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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

At the Door of the Wrong God

Guest post by Robert Elliott

Corporate Educator & Leadership Coach

PHOTO: Adobestock

I always expected my dad to be something other than he was. I wanted my dad to stand like a tall skyscraper. Someone that stood above everyone else – especially other kids' dads. I wanted my dad to know what it was like to soar, to breathe in the high stratospheres. I wanted him to be on friendly terms with astronauts, in contact with Mission Control and President Kennedy, and be comfortable speaking on the hotline with Khrushchev.

L to R: My brother, Dan, father, Richard, and I, 1969

I wanted my dad to reach down with hands like King Kong's and hold me to his chest, ready to bare his teeth and growl at anyone or anything that tried to hurt me, and be willing to take on a whole city or the world if necessary. To pick me up and take me back to the jungle where he came from and introduce me to Tarzan, and teach me how to swing from trees, and open coconuts, and talk to Jane – especially that.

But my dad didn't do any of these things.

When I was in high school, he would come into my room after I had been out on a date, flop out on my bed, stoned on the prescription drugs he had taken because of the terrible pain he was in.

My dad wasn't a well man, and he would tell me about the girls he didn't bring home to meet his mother. Eventually, I would put his arm around my shoulder and guide him into his room and back into bed. I want to think I kissed him on the forehead before returning to my room. Because, although, at the time, I wasn't aware of it, I believe my dad was reaching out to me.

His spirit was trying to contact me through his pain, his failures, his narcotized state.

Like in his hospital room a few months before he died of lung cancer, I sat with my dad, my chair at the end of his bed, and he spoke to me straight from his heart. He wanted me to know.

"It's strange," he said, "to have a growth this large inside your body and not know it."

I changed the subject, not wanting, I thought, to talk of something that might trouble him.

But no, it was me. I was the one who didn't want to hear what was about to be said because I wasn't there. I was waiting at a different door for a different voice to be told in a different way what I so longed to hear: that my dad loved me and that he cared.

I forgive you, Dad, for not being who I wanted you to be. I forgive myself for not accepting your blessing, and I forgive us both for what we didn't know.


As a corporate educator, speaker, and leadership coach, Robert Elliott has worked with executives, middle management, and support personnel from Fortune 500 companies such as Alcatel Networking, Edison International, Symantec, Wells Fargo, and General Motors, as well as with smaller businesses in healthcare, education, technology, insurance, entertainment, and manufacturing. He also has worked with federal and state agencies, the military, law enforcement, county and city governments, and has served on the business faculties of UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, San Diego State University, and Loyola Marymount University Extension Programs. With a broad range of expertise in the arts, Robert earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and was an actor in his early professional life. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley.


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