Forgiving My Father
Happy Father’s Day to those of you who are dads and those of you who choose to recognize this day. I value the role of a father more than I have before this year. In light of that, I am focusing on being intentional about telling the men in my life who are fathers that they are appreciated and thought of on this day.
This year is my first Father’s Day without my father being alive. However, it is not the first Father’s Day I have ever spent without my father. In fact, I can not remember a Father’s Day I have ever spent with my father. My mom and dad separated before I was 5 years old. He was in the military and so the split allowed him to move forward with his life as a U.S. Airforce airman. He moved from duty station to duty station. His visits were infrequent throughout my life.
My parents met in high school and were married on prom night. My mom tells the story of having to get signed permission from her father for public records in order to hold the courthouse ceremony. She reflects that her mother wanted her to go to college. Her mother knew that once my mother married her attention would not be on higher education. My mom also recalls that my father’s parents, who were Puerto Rican and had moved to the mainland early in their marriage, didn’t want my father to marry an African American woman who was also not Catholic.
The separation of my parents meant the separation of our lives together as a nuclear family. My mom, two brothers, and I became our own little family. My dad moved on and had more children with various other women. As a young child, I saw his visits as exciting and entertaining. It was as if a celebrity was coming to town. As a teen, I was less accepting. I saw his visits as an annoyance and disruption of our regular lives. We connected again when I chose to serve in the military. He reached out to me to tell me how proud he was of my decision. However, in my mid-thirties, I learned he had a substance abuse problem. Encounters between us became strained and tension-filled. I decided to set boundaries and disconnected from him completely.
In his final days last year, we reunited. I was surprised by how much his death affected me in those months. I cleared my calendar to travel to spend time with him in a small hospital in Florida as he lay in a hospital bed on life support. I sat by his bedside in the hospital and I said all the things that were in my heart. I talked about resenting his absence and not understanding his decisions making process. However, I also told him I loved him and I let myself forgive him for all the ways he had never been a present father to me over the years. I accept the relationship. I also recognized all the ways his absence made me strive to never repeat that cycle with my own children. I know it is why I sought out a partner in my own marriage who valued family in the many ways I did. I know it is why on this Father’s Day I am calling and texting the fathers I know who are doing their best to show up for their children.
This picture is of us holding hands during one of my visits to the hospital weeks before he passed away. I took the photo to remind myself that we may not have been together over the years but I will always be connected to him in spirit. I can forgive him without agreeing or understanding his choices. I can choose to focus on the positive aspects of my life and put down the anger and disappointment I have carried about our relationship.
I encourage you to remember on this day what are some of the lessons you learned from your father. Please share them with us at at [email protected]. We’d love to hear your thoughts.