Forgiveness and Return
The most significant lesson I have had in forgiveness presented itself between the ages of fourteen and twenty-three. For these nine years of my life, my father and I had absolutely no contact with each other.
My mother had left my father when I was an infant, and she raised me single-handedly. For most of my childhood my father was living in Montana and we lived in California, but we spoke on the phone from time to time, and my mother and I made occasional trips up to visit with him. At this time my parents had an amicable acquaintance, although my father was now married to my stepmother. I remember admiring my father with every drop of my being, as most little girls are apt to do. He was smart, generous, strong, and often made me laugh.
As I approached my teenage years, the interaction between my mom, my dad, my stepmother, and myself was becoming increasingly strained. Many situations occurred that made me feel as though I was hated by my stepmother. But the real drama appeared when my mother decided to ask my father for child support. When she attempted to do so, he responded very harshly. He went on a tirade about how she needed to get over him once and for all (although she claimed to have no feelings for him) and realize that he had a new family to provide for. She proceeded to take him to court for the support and subsequently his wages were garnished. We were given regular amounts until I turned eighteen, probably much more than my mother would have settled for had he been open to the agreement she wanted to make with him originally. But he ceased communicating with me. My mother tried writing a letter once as a plea for him to speak with me again. “This has nothing to do with Anna,” she wrote, “Be angry with me if you want, but please don’t ignore your daughter who has done nothing wrong.” He wrote back a scathing letter that said many hurtful things about her and about me. I cried so bitterly about those letters when she told me about them, which was shortly after she got his reply. She had sent the plea without letting me know first, and had put my name on the return address as a trick to get him to open the letter. I wrote a couple of letters and there was no reply. I didn’t think I would ever hear from him again. As I type this now I still remember the hopelessness I felt as a fourteen year old, thinking I had lost forever the father I once idolized.
Years passed. Once in a while we would hear tidbits about him through mutual acquaintances. I graduated from high school and went to my first year of college. The federal financial aid process for school required that I send forms to both forms, even though I told them that I had no contact with my father. There was still no response.
Then I was twenty-three. I had pondered the situation for a very long time, examining it closely. I said to myself, “It really doesn’t matter what his choice is. I am well adjusted, and I have a decent job. I am intelligent, independent, and strong. I am healthy, creative, and people appreciate my artwork. I have amazing friends, and a safe home.” I knew, finally, that if I were to continue to feel anger toward him, I would do nothing but continue to poison myself with that resentment. “I forgive you, and wish you well,” I thought to him. It was still summer, but I decided that when Christmas of that year came around, I would mail a card to his family, simply out of good intention, and with no expectation.
Imagine my surprise when about a month later, even before I had a chance to send that card, I came home from work and there was a message on my machine from him. “Hello… Anna, I really wish you were home right now, I’d love to talk to you in person. This is your… dad.” His voice was broken with emotion. I sat down on my bed, staring at the answering machine for several moments in amazement. I picked up the phone, and called him back, feeling nothing but elatedness.
About a week later, he came to visit me. It was raining that day, and we sat in my apartment as I heard about his nine years, and told him of mine. He told me how sorry he was, and that he and his wife were in the middle of a divorce. He now realized how much he needed his family. I told him that I was happy to have him in my life. We went to have lunch at a café that was exhibiting my paintings and I watched him hold back tears when he saw my work. The most amazing part of the day, though, was on the drive back home. We came around a turn in the road, and in the sky before us stretched a gigantic rainbow. We looked at each other-speechless--experiencing the perfection of the moment, probably mirroring each other’s expressions.
I have looked over this entire experience so many times. I know many people whose fathers were gone for part or all of their lives, and many of them say that they would not have been able to forgive. But I can’t help but think that these things happen so that we can learn and grow. We all are so painfully imperfect and make many mistakes as we move through life. I know the peace that filled me when I decided to let go of my anger, and it was wonderful to see that peace extend itself to him. Having felt that, I now am more inclined to forgive others whom I may come to resent. I am tremendously grateful that my father came back into my life, but even if he never had, the peace that I found in forgiveness would still have served me endlessly.
e x t e s s a y -
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