Sunday, November 30, 2008

Forgiveness

Recently, our child-parenting class at church has transitioned into working on a series of books intended to help us face our shortcomings, for lack of a better word, and move towards improving ourselves. This month's topic is Forgiveness. Several people shared various times in the past when they either were able to forgive someone just in time, such as one woman who was able to forgive her abusive-alcoholic father when he was on his deathbed, or another friend who missed the opportunity and has always regretted not making peace with a loved one. I didn't think of my example until later, so I thought I would share it with you all instead.

One question we talked about is, why is it harder to forgive those close to us? Obviously, it's because those who are closer to us are also typically the most trusted, and the most able to hurt us, so when they do, it's deeper. This made me think about my father, who I have never talked about on here.

My father left me when I was three years old. My parents divorced, and soon after he called on phone to tell my mother, who in turn made him tell me, that he was leaving for Texas. That day, after I spoke to him, I ran to the wooden hutch in the kitchen and bit it while I cried; I inherited that hutch from my grandmother, and my tiny teethmarks are still in it. I didn't see him or hear from him again until high school, when he contacted me via his aunt, who had for some reason decided that it was time to contact me. Until that point, I had heard from no one. My father was one of nine children, I had/have numerous cousins, but none of them, or his parents, ever kept in contact with me. My great-aunt wrote me a few letters, just enough to make me think that she was really interested in me, and to promise to send me a package for graduation, which never arrived. My father began writing to me soon after she did, and my mother promptly went after him for back child support (he had stopped sending it years and years before). We met once, when he came to town to see some of his wife's family (he had gotten remarried right before he left town when I was little) and stopped to see me as a side trip. It didn't occur to me at that point, young as I was, that there was anything weird about my being a pit-stop. My boyfriend and I met them at a restaurant for an awkward dinner and trip to the mall; we corresponded for a few months more, and it petered out. I was a freshman in college when he abandoned me this second time.

Fast forward ten years. I started therapy to deal with what I thought were anger issues surrounding my mother. It turned out that I had depression (surprise), OCD (that *was* a little surprise, actually, and was probably triggered by the abuse when I was younger), and oh, by the way, some SERIOUS abandonment issues. Turned out, I was a little... um... slutty in high school, doubling down on boyfriends and such, because deep down, I was determined to never, ever allow myself to put all my emotional eggs in one guy's basket again. I literally felt like I was someone's garbage, thrown away, abandoned to fend with my mother on my own.

My therapist suggested that, someday, I might want to find my father and talk to him about these issues. Being the go-getter (aka, OCD-thinker) that I am, I went right home and did it that night. It wasn't hard - I knew he had lived in Florida the last time we had written, and sure enough, he was still there, just on the other side of the state. Our first conversation was awkward, chilling, frightening. He didn't remember how old I was. He was glad to hear from me. He and his wife lived alone.

As the months passed, other details came out. He had left because in light of things I was saying when I went to visit him, he said it was obvious that I was being fed hateful things at home, and was being used as a pawn, so he thought it was better than he leave altogether. His wife, also, had left children behind, twins, and they had a strained relationship with them, as well. He says he never hurt my mother or I, but became curiously furious when I asked him, more so than I would have expected, so I wasn't sure whether to believe him - everything else he said, I believed, for several reasons. All the things he told me were like receiving pieces that I didn't know I was missing to the puzzle of my life. He knew things about my grandmother, mentioned things that she had said or done, that I understood immediately to be true, for instance how she broke up his marriage to my mother by putting ideas in her head that he was cheating on her with a neighbor man; this is *exactly* something my grandmother would have said and done, and something my mother, who was and is very insecure and gullible, would have allowed herself to be bullied into believing.

There were other things, though, that disturbed me. He kept saying that he would put me in touch with the rest of my family, but always found ways around doing so until I realized that I was never going to get anywhere and stopped asking. He finally said that he was the black sheep of the family, but wouldn't tell why, and I remembered my mother telling me once that before she had married him, his own father told her that she shouldn't marry him because he was 'strange'. He and his wife took in foster children, twice, older boys, but ended up returning them to the system. He and his wife took to sending us things, large boxes of things, for holidays, but would only ask me what the kids might want *after* the things had been purchased; he would get angry if I told him that they wouldn't like things he mentioned, and tell me that they had already been bought. He kept saying things like, 'well, you always were' when I would describe things that Josise was good at, as if he had actually known me past preschool.

The final straw, though, came just before Christmas a few years ago. I had been allowing longer and longer amounts of time to pass between calls to them, because I was growing uncomfortable with their intensity. He wanted and expected things of me that I was unable to give. Basically, he wanted to be a Dad, when I really felt like I was just getting to know a stranger. One day, I called after about two weeks, during which time they had left a few messages. I had been busy with holidays, and the kids had been sick, and I had been stalling a little. His wife answered, and she went *nuts* on me. Why hadn't I called, my father was so upset, he couldn't figure out what he'd done, why would I wait so long to call?! She was really, really upset, but all I could think was, well, he waited thirty years to have a relationship with me, so he could maybe wait a few weeks until I had time to call him back. I waited until after the holidays, and then wrote him a letter telling him that I was uncomfortable, and he was expecting things out of me that I couldn't give. We had nothing in common - he had dropped out of school after 10th grade, we had no similar interests, no common hobbies, so there was really nothing there to build a relationship on other than my initial curiosity and his too-late desire to be a father, so it wasn't terribly painful for me to write. I didn't miss the calls at all. Although I hadn't told him not to , he never wrote back, and I haven't heard from him since. I'm not surprised, but I'm not upset. I was the one to walk away this time.

Strangely, though, I feel as though that year healed huge parts of me, and I was able to forgive him for everything by being allowed to understand him as an adult. He was obviously regretful, and while in the end I really had no desire to be close to him, I could appreciate why he had done what he had. He is a poorly educated man whose family, for some reason, has turned against him - he did what he thought was best, given the information he had. I can understand, and forgive, that.

What strikes me about this is, I am still unable to forgive my mother. I can forgive this man who left, but not the woman who stayed. I am still working on this.

10 comments:

Not Your Aunt Bea said...

Wow. I will have to re-read and think more on your post. But, wow. What a lesson in forgiveness indeed.

Kelsey said...

I think it is easier to be hard on the people we are closer to, whether they deserve it or not. Parent-child relationships can be so tricky. I had a pretty normal, healthy growing-up and I still have so many internal issues with both of my parents.

Thank you for sharing.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

I agree with Kelsey and I also think that forgiving absence (which is huge but relatively simple) is easier than forgiving the days and years and layers of a difficult PRESENCE.

You are a brave, strong woman to have gone through so much and endured so well. Whatever you decide to do about being in contact with your father, it sounds like you have a strong sense of how you all got to be where you are.

d e v a n said...

Wow. I can't imagine going through all that. You're so strong! I think it would be harder to forgive your mother because you know her, you love her and she was there. It's easier to forgive a stranger I guess.

d e v a n said...

Left you something here: http://all-d.blogspot.com/2008/11/butterfly.html

LoriD said...

You know what they say: you need a license to own a dog, but anyone can be a parent. You definitely got the short end of the stick. I'm always amazed when someone comes out of a situation like yours and leads a normal, productive and happy life. Kudos to you for rising above it all.

My husband had a terrible childhood: abandoned by both parents at 2, taken in by a jackass uncle and self-indulgent aunt at 4, re-abandoned by the uncle at 14 and then the aunt at 16. And yet, he's a great father with absolutely no flight tendancies. Deep down, I'm sure he has anger, but he's mostly indifferent about the whole thing.

creative kerfuffle said...

wow, just, wow. this one really hit home. i emailed rather than writing a book in comments : )

Kristi said...

Your post gives me so much to think about. I have a strained relationship with my mom, but all my issues with her are so petty compared to what you have gone through.

Thanks for sharing!!

Swistle said...

The twins are three years old, the age you were when your dad left you, and thinking about that makes me feel like throwing up.

Sherendipity said...

If you ever stop and wonder if maybe you shouldn't have published this post, please know that it touched a very personal place inside me, and I am very grateful (although sorry that you had/have to go through this) that you shared these experiences.