Sunday, January 27, 2008

Unto the father (My Sacred Life, Sunday)

For many, many years, I have held a grudge against my father, and I have come to the conclusion and the heart-knowing that it is time to forgive the transgressions for which I hold him responsible.

While I won’t go into detail about everything I am still holding and seek to let go of today, it is important that I mention two episodes so as to explicitly release those.

My father spent a year in Vietnam as an Air Force dentist, stationed at a large US military installation in South Vietnam. During that year, I became a senior in high school. I also learned from my mother that she intended to divorce my father upon his return. I learned this several months before his return.

At the time, I was embroiled in my own melodrama, as most teens are at that age (I was 16 at the time), and there was nothing I could consider doing with the information I had. Certainly, I had no intention of getting in the middle of my parents’ determining what they would do about their own relationship. I did my best to simply pretend I did not know anything, even denying myself the space to think about the consequences.

My father made what I still, to this day, consider to be the unconscionable mistake: he blamed me for not telling him what I knew. As far as I can tell, the only good which came of this, his blaming me, was my sensitivity to my own children when my wife and I divorced after 17 years of marriage decades later. Still, I am grateful for having that sensitivity to the needs of my children, both during that time ten years ago when my marriage was ending, and through the years since.

The unfortunate result of my dad blaming me was many years of semi-estrangement: you can recognize it if you have ever been there. There is no effort to resolve, no attempt at conciliation, and a whole ton of denial. Yes, there are times when you get together, but they are strained and painful.

It is an oft-diagnosed issue, that of the father and son falling out. In my case, I did my best to comprehend what went on when I was all of 16 years old, and after many years of that “well, it probably was my fault” kind of thinking, and after fathering four children of my own, I finally came to the realization that none of this deserved to be on me. Why, if I would never for even a second blame any of my daughters for my own problems, should I continue to accept the burden regarding my dad? No more.

Sure, I had an obligation to discuss it with my dad honestly. It has never been the case that I was unwilling. Repeated attempts have only come to no good result as either he refuses to discuss it, or my stepmom refuses to allow the discussion. So sad.

So, today, as my dad is in his 77th year on the planet, I forgive him his mistakes in dealing with his eldest child--me--as he dealt with his own marriage ending more than 35 years ago. I forgive him, also, his small-minded response to my sister’s joining in partnership with a boyfriend to buy a house a few years later. For the record, he viewed their actions as beyond the pale because they had not wed. It was that day that I first thought, fleetingly, that it was not my fault that he was clueless about his own divorce approaching several years before. As is often the case, we have to see others mistreated as we have been before we grok that we deserve better.

I learned to refuse blame for others’ feelings—we each get to be in charge of what we feel—and I learned to be sensitive to how others would respond to how I led my life.

It’s a weird combination of truths: one need not accept guilt for how others feel, and, at the same time, we owe those we love the sensitive treatment which takes their known issues into account. For me, it boils down to kindness in dealing with others, and strong resistance to others’ blaming me when I know I have met my own rule of dealing in kindness.

No, it is not a magic answer.

Yes, it works for me more often than not. I forgive my father today so as to free myself from carrying these issues around any longer. I drop them now, by the roadside, and walk away. My step is lighter without the burden, and I know what I am doing is what is best for me. I am grateful for what I learned from the experience of living through the times which created the burdens, and I am grateful to arrive here, today, finally declaring my independence. Burdens are not part of us, they are only burdens, no different than some 40-lb knapsack you might agree to carry on a hike. When a burden offers no value any longer, it is time to leave it behind. So, I have.

My Sacred Sunday today? It’s all about forgiveness.


Julie said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story. I went through something similar with my mom quite a few years ago. To this day I keep parts of my childhood private BECAUSE of this forgiveness. It seems unfair to talk about it, or tell the story, when you've let it go and forgiven the other person. (And this is a good thing.)

Rick Hamrick said...

Thanks, Julie.

I'm with you: it feels to me like this is the last time I will recount this story. Turning the page, you might say.

Time to move on to creating marvelous memories by living today!

Thanks again for stopping by and leaving your kind words.

Angela said...


This is such hard stuff. I find that I have to forgive my mother, and myself, for some things over and over again and hope that one day it will stick for good. It's no fun being made a secret-keeper when you don't want to. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself here. It is heartening.

Kate I said...

This is such a powerful post Rick. Forgiveness is SO important for moving on in life, as you know, but one of the hardest places to get too. I think every one of us has a BIG forgiveness to work through at some point. Thanks for sharing this with's always good to be reminded to forgive and let go.

Sylvain said...

Good for you Rick. It has to be hard to let go of something you've been carrying around for so long. But it must feel great, so much lighter.

Anonymous said...

This has got to be one of the hardest things in life. It took me almost ten years and very intense work with an analyst to work through the anger I had toward my step-dad for all the ways he wronged my family. To be honest, I think there are small grudges I am still carrying toward other people that I have not even recognized yet are making my load heavier!

Congratulations to you for taking this liberating step.

Olivia said...

I agree that this a very powerful post, Rick. Despite what you'd held against your father, you gained tremendously from it and used it for life lessons that benefited your own children. I think that parental wounds can be the hardest to forgive, so good for you for letting go of this. It must be time. Peace, O xxoo

patti digh said...

rick - this is important, big. thanks for sharing this story in which I can so easily find myself. I am learning that holding other people accountable to my standard isn't love, not really. In the aftermath of lifting that burden, fly!