Forgiving the Naked Lady Tattoo and the False Teeth Abandoned in a Tuna Sandwich

forgiveness quotation quoteMy childhood nemesis: Roberta Sherard.

She flaunted perfection, from the house next door to mine, twirling polished pirouettes, a blonde ponytail floating in slow motion behind her. I tried to keep up, spinning and stumbling, bedecked with scabbed knobby knees, red hair doomed to frizz, by a Tony home permanent gone awry. Roberta spoke softly, poise oozing out her pores, a finishing school graduate. I reeked of awkward, spewed hillbilly slang like Warshington, gonna, and I-dunno, and I carried the mantra, “Debbie, settle down.”

Roberta’s father wore a suit and tie, called her princess, bored my family with tales of her delight fulness. My dad yelled, wore Big Mac striped overalls, told me to pipe down.

“No man is gonna marry a girl with big feet,” he’d say, pointing a greasy truck driver finger at my bare feet.

I coveted Roberta’s family, but I loved mine.

The McFarland’s were not without charm. Summers we’d put on neighborhood shows, an amazing feat, performed completely without the benefit of talent. No musicians, singers, dancers or actors, just raw desire to be the center of attention, and the guts to charge for it… a silver quarter per show.

Saturday’s we ’d canvas the block passing out hand written invitations, for Sunday afternoon’s back yard performance. A typical show, featured my lip sync to Ricky Nelson’s Traveling Man, sister Nancy’s loud version of Peter, Paul and Mary’s Kumbaya, accompanied by imaginary guitar strumming, and our star, little Danny, singing most all the words of Sukiyaki, a Japanese pop song from the 1960s. We served popcorn and lemonade for a nickel, and gave away taffy, because we didn’t like it very much.

By midsummer our crowds always dwindled, leaving sticky face Johnny and his whining sister, Margaret, alone on the grandstand of grass. Unwillingly to fold up the makeshift floral sheet curtain, we spawned an idea for an act, no child of the 1960s could resist.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the dancing naked lady…”

naked lady tattoo US Navy
My dad’s genuine United States Navy tattoo.

Our risqué, bare bottomed star, a genuine United States Navy tattoo located on Dad’s forearm… and she could dance. Quarters jingled, filling the jar. We had it made. That is, until a power wielding censorship group of one, cancelled the dance, insisting Dad roll his sleeve back down. Mom never did have a sense for business.

One day, Roberta’s family packed their perfect possessions, and moved to a wonderland of princess worthy neighbors. Around this time, Dad’s toothless gums and the tattoo, turned from an attraction to an embarrassment. I grew to hate his stories, and loathe my one time heroine, the dancing naked lady. To my friends, NOT asking, he’d share the demise of his toothless grin.

“I left my teeth at a café’ on highway 99, stuck in a tuna sandwich.”

Thanks for sharing Dad.

Resentment seeded, bitterness took root. Like many families walking the tightrope between alcoholism and recreational use abuse… stuff happened… words carelessly tossed, lies slung, shame spilled, fists bristled.

When I looked at my dad, I saw nothing… except who he was not. The dad I loved for his loud voice, silly jokes and Popeye grin, disappeared. I forgot the man who provided for his family, fudged paperwork miles, enabling longer shifts. The good forgotten, leaving only the bad to define; a man who hurt the ones he loved with neglect and fists.

Over time, the naked lady tattoo shriveled and sagged. Her one time peppy, flirty dance, was at best, a sluggish, sway. Our relationship deteriorated, along with the tattoo. Bitter years of forgiveness proved too much to carry, spilling over, slopping onto my other relationships; husband, children, friends, co-workers, even strangers.

Alas, God moves ever forward, albeit seemingly behind the scenes, but oh so powerful! In His perfect timing, knowing the moment my heart reached ideal compliance, help came knocking in the form of a class called Surrendered Hearts. There I struggled, alongside three other women, clinging to ancient justifications for stacks of resentments. I listened… they listened… to tales of rage… to pent up screams. We cried.

For me, graduation meant forgiving my dad. I said the words, sincerely wanting to mean them. I forgive you Dad. I forgive what you did and what you did not. I mourned the dad I thought I wanted. I thanked Jesus for forgiving my judgments and bitter vows.

Shortly after the class completion, my mother died. That meant spending time with Dad. I wanted to be a good daughter, a comfort for my dad. My willingness to forgive, bought some patience, but not enough. Daily, I spent hours on the phone, listening to him complain. Nightly, I begged God to help me forgive him. Each day a clean slate, ending, soiled with new found rage for his latest rant attempting to justify wrongs done to my mom and siblings. If he’d just keep his mouth shut, maybe I could actually forgive him.

I don’t know how or when God removed the stain from my heart. I didn’t notice it getting lighter or less. One day, on the phone with him, I realized I cared. I felt love for the man he was, right then and there. The dad, the man with skin. While he talked on about what a good guy he was, God flipped the forgiveness switch in my heart. At least, that’s the best explanation I have.

More years passed, at least once a year he nearly died, springing back each time leaving the doctors shaking their heads in wonder. Driving his scooter, oxygen tank at his side, dad pressed on, losing the family home to gambling, nearly blowing his face off smoking Chesterfield’s while hooked to the oxygen tank, and getting slugged by a miscellaneous woman he somehow offended. Same old dad, but something was different.

That would be me.

Forgiveness benefited me. I was free to love and care for Dad, AS IS. Did I condone his actions? No. Did he sometimes make me crazy? You bet. But I loved… I love… I love my dad.

At some point, he quit justifying wrongs and attempted to right what he could. He died, with the faithful naked lady tattoo, loved. He left this world broken, forgiving and forgiven. He left, a dad, I’m proud to say is mine.


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19 thoughts on “Forgiving the Naked Lady Tattoo and the False Teeth Abandoned in a Tuna Sandwich”

  1. unconditional love and unconditional foregiveness. that is God’s way. i can only strive to be that kind of person. thanks Deb for showing me how to do it.

  2. I loved your post. I think this is the first time I have read you. I think we are kindred spirits right down to the red hair and skinned knees and dad… glad to find a new friend here.

    1. Debbie
      Your comment made my day. It’s great to know there’s another redhead out there with a crazy family and skinned knees. LOL. Hope to meet again.

  3. definitely can relate to forgiving someone for what they weren’t. there’s a lot of power in changing perspective and seeing what someone did do right instead of focusing on what they did wrong. great post. powerful truth! thanks for the reminder!

    1. Thanks for reading. When I share something vulnerable, kind and understanding comments are much appreciated. Hope to see you back.

  4. Oh, this is funny, Deb! And sad. And oh, so familiar. It seems counterintuitive, but forgiveness is the only way out of the unique brand of crazy-making that family can bring. God probably installed a dimmer switch in me. I woke up one day to the slow-dawning realization that I could maybe see the possibility of forgiveness.

    Love your posts, Deb! Keep ’em coming!

  5. This is the first time I’ve read your blog, Deb, and it touched my heart. It took me many years of stubbornness and bitterness to forgive my Dad. Finally, I allowed God to heal me by admitting that my unforgiveness was destroying my joy.

    Now, I’m working on forgiving another loved one. Pain and anger are powerful but God is even more so. I go to Him everyday seeking healing and I know He is at work.

    1. Sherry
      Me too and amen. Without the comfort of knowing “He is at work,” how would we keep going? Thanks for reading… and sharing.

  6. This is my first time on your blog. I love this post. I had an issue with forgiving the people that hurt me in the past. It took a lot of time before I could finally heed God’s leading and let go. Though I still feel that I have not completely let go, but I’m trusting God to help me through it all.
    Thank you for sharing this post. Forgiving the people who hurt us and for what they were not is difficult but a huge step of obedience to God.

    Thank you for joining us at Christian Bloggers Connect. We hope to see more of you and connect more with you.

    Blessings to you.

    1. Grace
      Thanks for reading the blog. I certainly relate to trouble “letting go.” I very pleased with the Christian Bloggers Connect group. I hope you will decide to follow.

  7. Well, from age 6 or 7 until late in my teens w/ my father and all thru my 20’s w/ my mom, I was seemingly always embarrassed by my elderly father and my drunkin mother. I looked to both for so much and there was a lot in them but I failed to yield any fruit because all I saw was how I looked to others when w/ them, as if I was so important they’d even care at all.
    I looked at other people’s parents w/ envy and at mine w/ bewilderment and contempt. Gratefully my Father & I grew closer as I grew into supposed manhood and my Mother and I had a very close relationship after I myself sobered up and became the son I shudda been.
    I remember making amends to my Mother, as if I could ever really reimburse her for all I’d taken spiritually, emotionally, mentally and financially, and when I was finished talking she looked at me and started to unload burdens she had felt as a Mother raising 3 kids.
    It was a very powerful day in my life and I believe in hers. We were always very close afterwards and I will forever be indebted to AA and the the people who led me to go make that amends and of course God for His grace in allowing both my Mother and I move forward that day and leave the past where it always belonged.
    I was not sober when my Father passed and day to day when my Mother passed as I had slipped back under the disease’s grip. God’s grace relieved that burden for me as well.
    Thanx Deb for rattling my cage–Much Love & Respect

    1. Great stuff Ray… I can only imagine the bond between you and your mom after sharing so deeply. Thanks for the read and comment.

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