life out of the Mom’s and the other patient’s eyes. And along with the Valium came shock treatment therapy
Whereas Valium is a quieting agent, shock treatments activate the nervous system and literally jolt the patient out of depression. What looks like earphones are placed on both sides of the temple, and bolts of electricity run through them directly into the brain. You can see why it is called shock treatment therapy. Indeed, shocking the brain with electricity energizes the nervous system. And it also temporarily erases the short-term memory. It’s based on the theory that erasing the short-term memory will help the patient forget what made the depressed. And valium is supposed to keep them stable when the memory returns. This is one huge problem, however: Most people don’t know why they are depressed. And for most people it’s a never ending cycle of sinking into deep depression. Receiving shock therapy. Feeling better for awhile. Falling back into depression – actually caused at least in part by the valium. And back for more shock treatments.
That pretty much sums up my mother’s life in a nutshell.
During the time that Mon functioned fairly normally, which could last a year or two, Mom subtly relentlessly vented her bitterness for Dad on me. Routinely she would say things like he was a sloppy dresser. He ate too fast and had bad table manners. He was always in a hurry and made a mess around the house. He neglected making house repairs. He talked too fast and stuttered. Never once did I hear Mom praise him and say she loved him. I don’t remember Dad criticizing Mom. Neither do I remember he praising her. Dad’s method of defense was silence, except occasionally when he blew up and vented his pent-up feelings. What happened one evening at dinner is an example.
Mom made it a habit during dinner to silently get my attention while we were eating and with her eyes and facial gestures let me know she thought Dad was eating too much and too fast. The tension around the table hung over us like a curtain every time we gathered to eat. One evening as usual Mom had gotten my attention and was silently mocking and ridiculing Dad. Though he and Mom did not make eye contact, Dad felt what she was doing and exploded. He jumped up from his chair, picked up the dining table and toppled it over. Food, plates, glasses, and silverware flew everywhere. Terrified, I ran outside in tears. From that day onward for the next five years, I refused to eat dinner at the table. Instead, I ate on the floor in front of the TV. It was the only way I knew to protect myself emotionally.
I never remember gathering as a family to talk about things like school, sports, religion, politics, or whatever else families talk about. We never laughed. Joked. Told stories. Or shared what our days had been like. For all practical purposes, we were strangers bound only by the same last name. Even as a young child, I felt the need to be rescued, but from what I wasn’t sure. Physical abuse victims have tangible knowledge of what they’ve suffered. And that can help them to identify the pain and move forward into healing and wholeness. The deadly silence that filled my home was, in many ways, more damaging than physical abuse – because I didn’t have anything tangible to link my pain to. I only knew that I hurt inside and I wanted to be freed from it. Figure skating became a way of escape. escape.
When I was twelve, I started taking roller skating lessons, At fourteen, I was given my first dance partner and competed in the sport through high school and into my 20’s. My partner and I became a champion team and rose to the top level of roller dance skating. The hours of practice during my teenage years gave me an excuse to stay away from home. Getting my driver’s license at 16 and having a car gave me another way to escape. One can imagine how popular a 16 year old with a car be. I became “The Chauffer ” for my friends, which grew in numbers as more and more of my high school peers learned that I had a car. Driving around with my friends. Dating. Practicing skating. I didn’t understand it at the time, but they were my excuses to stay away from home. I was on the run – from what I didn’t know. I only knew that it hurt to be at home and staying away helped to deaden the pain.
Dad worked as a pipe fitter at the Standard Oil Refinery about two miles from where we lived in Toledo, Ohio. Mom’s medical bills were huge, and Dad worked a second job to make ends meets, several years as a cab driver and five as a bar tender. I think working two jobs allowed Dad to be away from home and not deal with Mom. It also meant that he did not have to deal with me. I am sure he felt the animosity I carried against him. He may have even resented me. And why not? Resentment ruled our home.
My sister, Rachel, was led to Christ by a Christian couple she met at a New Year’s eve party in 1965. In August of 1966, Rachel led me to Christ. The change in my life was dramatic and noticeable, so much so that my friends would ask what happened to me without me having to say a word. God’s anointing rested so strongly on me, even unsaved people felt it without knowing what it was.
Immediately with my conversion, came a ferocious hunger for the written word of God. Both sides of my family were staunch Catholics and believed that only Catholics went to heaven. In less than two months after reading the Bible, I knew that wasn’t true and started attending an evangelical church. To say that Mom and Dad were very angry about it is an understatement. Dad was especially hostile. One evening he saw me reading the Bible, snatched it from my hand and threw it on the floor. He said that too much religion would make me crazy and he just wanted me to be a normal twenty-year-old and read something like Playboy. As time wore on, however, neither he or Mom could deny the change in my life. Dad and I shared the same barber, who I found out was also a Christian. About six months after I received Christ our barber told me that Dad told him that he was unhappy that I left the Catholic church, but he could not deny how much I had changed. I was more respectful to him and Mom. I was getting good grades in college. I stopped curing and smoking and partying with my friends. And for that he was grateful.
Yes, I was a different person. But for the most part, the wall that separated Dad and me remained. About a year-and-a-half after my conversion, the Lord told me if I wanted a relationship with my father I was going to have to tell him that I loved him. My response: “No way!” Why should I tell Dad I love him, when he’s never said that he loved me,” I snapped back to the Lord. He snapped back and said, “Did you first tell me that you loved me? Or did I love you first?” I felt like God had landed a “one-two punch” and split my heart wide open. But instead of going down for the count, it lifted me into reality. All that I could say was, “Yes, Sir. I will do whatever You say.”
The next night, I had a date to see the Supremes. That morning, I was surprised to find that Dad had placed a $5 bill in my wallet (In 1968, that was equivalent to $25 or $30 today.) with a note that read: Have a good time, Dad. I was pleasantly surprised. Dad just didn’t do things like that, especially write a warm and loving note. The Holy Spirit used it to soften my heart for what would happen before I left for my date.
Before I started to get ready, Dad helped me carry my stereo upstairs to my room. There we were, Dad and me. Alone! I knew that it was no or never to tell him I loved him. I wanted to run. Hide in the closet. Fake like I passed out. And I also knew I had to do it, because the Lord told me to.
As I stepped towards him, I was met by the unseen wall that separated Dad and me for years. I froze in my tracks. Just as Dad started to go downstairs, I somehow pressed through the years of bitterness and resentment , yelled, “Dad.! Please stop! I threw my arms around his neck, kissed his cheeks and said, “Dad I love you. Thanks for being a good father.” Stunned and taken off guard, Dad just grunted and walked down the steps. But I knew the work had been done.
For the next twenty or thirty minutes, I lay on my bed and cried tears of joy and repentance. I did it. I obeyed the Lord and that ugly, horrible wall crumbled. The bitterness. Resentment. Anger. They were cleansed away by the blood of Jesus. I was free. And heaven rejoiced! And my relationship with my father was changed forever.
During the next weeks, I couldn’t get enough of Dad. And I sensed he enjoyed being with me. Going for a ride in the car. Shopping. Watching TV. We didn’t talk that much. We didn’t have to. The wall was gone. We were finally bound by a father-son bond. Enjoying the glow was enough. And we enjoyed the glow until he died in 1985. But not only that, Dad had a minor heart attack in 1971. When I reached the hospital, I found Dad in intensive care, under an oxygen tent, with fear in his eyes. Right then and there, I asked him if he wanted to receive Christ as His Savior. He said yes and followed me in prayer to invite Jesus to be his very own Savior and Lord. Now Dad and I had the same Father. And once again heaven rejoiced over us.
Fourteen years later, as I was living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Dad called me at work. As soon as I heard his voice, God’s presence enveloped me like a blanket and my heart overflowed with love for Dad. It was so overwhelming, I could barely speak as tears of joy filled my eyes. We chatted for a few minutes and before we hung up Dad said, “I love you son.” That was the last thing he said to me. The next morning, Dad had a severe stroke and died two weeks later. His good-bye words of love were a gift from the Lord.
Truly, I had experienced the reality of Malachi 4:6, He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of their children to their fathers. Truly, I was at one with my father’s heart and he was at one with mine. What a joy it will be for Dad and me to thank our Father when we meet in heaven – because I obeyed the Lord and told Dad I loved him.