Forgiving My Dad

Bryan McGuire - Oak Lawn, Illinois
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 12, 2011
Bryan McGuire

Growing up, Bryan McGuire embraced the anger that boiled inside him – emotions mostly directed at his alcoholic father. But once he became a parent himself, McGuire realized that forgiving his Dad would make him a better father to his own newborn son.

Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in the power of forgiveness.

I never really understood what forgiveness meant. When I felt treated badly, it seemed natural to hold on tightly to the anger and resentment.

I never expressed anger outwardly. Instead, I let it stew. My righteous indignation toward those who hurt me was a shield from my pain. Most of this indignation was directed at my father. I blamed Dad for everything bad that happened to me.

Over the years, his misdeeds and shortcomings became the scapegoat for my own. The fact that I hadn’t become an alcoholic like him was justification for being irresponsible, dishonest, and thoughtless.

Throughout years of struggle, dysfunctional relationships, and little to no career advancement, I never took responsibility for anything. I laid all my troubles on Dad.

Then a few years ago, something shocking happened to me: I became a father.

One night, as I watched my newborn son sleep, studying his beautiful face, I suddenly became filled with fear. I was convinced I would screw him up—that all my problems would wash over him, tarnishing his perfect soul. Strangely, while panicking about my son’s impending doom, Dad popped to mind.

I sat there in the dark, surrounded by the soothing sounds and smells of my baby’s room, and I thought of how Dad must have felt when I was born. I knew at that moment that he never intended to hurt me. I realized that he loved me just as I loved my son. I knew that he had done the best he could, even if it wasn’t always very good.

I forgave my father that night—for all the times he got drunk, embarrassed me, or hurt my mother. I forgave him for not being around. I let go of the resentment I’d held toward him for so many years. I stopped blaming him.

Maybe my reasons were not very noble. Maybe I was afraid my son would blame me for whatever problems would inevitably fall his way. But whatever the reason, for the first time, I saw my dad as a real person. I knew he didn’t drink to hurt me. He drank because he was flawed and hurting. I knew that if I didn’t forgive him, I would never have the kind of relationship I wanted with my son. If I kept blaming him I would never start living my life.

Dad hadn’t asked for my forgiveness; he’s never acknowledged that he’s done anything wrong. But I realized that in forgiving him, what I was really doing was taking responsibility for myself and my own actions.

Forgiving my dad changed my life. I accepted him for who he was and that set me free. My eyes are open now to my own failings. And I discovered that forgiving someone is both an innately spiritual act that brings us closer to a higher power, and a uniquely human act that connects people in a way that strengthens us all. It is a powerful thing. This I believe.

Bryan McGuire is a marketing administrator in Chicago, Illinois, where he lives with his wife and three children. He recently completed his master’s degree in counseling psychology and hopes to one day work with individuals and families coping with alcoholism and drug abuse.