The power of forgiveness
Last week, my dad celebrated his birthday. I messaged him saying I hoped he had a great day and I love him, and he returned the sentiment. We talked a little about plans for the holidays ó the kind of small talk most people would consider normal. But that wouldnít have happened two years ago.
Growing up, I didnít see much of my dad. He was an alcoholic and I knew it. Everyone knew it. You canít keep that kind of thing quiet in a small town, especially when you come from one of the two extended families in the area. In Fouke, there are the Crabtrees and the Joneses. I am a Jones. All my teachers knew my family. Some of them went to school with my dad and aunt. The cashier at the local mom and pop store went fishing with my papaw. There was no escaping my family history.
It was bad enough to feel rejected by my own father, so you can imagine how it felt when he screwed up publicly. Iíll never forget the pity in my English teacherís eyes. Itís the same look my friends gave me when Dad got drunk at my birthday party and caused a scene. Itís a look I never want to see again.
Considering all that, itís no surprise I grew up with a massive amount of pent-up frustration toward my dad. He forgot so many of my birthdays. He occasionally reminded me that I wasnít planned, which made me doubt my mom when sheíd joyfully call me a ďsurprise baby.Ē Itís hard to value yourself when one of your parents never takes any interest in what youíre doing ó and that was Dadís behavior on a good day. I donít like to talk about the bad days.
I moved away from that small town when I was 18 and havenít returned. Throughout college and the first few years at Carroll County News, my relationship with Dad remained strained. He forgot my birthday a few consecutive years. I started to think heíd forgotten about me completely. Then he started calling on my birthday again. My mamaw told me he had sobered up. I was skeptical, as youíd expect ó trying to accept his kind gestures while keeping him at armís length.
Two years ago, he visited Eureka Springs for my wedding. I was still frustrated that he couldnít seem to get out the words, ďIím sorry.Ē I sat on that frustration in the months leading up to the wedding. When he got to town, I had a moment of clarity. How could he ever know what I needed from him if I didnít tell him? Is it fair to expect someone to read your mind and harshly judge them when they donít?
It was an epiphany. You have to tell people how you feel. You have to express what you need or you wonít get it. Much of my frustration with Dad came from my experience as a child, but I was an adult now. I chose to handle the situation like an adult. Iíll never forget the anxiety I felt when I told him I wanted to have a good relationship with him but needed him to take ownership of how he hurt me. I expected him to push me away.
He said he was sorry for everything. He said he wanted to do everything he could to have a good relationship going forward. We mended fences in a five-minute conversation, and heís continued to be more active in my life since then.
So he wished me a happy birthday this year, and I did the same for him. Iím grateful to have a positive relationship with him. Weíll never have the traditional father-daughter relationship, but maybe we have something better. We had to work through the hard times. I worked hard to forgive him and heís worked hard to prove himself since then.
Forgiveness is not easy. Itís as difficult as it is rewarding. But now that itís happened, I can only focus on the rewarding part.
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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com