I believe in forgiveness.
I was born to a generous and loving mother; a woman who has loved me to the best of her ability every day of my life; a patient teacher who has watched me struggle, fight, cry and laugh my way through my world; a faithful, devoted friend who has found a way to support and encourage me and to laugh with me. I was also born, at least biologically, to a man who had never learned to love, especially in the selfless, vulnerable, sometimes heart-wrenching way that a parent loves a child. So much of the struggling, fighting and crying that my mother watched me do, I did in the pursuit of a relationship with that man.
For most of my life, I have had a warm, fulfilling father-daughter relationship with my mother’s husband. He loves my mother genuinely and respectfully, as she deserves. He was also willing to walk into the arms of our crazy, dysfunctional family, see it in all its glory, and still work and sweat to be a part of it.
Despite all this, I needed to struggle through all the stages of emotional turmoil that I imagine most children go through with an estranged parent. When I was young I clung to self-doubt and insecurity, searching hopelessly for the flaw that had made me unlovable to one of the people responsible for my existence. As a teenager, I wrestled with a powerful anger; outrage that I had been rejected. And many, many times I have tried to build a bridge between he and I. I have tried to convince him that families are capable of dealing with great hurdles, terrible memories and pain. I have wanted so badly to believe that I, especially, was capable of learning to know him and love him despite the past. This belief led me to forgiveness.
I have learned to forgive him for his fear. I have come to accept that he is who he is, not who I want or need him to be. I have learned to have patience with myself, and to allow myself to feel whatever grief I need to feel. I have learned self-tolerance, too. I have learned that I am who I am, nothing more, and certainly nothing less than I was meant to be.
It is this forgiveness I needed the most, it turns out. Forgiving myself brought me a great deal of peace and a better understanding of the world around me.
Sadly, self-forgiveness was something I could not give or teach to my estranged father. It may also be the only thing that would have helped us move forward.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.