Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself…
As a child my relationship with my father was practically non-existent. I mean, sure I saw him. Every other weekend as scheduled, but we did not have the bond that I only dreamed of having. Like the ones in the movies where the little girl runs into her father’s arms yelling “daddy!” whenever she saw him. Cuddling up to him while he jokingly warned her of the evils of boys and promising that he’d always protect her. I remember being so awkward around him that I didn’t even call him ‘dad’. I was so detached from that relationship that I was lost as to how to address the man that made me. Affection was something that pained my father to express, the discomfort of a hug or a kiss easily readable on his pale face. Crystal blue eyes grimacing at the slightest touch.
I resented his cold demeanor, his inability to connect with me, the fact that he would frequently toss me to the side to be left in the care of his horrid wife for years, until it welled up inside of me into this self-destructive ball of rage. And once it imploded all I knew was anger. The sadness I once felt as a child masked by the indignance of my bitter teenage self. I began feigning strength, pretending I didn’t care about him, acting as if none of it mattered when it was everything to me. His absence as a positive male role model plowing into my subconscious causing me to seek out that guidance from men in the streets. Never knowing that the choices I was making were directly correlated to what I felt I was missing from him.
Looking back, I can see how often I ended up drawn to the side of men that were just like him: uncaring, uncommunicative, and insensitive. I craved positive direction that none of them were able to give me and so I was steered down the dark path over and over again; being led astray by predators merely hunting for their next prey. Haunted by an overwhelming lack of confidence I stood stuck in the cycle of abuse naively believing that this behavior was the norm. That if I wanted to feel loved I would need to endure and overlook the less than noble characteristics presented to me. After all, who was there to show me any better? Exemplary males were unicorns from my perspective: not a single one in sight. Only fierce women facing persistent pain for survival until I became the same.
‘Helpless and hopeless’ should be the title of my teenage years. I had no faith in anyone to do any good. Not to me and not in the world. Not God, not my boyfriend, and most certainly not my father. I was irrationally irate towards the opposite sex yet irritatingly attached. Needy and pleading for someone to show me different. My teenage years withered away creating an unstable young adult. At 22 I graduated from college and my mom decided to throw me a graduation/birthday party extravaganza all in one to celebrate my accomplishments. I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy, just going through the motions with a snake for a boyfriend at my side beaming with feigned pride. The weight of all my trauma heavy on my shoulders, constantly carrying it around making it impossible to feel free or happy.
My mom had invited everyone we knew: family, friends, and coworkers to come out and partake in the festivities. It was her way of making up for taking away my Sweet 16 when she found out I had been skipping school and getting bad grades. I thought it would be a pleasant surprise to hand out the 16 roses as would have would have been customary at my 16th birthday party. 16 roses: one to each person in my life who I felt helped me achieve my success or supported me in some way throughout the process. With it came the bright idea that this would be my moment. In front of all those people I would finally get to tell my father how I really felt about him. To call him out in a setting where he would have no choice but to listen and to make him feel just as insignificant as he made me feel my whole life.
I was nervous, but I was deadest on my mission tired of holding in all my resentment to myself. I was ready to unleash my wrath upon him. To make an emotionally censored man cower in front of my very eyes. I typed up the speech and read it over every day leading up to the event letting the anxiety and angst fester in my soul and psyche’. The day of the event came, and I was dressed and ready to go, when suddenly it hit me. Like a truck. Why was I doing this again? The tortured tears of the hurt little girl I worked so hard to suppress bubbled to the surface pouring down my face like wretched waterfalls. She reminded me of my longing which made the rage fade to nothingness. The fury serving me no real purpose. I realized that I didn’t want to feel that way anymore and that making the speech would undoubtedly solidify the distance between my father and I, and that I would be throwing away the chance at my own happiness forever.
I turned the computer back on and rewrote the harsh words aimed at him. I turned my criticisms into compliments instead; commending him for being present in my life despite our differences. I acknowledged the fact that not too many people around me can say the same about their fathers. That he was pretty cool with my other siblings and I admired their relationships. I praised him for his attributes instead of attacking his deficiencies. For being fun-spirited and hard-working. For being there even if not exactly how I wanted him to be. And then I did something totally unexpected…I apologized to him. For never giving him any credit. The moment I spoke those words aloud to the crowd I saw that the look on his face (and many other faces) was of pure shock and awe.
I could see him fighting back expression and the surprised look in his eyes made me understand how cold I had also been. In that instant I felt a light from deep down in the darkest parts of me shine. It was only then that I truly grasped the concept that forgiveness is not for the other person at all. Forgiveness is the greatest gift I have ever given myself because I had finally released myself of the burden of my resentment, blame, and anger. I was finally free, and it was a feeling so beautiful that words simply do not capture its essence. From that day moving forward my father began contacting me directly and we started developing a relationship that I value so much today. Of course, I have not forgotten everything I went through in his emotional absence, but I am immensely grateful that through forgiveness the little girl in me got her wish. And the adult me is living happily with her dad by her side.
Love you old man.
-Sincerely, your eldest daughter