At first I thought I had forgiven him and then I realised I didn’t want to forgive him. It was a way of getting back at him for being such a lousy father. I was hurting myself more than him, because he was oblivious to my bitterness. I read a quote by Ann Lamott “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die”.
I never really felt my Father’s love. When he did hug me he was usually drunk and it was inappropriate. I was a terrible disappointment in his eyes, I had failed miserably at school and not achieved his required results.
He relentlessly told me that I should be more like my successful siblings. I didn’t know why but I just couldn’t be like them. They seemed way above what I could be.
When I was a child, I craved his love and affection. I longed to hear him say that he was proud of me and that I was beautiful. I needed him to affirm me and make me feel treasured, with no strings of achievement attached.
I would sit for hours listening to his lectures just to get a sense of belonging. He would call it the “treatment”, and as he went on he would get progressively drunk. He would tell me of his requirements for what I should be when I grew up and how I should do it. It was then that I learnt the art of zoning out. I never heard a word he said, just garbled tones about how much I had failed him.
I wanted to leave home as soon as I was old enough. I needed to get away from him and the dysfunction that was our lives.
My innocent eyes never really saw him treat my mother well. His cold and moody silences wounded her. It was a kind of emotional abuse. She however didn’t have a bad word to say about him, and this both confused and astonished me.
I left at the tender age of eighteen and ran into the arms of the first man who charmed me and whispered sweet nothings in my ear. I was not prepared for the terror of a misbegotten union.
The years went by and my life didn’t turn out the way I planned. A broken marriage darkened my door and my mother died when I was 26.
Before she died I vividly recall my father’s cruel words to her. He said “pack your bags, you’re not coming home”
Stunned into silence, I helped her get ready to be admitted to a Mental Hospital. He convinced me that it was the best thing to do. I was only 26 and I didn’t know if there was any other way to help her. I had a shaky marriage and two small children to take care of.
I tried to forget his words after she died, even though I believed then that she died of a broken heart. The love of her life had rejected her.
My bitterness was always there lurking beneath the surface, taking over like a rot. I was a Christian so I believed I had forgiven him, it was a sin not to forgive. My own woundedness played out in a kind of cold distance from him.
Someone did see the unforgiveness in me, maybe my friend recognised his own.
I went on an encounter weekend that my psychologist had arranged. I was surprised at how many attendees had the same father issues as I had. We danced, we spoke, we shared the deepest, darkest secrets of our inner torment. We were all strangers, but there was something comforting telling a stranger those hidden secrets, knowing full well that their memory of them would dissolve in the sands of time. I felt understood for the first time and even loved in a spiritual kind of way. That was the beginning of my journey into forgiving my father.
When the time came to be beside my father as he was dying, his grumpiness dissolved in the euphoric aura of morphine. He became a different man in those last days, with less pain. He started to smile again and show interest in me, and the disappointment was gone from his eyes. I saw a supernatural kind of love. Perhaps his emotional pain was gone as well.
I started to realise that he had his own anguish growing up and his life had not been easy.
When I think of him now, I think of him transformed. I hold no bitterness or resentment towards him. By some miraculous means I forgive him for not being the Father or Grandfather I needed, the kind of man that loved unconditionally. The scars are there and there is still some woundedness but the agony of my longing for love has been healed.