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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Lakweshia Ewing poses at New Holy Temple Cathedral Church of God In Christ on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Lakweshia Ewing remembers decades ago, sitting at the elementary school lunch table as her friend — the preacher's daughter — was talking about the church van that got stolen. All her classmates were nodding, yes, how awful, how bad.

Except Ewing, burning with shame.

"I remember praying to God that nobody knew the name of the suspect," Ewing said. "My daddy was the one who stole the church bus."

She remembers stopped at a red light, glancing into the alley, seeing her father dealing drugs. Remembers missed Christmases, birthdays, graduations, all the things that went unsaid. Ewing remembers building an inner wall of resistance and hurt.

For much of her early life, Ewing's father was in prison.

It would be years before she realized that she, too, was trapped.

But that was then.

And this is now.

Now?

Her heart is calm and generous towards her father. Resentment has been replaced with affection. The walls have come down.

"Until I did the work, I was no better off than him," she said.

The work?

"Forgiveness," she said.

This Father's Day, Ewing is releasing a new book about the path from alienation to reconciliation between children and fathers.

It is called "While They Sat By the Window: Unlearning the Effects of a Broken Father/Child Relationship."

"It is simply asking for people around the world who are products of this dysfunctional dynamic to consider acknowledging the impact that it has played in their everyday decision making, relationships, belief system and emotional and psychological make-up," she writes. "This book is the door that many have been searching for all of their lives."

Ewing, 41, is an exceptional Chattanoogan, a leader in so many areas: technology, education, community work. She's a consultant, minister, police chaplain. She teaches workshops on racial equity.

Here is what you don't know.

"I was about 6 years old. I remember my father ... he hit my mom so hard her head went through the hallway door," she said.

Ewing was hiding in her bedroom between the bed and her dresser, her favorite Fisher-Price record player on top. In her trauma, she made a vow.

"I remember saying: I would never allow a man to have that much control over my life," she said.

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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Will This Float Emcee Lakweshia Ewing got the crowd fired up with a house selfie just prior to a 2017 competition for startup companies at 2 Aquarium Way. The event was sponsored by the CoLab.

For decades, the vow followed her. She overcompensated. Never asked for help. The little girl behind the dresser would never let herself be vulnerable again.

And yet.

She met Julian, her husband ... who almost wasn't.

"He had to fight through rabid pit bulls and barbed wire fences to get to my heart," she said, adding that he "loved me back to life."

She met her brothers.

Released from prison, Ewing's dad fathered two children with another woman. In 2010, she and Julian adopted those children — her brothers.

"They forced me to heal from areas of unforgiveness," she said. "I could not raise my brothers with malice towards my father in my heart."

Ewing calls this process an "unlearning." (Her business? She named it "Unlearn Everything and Live.")

"I have to go and unprove all the lies I told myself in my brokenness," she said.

She had to unlearn: all men aren't bad. Men can be trusted.

Like her stepfather, to whom she dedicated the book.

"He's been the father," she said. "He danced with me at my cotillion. Escorted me at my wedding. Moved me in at college."

She had to unlearn: trauma does not define us. We can heal.

"We often pass on trauma as tradition. When you carry those broken things, you then teach your emotional baggage and trauma," she said. "You end up bleeding on people who never cut you."

She began to see her father's goodness. His early career in law enforcement. His own trauma. His tenderness.

"One of my most fondest memories with my dad included him cooking French toast on Saturday as we watch the comedy show, 'Gomer Pyle,'" she said.

In her heart, something shifted.

"The love of God allows me to take off the garment of hurt and put on a garment of praise and forgiveness and reconciliation," she said.

Not long ago, Ewing's father, now sober, wrote her a six-page letter — legal pad, front and back — apologizing, thanking, loving her.

"All the things I always wanted him to say," Ewing said.

In her book, she includes letters written from 40 other fathers — local dads, like Mayor Tim Kelly.

To purchase the book, visit Ewing's website — unlearneverythingandlive.com — or Amazon.com.

On Sunday, Ewing will visit her dad. (Recently, he bent down and tied her shoe, trying to tenderly do the things he didn't years ago.)

"With no judgment or reservation, I will say simply with a whole, mended heart, 'I love you, happy Father's Day, Daddy'," she said.

That was then.

This is now.

"Forgiveness," she said, "is freedom."

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

 

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