In the beginning he was the source of tremendous pain. Then he became the catalyst for my desire to awaken. Now, he's become my greatest support and my best friend.
In the mid sixties, after my father returned from the Vietnam War, he would occasionally fight with my mother. When I was six years old I remember seeing my father hit my mother in the head with a shoe, followed by a lot of shouting, shoving and running. I remember feeling uncertain and experiencing a great deal of anxiety and wishing that my parents would just be nice to each other. The arguments continued to spin out of control and by the time I was seven, my mother packed up me and my two siblings and moved us to the basement of my grandmother's house. Hence, the 35 year rocky relationship between my father and I had begun.
At the tender age of seven, my father, whom I adored, was now off limits to me and it broke my seven year old heart. I held onto that hurting heart for many many years. However, once I got old enough to understand the reasons why my mother left my father, my heart turned cold. I harbored deep resentment towards my father for not being able to control himself and do those things that would have kept our family together.
As the years went by, it was obvious to me that he really was the cold uncaring man that he demonstrated to his children through his behavior, or at least I thought it was obvious and that I was right. As I watched and was affected by my father's negligent behavior towards me and my siblings, I felt justified in disliking him, in hating him.
Forgiving my father never even crossed my mind because I thought he was supposed -to do as the Bible says, reap what he'd sown. And I believed that I was helping the 'reaping' happen by withholding my love, care and concern. I had forgotten about the power and the necessity to turn the other cheek and forgive seventy times seventy. I didn't realize that in my passionate pursuit to hold onto my justification for hating him, I had lost myself. I could not see that I was living a fractured life, that I was one way with everyone else and an entirely different self with my father.
In, Love is Letting Go of Fear, by Gerald Jampolsky, he says this about forgiveness:
"Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is the letting go of the past and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions. The unforgiving mind is confused, afraid and full of fear. It is certain of the justification of its anger and the correctness of its condemning judgment. The unforgiving mind rigidly sees the past and future as the same and is resistant to change. The unforgiving mind sees itself as innocent and others as guilty. It thrives on conflict and on being right, and sees inner peace as its enemy."
I had been studying Mr. Jampolsky's teachings for years and one day I was revisiting his book for a totally separate reason and this passage leapt from the page and changed my life forever. I experienced a mindset shift that felt as if the scales were literally removed from my eyes and my heart. I realized that for thirty five years, the seven year old little girl with the hurting heart had been conducting the show that was my life, with great passion and mastery. She was orchestrating all of my interactions with my father and when I reflected on them, those interactions didn't look so good. In fact, they looked just like a hurt little girl might look, sound and act.
I wept long and hard. I wept because despite everything that had happened between my mother and father, my mother had told me that my father was not a bad person, but that he had made poor choices. She tried to explain to me that when he came back from Vietnam something had changed in him. That he had been a loving and caring young man but he returned to us a hardened hustler going by the nickname "Vietnam" in the streets of our home town. But I didn't want to hear what sounded to me like a flimsy excuse. I even became angry with my mother for marrying someone so weak and for her inability to make a better choice for a husband and father to her children. Blinded by the idealization that a fifteen year old can bring to a situation, I pitied my mother and self righteously decided I would never be like her. I would never love or care about someone who didn't deserve it.
The process of forgiveness for me was tough. You see, my heart was very hard because the calcification of bitterness is ruthless. I needed to become "a brand new daughter" to a man whom I had always strived to make feel guilty for the choices he'd made in his life.
I understood that forgiveness had to start with me. I knew I needed to forgive myself first for holding me and my parent’s hostage and for not allowing growth and maturity an opportunity to gain a foothold in our lives. I began with focusing on compassion.
I knew that I could either choose to support my father in his growth or I could continue to hold him hostage to his transgressions, but I could not do both. I also knew that deep down what I really wanted was a genuine, real, honest and loving relationship with my father and I admitted that I wanted this for me, my son, my family and for my unborn grandchildren. I wanted to change the trajectory of my entire family's lives. I became determined to have the kind of relationship I could see and feel in my mind's eye. I set out to create it through my choices. I realized that all this time I had been waiting on my father to change so I could have the experience I desired, when what was needed was for me to change. Once I got honest with myself about what I wanted I no longer kept it a secret. Once I understood that in this instance, like in so many other areas of my life, I had the power to create whatever I desired, I knew there was no stopping me from achieving it.
My father became a changed man in large part because I allowed myself to become a changed woman. I sought to heal myself through self love and forgiveness and the healing spilled over and touched every heart that I care about in the most wonderful magical way. I now delight in watching and benefiting from the careful conscientious choices my father makes because he so deeply loves his family and wishes he had never been the person he once was.
Over the years it has been an amazing experience to watch my father transform as a result of the new daughter I became. I now realize that forgiveness is the doorway to deeper love. It’s the doorway to seeing yourself and others as whole within our imperfections. Forgiveness is freedom.
As I embraced the truth that even though my father had made the poor choice to hit my mother I had no right to reduce the sum total expression of his personhood and his growth to that singular moment. What I later discovered was that his guilt was so great it was running and ruining his life and the fear that he could never be forgiven and repay his children for what he did not do when we were younger was practically eating him alive.
I used to hold fast to the emotions associated with that night when I was six years old but now they have become a distant memory because the joy, peace, trust, truth and love that I experience in the now moment of today have become my new priority.
My journey to learning the lessons of forgiveness took several years but let me tell you, to reap when you have sown a very good seed, is the sweetest victory of all.