The Gift of Forgiveness

Some of my earliest memories of my dad involve waiting for him. Standing on the shady sidewalk outside our house, looking down the street for a glimpse of the massive black hood of his 1955 Chrysler sedan. Sitting around the dinner table, his empty chair conspicuously vacant. Lying in bed at night listening for the sound of the back door to open. My dad was a busy man, like most men of his generation. Coming back to the states after three years at war, taking advantage of a prosperous time in this country, he was building a business and an active social life and community life.

But time with my dad was worth waiting for. He was a fun loving father, patient, encouraging, generous. I was the proverbial apple of his eye, and never doubted it. Which was one of the reasons it hurt me so much when he left our family. It didn’t matter that I was in my 30’s at the time, with a family of my own. I felt betrayed, disillusioned. I thought he loved me so much - how could he leave me behind?

There were quite a few years of anger and avoidance, years when I barely spoke to him, years when I didn’t see him at all.

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Years I wish I could get back.

Thankfully, after a lot of therapy I began to realize all the anger and resentment I harbored was hurting me just as much- if not more -than it was hurting him. And not only had my estrangement from my dad hurt me, but also my son, who as a child had enjoyed a wonderful closeness with his grandfather, a relationship that my stubbornness largely denied him as he grew up into an adult. His grandfather missed teaching Brian to drive, seeing him graduate from high school and college, seeing him get married. Those are moments that can never be regained.

As I had grown older and wiser, grown closer to the age my father was when he embarked upon a new life for himself, I began to understand a little bit more about the factors driving him in that direction. It’s cliched but it’s true - as the amount of years in front of you begin to shrink, it’s easy to wonder and want for more. To think of what might have been. To question, is this all there is? My dad, always a bit of a gambler, chose to risk it and find out. I chose to hold on to my hurt and disappointment and anger for a long time.

I think human beings are wired to need harmony and peace, and when we let anger upset the balance of that for too long, when we wait too long to forgive, it begins to eat away at us. As the Buddha says, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; but you are the one who gets burned.” All this to say that if you’re holding anger and resentment toward a parent or a partner or a sibling, if you feel harmed and hurt beyond repair, forgiveness can be a balm for YOUR soul. It doesn’t have to signify that you condone their actions, or deny that they’ve wronged you. It can mean freeing yourself from pain of that hot coal and being able to heal and move on.

A well timed conversation with a wise friend happened to occur just before Father’s Day about 10 years ago; I reached out to my dad, and we began to rebuild our relationship. It was never exactly the same, it couldn’t be. My dad had a new life, a new wife and family, and had spent almost 20 years with them by the time we reconnected. But I’m so grateful to have spent time with him in the years before he died, and to have come to know his wife whom I now consider a friend. I’m grateful for her devotion to him, and the ways she cared for him during his years of poor health.

I’m grateful I grew up enough to set my anger and hurt feelings aside and forgive him.

I’m sorry he had to wait so long for me to do it.

I hope I was worth waiting for.