My dad was a different kind of father. He was never the dad that changed our diapers, washed our pacis, or sang us to sleep. He never read us books or helped us with homework or science projects. He was gone endless nights, and had a temper. He would show us love by handing us 20 dollar bills and buying us new basketball shoes. He would take us on vacation and buy us lavish gifts when he messed up at home.
I grew up in chaos and thinking fathers were only good for the monetary part of fatherhood. But I was craving a “real” father.
A father that would tuck us in at night instead of coming home at 2:00 a.m.. One that read books to us when we couldn’t sleep. Or kissed us softly on the head when we had a nightmare. But that wasn’t him. He never was that father or grandfather.
He is now in heaven and I needed to forgive him for not being that father. I needed to forgive him for me, not for him. Letting go of the anger, hurt, and loss is very freeing.
There were years when I was hurt that he was the “Tony Soprano” of all dads. Upset that he never showed me how a husband should treat his wife. Mad that he never congratulated me on getting an MBA or never came to my son’s Kindergarten graduation. Hurt that he never recognized my four siblings’ unbelievable accomplishments among all the adversity we were raised in.
Years that I would ponder if he would change, and finally realize that he’s missing out on his children’s lives.
Then, I came to the realization that he’s not changing; this is him, and will always be him. So I chose to love him through all the hurt and pain. I chose to understand the wounds he was carrying around as well. I chose to be with him as he fought cancer.
Making the decision to forgive and love him did not come without angst or lots of money spent on therapy. I reflected on the man he had to become at a very young age (they had my brother at 16), the fact that he did significantly better than his dad, and that Jesus taught, “If you forgive others of their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”
Our relationship significantly changed for the better once I made this decision to accept him for who he was and to let go of the pain. I was an adult when I made this decision and now that he’s gone, I’d do anything to go back to when I was a little girl and forgive him sooner.
When someone passes you remember all the good in that person. I remember all the times he was my protector. I remember everyone at his funeral telling me what a “legend” my dad was and what a generous and forgiving man he was to everyone he met. That’s the legacy of my dad that I want to leave to my child: the generous legend that truly loved his kids and the Lord.
Weakness in His Last Weeks
Being with him during his last weeks, he was no longer the tough, angry, unpredictable man I grew up with. He was a weak, feeble, and hurting man that was now relying on his children to be the “caregiver” that he never was to us. We had to help him stand up, walk him to the bathroom, and bathe him. It’s incredibly disheartening to watch a hard-headed, tenacious man such as my father lose his ability to function as a grown man.
God never wastes a hurt, and finding the will to forgive has been an extremely humbling experience. I have learned that time is a thief and to not waste precious space in your head on bitterness and suffering. Although I did not have a direct conversation at the end discussing how hurt I was or how mad at him I was in the past, he made it clear that he knew he didn’t live the most Godly life. He knew he could have been a better husband and knew that he needed to believe in our Lord and Savior to be out of pain and live for eternity in heaven.
So as my Dad was now the “child,” I wanted to make sure he never felt alone, or hurt, or unheard the way he may have made me feel as a young girl. I wanted him to feel loved, cared for, and respected, so he knew he would leave this world without the regret of my childhood. I’ll forever be grateful that I was able to be with him, hold his hand, and tell him “I love you” on the day he took his last breath.
Find Forgiveness for Yourself
If you find yourself in a similar position with a loved one, I know how hard it can be to forgive and let go. But do it FOR YOU. I suggest starting by reading some Psalms in the Bible or other books on forgiveness. Also, writing down the hurt was a helpful way for me to push past it as well. And finally, a good therapist is always someone you should have on speed-dial. I know it’s a cliché saying but having gone through it, it’s true. You don’t want to feel guilt for not forgiving that loved one after it’s too late.
So remember to love with all your heart, and forgive with even more of your heart–even when it seems unthinkable.