Leslie Leyland Fields recalls the first time she and her six kids traveled to visit her estranged father. Leslie talks about their visit, and her childhood growing up with a mentally ill father.
Leslie Leyland Fields recalls the first time she and her six kids traveled to visit her estranged father. Leslie talks about their visit, and her childhood growing up with a mentally ill father.
Bob: Leslie Fields grew up with a hole in her heart—a hole she didn’t know she had—not a physical hole. It was actually an ache that came from having a father who, as far as she knew, didn’t love her.
Leslie: It wasn’t until I became a mother and my husband became a father that I began to see what fathers are for—because I didn’t know—I’d never seen it. I saw how much my husband loved my children—and how he read stories to them and sang to them—all of these wonderful things. It really began to open up for me what had been missing all those years.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 6th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How does a young wife and mom ultimately deal with feelings of hurt and hate toward her father? We’ll explore that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. When I saw that our favorite salmon fisherman had written the book that she’s written, I thought, Dennis—
Dennis: Now wait a second. I’m a salmon fisherman too. [Laughter]
Bob: Okay; alright.
Dennis: You did say “our”; didn’t you?
Bob: Okay; “our,” yes—you would be my favorite salmon fisherman—
Dennis: You don’t know any other salmon fishermen—
Bob: —and Leslie is number two.
Dennis: —than the two that are sitting here around the table! [Laughter]
Leslie: Oh, man. I just went from place number one to two! [Laughter]
Dennis: No. No, you are our favorite salmon fisherwoman. You said “man”—so that’s even bad too. Leslie Leyland Fields joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Leslie: Oh, it’s great to be back. It’s good to see you guys again. And I brought you some salmon, by the way.
Leslie: It’s in the satchel over there. That’s why it weighs about 50 pounds. [Laughter]
Dennis: I will take it—I’ve enjoyed it in the past. Can listeners—can they go online and buy your salmon?
Leslie: Yes they can. They can go to my website—and we do have Fields Wild Salmon. Our stocks are a little low right now, but we’re starting a new season. So, we hope to be canning some more. They can buy some through my website.
Bob: You could go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—we’ve got a link to Leslie’s website. We get no cut off of the salmon sales—I just wanted you to know. [Laughter]
Dennis: No, we do not. In case you’re wondering where Leslie gets the salmon, she’s not on an island on the Mississippi River or on the Gulf of Mexico. She is off Kodiak Island, on Harvester Island, in Alaska—she and her husband. Six children you raised there—they are now starting to leave the nest.
Leslie: They are.
Dennis: You’ve been fishing for 36 years with your husband—
Leslie: That’s right.
Dennis: —and you’re the author of a book that did not surprise me at all called Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers. You begin this book talking about a trip you took your six children on to see your father.
Leslie: Yes; yes. This was now—well—I can date it ten years ago because my youngest was just a baby. He’s 11 now. I packed up all six kids on spring break. We flew down to Florida for them to meet their grandfather for the first time. I knew it was the first time, and it was probably also the last time. I hadn’t talked about my father very much. They knew nothing about him, and they weren’t particularly interested; but I knew that, for future reference, they just needed to meet him for themselves.
Bob: And you knew Florida would be appealing. They wouldn’t mind a week in Florida; right?
Leslie: Well, you know, March—warm, sunny / March in Alaska—oh, yes!—Florida was good.
Bob: But your kids didn’t grow up with phone calls to grandpa, or with presents at Christmas from grandpa, or with the normal grandparent involvement?
Leslie: Not at all—not at all. No.
Bob: Why not?
Leslie: My father was not even a father to his own six children. It would have been absurd for me to think that he would be a grandfather to my six children. He was very detached and seemed to be unable to connect with people—even his own children.
Bob: So, when you packed up your kids to take them to Florida, you had already had a disconnected, estranged relationship with this man you were now bringing your children to meet.
Leslie: Yes. I had left home 30 years before. In those 30 years, I had seen him three times; and that was because I went to see him. He would never come to see me. It would never even occur to him to do that.
Dennis: So, to protect your kids as they flew down to see their grandpa, you didn’t actually tell them that he was their grandpa; right?
Leslie: No. I never talked about him as their grandfather because I didn’t feel that connection anyway. I always talked about him as my father. I would say, “We’re going to meet my father.” I didn’t want to say “grandfather.” They had another grandfather, who lived right there in Kodiak—my husband’s father. They kind of knew something about a grandfather because he was a kind man. He loved to pull the children up on his lap and do nursery rhymes with them and all the wonderful things that grandpas should do with their children. He did that—so that was their image of a grandfather. I could never—even myself—name my father “grandfather.”
Dennis: You’ve written eight books. One of your earliest books was about the family you grew up in and the hardship you endured—all the way back to your childhood in New England.
Explain to our listeners where your dad was and what kind of hardship you and your siblings had to endure because of his irresponsibility.
Leslie: Yes; yes. We lived in New England. My father was a traveling salesman—that’s what his father did—and that’s what he did, as a teenager—he traveled with his father. That’s what he knew and what he was comfortable with. He went off, every day, to sell; but he was not successful. He went from job to job to job until finally no one would hire him anymore.
So, he was unemployed. He was unemployed for much of my childhood. We had no family income, and we were very poor. We were—and the phrase is “desperately poor”— and that’s indeed what it was. There was not enough food to eat. Our food, at mealtime, was rationed out; and there was no more.
There was very little food between meals—so we were hungry. Our clothing was homemade, hand-me-down, worn out, out-of-style. We were objects of mockery at school—for all of our clothing.
Dennis: Your dad—well, you say in the book he was a salesman who didn’t sell anything.
Dennis: He would go find a coffee shop, drink a cup of coffee, eat some ice cream, and then check into a motel. He had some of the things you all didn’t have—heat.
Leslie: That’s true.
Dennis: You lived in homes, you said, in New England—where you, and your mom, and your siblings were fixing these houses up to sell—so you could survive.
Leslie: Right; right. That’s what we did—that was our family business.
We would buy an old run-down colonial house and move in—no matter what its state of repair or disrepair. Then we would spend the next few years restoring it back to its original state, but we often ran out of money. So, in high school—in all my years in high school, we lived in a 200-year-old house that was not insulated because those houses were not insulated. We had one wood stove for heat. If it’s 25 degrees outside, it is 25 degrees in my bedroom and every room except the one room that the wood stove was in. You’d go to bed with a glass of water at night—well, you learned not to do that—the next morning—it is frozen.
Bob: What was your emotional relationship like with your dad? Obviously, he’s not providing. Was he connected with you and your siblings, relationally?
Leslie: No, he wasn’t, Bob. He was physically absent—in my earlier years, he was physically absent, being a traveling salesman.
Then, when he was unemployed, he was home a lot more; but he was absent. He showed no interest in us—did not talk to us. Sometimes, I wondered if he—I knew he knew our names—our first name. I wondered if he knew our middle names, and I wondered if he knew how old we were and what grade we were in. I think probably, often, he didn’t know those things.
Bob: So you, growing up—just felt like: “This is a man who lives in our house, who’s my father”; but you didn’t know much about him / didn’t really care much about him; did you?
Leslie: No. No, we didn’t. He didn’t care about us, and we didn’t really care that much about him.
Dennis: Did you ever piece it together as to what would cause a man, who would father six children, to basically ignore them / reject them?
Leslie: It took me a long time, Dennis. When children grow up in a home—no matter what is going on in that home—it’s normal to them—
Bob: That’s right.
Leslie: —that’s their normal. It wasn’t until I became a mother and my husband became a father that I began to see what fathers are for—because I didn’t know—I’d never seen it. I saw how much my husband loved my children—and how much touch there was, and how he read stories to them and sang to them, and they rode on his back, you know, like a horse—and all of these wonderful things. It really began to open up for me what was missing—what had been missing all those years.
Dennis: On the cover of your book it says: “Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate.” Explain to our listeners what the hurt felt like. Obviously, there was an absence of a father—emotionally connecting, protecting, providing—the basic things a father is to do—both physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually.
How did that impact a little girl? I think there are listeners, right now, who may be dealing with something similar—if not in their own lives, maybe they’re watching it in their own children.
Bob: And it sounds like you didn’t know there was hurt there until you became an adult.
Leslie: Yes. I think that’s true for many people as well—but there was hurt, at the time, as well. Here are a couple of other pieces that I’ve left out. There were several times, during our childhood, when—we were destitute much of the time—but there were two times, in particular, when my father took the little bit of money, remaining in the bank that we were living on, and fixed his car and then drove away, intending never to come back. So, abandonment—he abandoned us in moments of our greatest need. That hurts—that hurts because it means “You don’t matter.”
I have a father who doesn’t care that I don’t have food to eat. I have a father who doesn’t care that I don’t have decent clothes to wear. All he cares about is his ability to get out, and be on the road, and to be free.
Dennis: And have his ice cream in the evening.
Leslie: Yes, and his coffee.
Dennis: Did it manifest itself in hate?
Leslie: There were times when I hated my father, indeed. Indeed, there were; and it would come and go. Hate is such a destructive force; you know?
Leslie: I didn’t live with a constant sense of hate; but it would come, and it would go.
Bob: When he’d been gone selling—and he’d come back, after a few days, and he’d show up—were you thinking: “I’m glad he’s home,” “I don’t care whether he’s here or not,” or “I wish he’d go away again”?
Leslie: No, I never wanted him to come home because, when he came home, then things got very, very bad. We were never happy to see him.
Bob: So, when he was there, life was harder for you and your siblings—
Leslie: Much harder.
Bob: —but because of anger / because of violence?
Dennis: There was more hurt, that occurred in different ways, among other siblings in your family.
Leslie: There was. This is something that we didn’t talk about together until many years later. Some of us had experienced my father attempting to abuse us sexually. One sibling, in particular, really received the brunt of all that attention. It was—and none of us knew that that was going on repeatedly, over many years, until later; but what I did know was that my father had made those attempts with me.
Bob: Some of our listeners will hear—you living in Alaska with a father who lives in Florida—and they will go, “That’s about as far away as you can get from somebody.” When you became a young adult, was that your goal?—to get as far away as you could get and just wall off that relationship and move on?
Leslie: You know, it’s so strange why we do the things that we do. In the moment—I was 20 years old when I got married. I married this incredible guy from Alaska. In my mind: “I love him. I love adventure. I love the outdoors. This is the kind of life that I want.” But yes—the answer to your question is “Yes!” I think that was definitely a part of it—“How far away can I get? Is Kodiak, Alaska, far enough?”
Dennis: You might have been able to get 5,000 miles away from your dad, but you had to live and love a man you called your husband. One of my questions, as I was reading your book, was: “How did all this impact your marriage, as it started?” You had to have a bit of a warped view of what a man is, and what a man does, and what a woman should expect a man to do.
Leslie: Yes. I think that I probably did. It’s a tough question—“How did it impact my marriage?” There are so many things going on, at the time. I married very young. I was 20, and my husband was 21. We both were really young—we were college students. After college, we moved—went back to Kodiak—this raw wilderness and the world of commercial fishing.
I was so up for adventure and this hard life that confronted me; but after a few years, it wasn’t enough. I found that my deepest heart was longing for love, and for nurturing, and for what I hadn’t received at home. My marriage was very outward-focused. My husband was not really aware of those very deep needs that I had to be loved and affirmed just exactly for who I was.
It took us a few years—no, it took us a long time [Laughter] to really put all that together and for me to be able to articulate—what I needed, as a wife / what I needed, as a human being—and that is just to be loved, and accepted, and affirmed.
Because, when you don’t get that from your father / when you don’t get it from your family of origin, it just leaves a gaping wound.
Dennis: I’m sitting here, thinking about my question, and I’m thinking that I asked the wrong question. Probably, the right question should have been: “How did growing up with a father who was absent—emotionally, spiritually, physically—from your life impact your relationship with your Heavenly Father? Because what you’re describing you needed from a human being—you ultimately needed to know you were loved and pursued by the God of the universe, which is at the heart of what He did when He sent His Son to die on a cross for us.
Leslie: Yes. You know, Dennis, the truth is I feel like I wouldn’t be alive today without the Lord.
The reason I was able to leave my family, and go off into the world, and be a semi-functioning person was because the Lord—I came to know Him when I was 13. All the hardship of our family, and all that aching—that need to be loved and nurtured—in some ways, I bless that. I bless that because that’s what led me to the Lord. That created a deep hunger and a thirst for God.
My family was not a Christian family, but I knew God was there. I had just a deep desire to find Him. I was searching for Him, and someone invited me to a sledding party—a youth group sledding party when I was 13. I heard the gospel for the first time, and I immediately gave my heart to the Lord. I thought, “There He is!
“There’s the One I’ve been looking for,”—and it was God my Father. My father could not give me anything, but that sent me to my Heavenly Father. I know that sounds so pious and that sounds so—but it’s so true. That’s what pieced me back together and that’s what got me through those years. That’s what brought healing, even in the midst of terrible pain and disruption.
Dennis: It’s not pious, because Almighty God does exist. He is pursuing us. He wants a relationship with us. He wants us to humble ourselves—repent of our sins / our selfishness—and yield to Him and surrender to Him. When we do, we can then know love Himself because that’s what you’ve found.
Leslie: Yes. That is what I’ve found.
Dennis: You found love Himself.
Dennis: I’d say, to any listener right now—maybe what Leslie shared—maybe you come from a totally different background—but maybe you’ve been looking for love in the wrong places. Maybe it’s time you looked in the right place. I’d say: “Don’t put your head on the pillow tonight before you turn to Almighty God and say to Him, ‘Would you be my Lord, my Master, my Savior?’”
Leslie: “And my Father.”
Dennis: Yes. “And I Your child—that I can experience love, and forgiveness, and be rescued from all my shame.”
Bob: There is a link on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com—that talks about “Two Ways to Live.” When you go to the website—click where it says, “GO DEEPER,” at the top of the page. That will take you to the space where you can find out more about the offer that God has made to each one of us to become His child—to come into the family and to be loved with an everlasting love.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” to find out more about what it means to be in God’s family.
You’ll also find information about the book that Leslie Fields has written, called Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to request a copy of the book. Our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
This issue of hurt and forgiveness—how we deal with pain and forgiveness—this is at the heart of so many relationships—whether it’s a husband/wife relationship, or the kind of relationship we’ve talked about today between parents and children.
How we reconcile and how we forgive one another is central to our ability to have healthy relationships. At FamilyLife, our commitment / our goal is to provide practical biblical help each day on this radio program, on our website, through our resources and our events. We want to provide biblical counsel for godly, healthy relationships.
We know there’s a group of you who embrace that mission with us. Some of you are monthly contributors to FamilyLife, as Legacy Partners. I had a chance, this weekend, to say hello to a number of our Legacy Partners in the Washington, DC, area at our I Still Do™event over the weekend—great event. Some of you are donors, who give on occasion, to help support this ministry. In either case, we appreciate the fact that you have joined with us in this mission and that you’re a part of what God is doing through the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We’re glad to be in partnership with you.
If you can help with a donation today, we’d like to send you, as a thank-you gift, something that is a part of Barbara Rainey’s collection of resources called Ever Thine Home®. This is a chalkboard that you can hang in your kitchen or your family room—it’s in the shape of a house. At the top, it says “In this home we give thanks for” and then you can write, in chalk, whatever it is you’re thankful for. It’s not only a nice decorative piece for your home, but also a good teaching tool for your family. It’s our gift to you when you make a donation today.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “I Care.” You can get a look at what the chalkboard looks like as you make your donation, online. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. When you make a donation over the phone, just mention that you’d like the chalkboard; and we’ll send it to you.
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Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the process of forgiving another person. How do you do that when it’s hard / when there’s a lot of pain? We’re going to talk with Leslie Fields about the process she went through. I hope you can be back as we have that conversation tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, with assistance from Mark Ramey. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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