Empowerment through forgiveness
Three years ago, I wrote a column about the power of forgiveness in regard to my relationship with my dad. Regular readers know that I didnít grow up playing catch with my dad after school or taking him to father-daughter dances. Some years he would come see me on my birthday, and other years heíd seemingly forget altogether. I learned to fear the moments he paid any attention to me, because there was no guarantee they would last longer than a moment.
Itís safe to say our relationship didnít have a whole lot of consistency for a long time. I knew he struggled with alcoholism, but that didnít make me feel any better about being left behind. As a young kid, understandably, I didnít quite grasp what it means to be an alcoholic. Kids arenít supposed to carry that burden around but I did.
Even as a young adult, that pain remained stuck in my side. I still remember how it felt to be left behind on my 21st birthday. I was in college and had to offer to pay for dinner just so people would celebrate with me. Many of them left as soon as they were done eating. I waited all day for my dad to call. Sometimes heíd forget until later in the day, but I had learned to expect that call. It didnít come. I had never felt that low before.
Graduating from college, starting a career and finding my husband changed many things about my life, but Iím most grateful for the change in perspective. I had spent my whole life resenting my dad, expecting him to say all these things I needed to hear to find peace. But how could he know what I needed to hear unless I told him? How could we mend our relationship without one of us taking the first step toward that change?
So I took that first step, full of fear and years of repressed bitterness. Iím a words of affirmation kind of person. I need to hear that people love me, that they support me and that they are sorry when they hurt me. Clear verbal communication makes all the difference for me. Thatís what I asked of my dad on Dec. 31, 2016, and thatís what he gave me. To my surprise, he apologized for how he had hurt me. We spent a moment alone at the wedding reception where he said heíd call more.
ďThatís a promise,Ē he said.
Itís been more than three years since that day, and I thought it would be helpful to offer my perspective today. Forgiveness is so important but so is follow-through. You can see true change only through actions. While I donít talk to my dad every day or even every month, we chat on holidays, birthdays and occasionally just to catch up. I know thatís the bare minimum for a lot of you but itís the healthiest relationship I have ever had with my dad. It far exceeds our bare minimum.
Thatís probably the best takeaway from the story of me and my dad. Your normal wonít always look like somebody elseís normal. Your life is simultaneously easier and more complicated than that of others, just in different ways. None of us are walking the exact same path, so thereís no need to compare our journey to someone elseís. Thatís a recipe for disaster if you want to be secure in who you are.
The day I stopped comparing my relationship with my dad to other relationships, I felt a peace I never knew before. It was like realizing you donít have to force the wrong puzzle piece to fit anymore. Sometimes, you canít find that missing piece and thatís OK. The puzzle is still complete if you say so, if you are content with it.
I know Fatherís Day is hard for a lot of folks, whether you have lost your father or never had him to begin with. To those of you who have struggled the way I did for so many years, I completely empathize with you. This week, I am wishing peace for all of you.
Remember, you donít have to force any puzzle piece to fit. You decide whatís right for you. Just because I forgave my dad doesnít mean you have to. I made a decision to empower myself, but that decision looks different for everyone.
Whatever you are feeling this Fatherís Day, I hope you know this small town columnist supports you.