Today marks the day, fourteen years later, when the news came of my father’s passing. It was an odd, shocking, numbing feeling; one which I still cannot frame in words. The finality is jarring, knowing the last words spoken were the final exchange. While I had no regret in that, specifically, it was harsh nonetheless, and I recall my mind trying, as if by sheer force of will, to turn back time one day, and call him. I’m not sure there was much left to say, really, though there are a few questions I wanted to ask… the kind that always felt too frightening and vulnerable to say out loud, even after he asked me to forgive him for the harm he brought into my life. That day, an old, broken, and fragile man he wept and asked me to forgive him. And I responded, “Dad, I chose to forgive you a long time ago. Yes, I forgive you.”
That was 2001. I was 32 years old, a mom of four and pregnant with our fifth. I called Tim before I left the hospital that day, crying, to tell him about our conversation. “Miracles still happen,” I remember saying through tears. Choosing consciously and purposefully to forgive my dad dated back more than a decade before that day. But it didn’t look the way many fit forgiveness into a perfect little box. The consequences for his choices meant that I suffered flashbacks, anxiety disorders (including PTSD), and nightmares every time we had contact for many years, and they became especially haunting after we had children. This continued even after I forgave him most sincerely. My fear that some horrible thing would be done to my family prevented us from feeling comfortable interacting too closely. I meant we attended at most one family event a year, if that.Tim and I chose early in marriage to not risk the lives and innocence of our children by placing them in an environment where abuse of every kind had run rampant and remained buried. This choice, in the eyes of some, would have been cause to judge me as unforgiving. Nonetheless, we made the choice and never looked back. No regret, for the sake of our children.
The cost to me was significant. It meant I had to miss out on family gatherings, and years later the lack of relationship leaves an emptiness within. The loss is ongoing. Still, I choose to forgive my father. And still I don’t regret having the boundaries, in spite of that cost.
My choice to forgive was first and foremost for my freedom. Not a fraction of that decision was to overlook his sins and crimes, or make myself okay with them. They are not okay. But the power of his sin, by allowing bitterness to take root in me, frightened me far more than did the consequences of his choices against me. Secondly, I chose to forgive him for the sake of my husband and children. To let his sins rule my life would be to give him permission to pass on the curses of many generations to my children, through my bitterness. (And generational cycles are well documented in both secular and spiritual literature.) I didn’t want that, and to the best of my ability I protected our children from anyone who had molested, and never left them unsupervised in an environment where known offenders were present.
That said, I was not perfect by any stretch of imagination, and made choices as a mom that left scars on my children, and those are choices for which I take ownership. When I chose to forgive my father, I chose also to take ownership for decisions I made, even if birthed out of the scars and emotional deficits he left in my life. I did this so that the chains would end with me.
I chose to forgive my father to break generational chains that he struggled with to his death, to end cycles of abuse and violence, to leave a new legacy for the next generation, and to prevent bitterness in my life. My children will need to decide whether they will forgive me for ways I sinned against them, and whether they will take ownership for the ways they sin against their own children. And the generation to follow will need to make the same decision.
Forgiveness isn’t a choice to overlook violence, molestation, neglect and various abuses. It is the decision to break chains, end vicious cycles and leave a new legacy. It doesn’t mean everything is all cozy and the wrongs are never spoken of again. It means we do our best to lead the next generation, even at personal cost. And sometimes it means we tell broken, painful and brutal stories, so that the amazing grace of God in our lives is understood, and so others can draw hope and strength for their own journeys.
When my father asked me to forgive him, I chose to verbally extend that grace and reflect the heart of God the best I knew how. It didn’t change how we protected our children by not giving him access, and it didn’t change much of anything at all in a practical sense. But I knew my forgiveness was genuine, and he knew it too. And that was enough for me.
If I could go back to the day before February 21, 2003, knowing what I know now, I might still visit dad and ask some hard questions…. but maybe I wouldn’t change anything at all. I told him I loved him. I told him I forgive him. And, when he doubted that God would forgive a man like him, I told him that because of what Jesus did on the cross, there was a place in heaven for him.
I stood alone by his coffin in the funeral home and wept as I repeatedly whispered the only three words that formed, “Thank you Jesus.”
~ T ~
I remember your father quite well. But I was always a little frightened by him, even in my adult years. I felt he could look right through me. And yet I appreciated him and felt special when he took the time to talk to me.
I do not know why but at his funeral I felt he was finally released. Not just from his illness (I remember he had an amputated leg) but from a past of torment and guilt. You may correct me if I’m wrobg in this.
I wish you Gods blessings as you labour for Jesus.
Jake, that is what I felt too. He was a tormented man, even after he took ownership for his wrongs and repented. (And of course his ongoing anger issues made him feel condemned.) The October before he died, he called me to tell me he was so afraid he would go to hell for all that he had done… that somehow there wasn’t enough mercy for someone like him. I recognized the incredible vulnerability it took for him to make that call, and was honoured to have him trust me with his fears, and all I could do was remind him of what Jesus came to do. So, yes, death released him from that torment as well.
Thank you so much for your words.
I am 54 years old and in a very similar position right this moment. My father was very abusive and my mother allowed it. It is because of my father that I decided when i was much younger I would never have children. I simply could not bare the risk of him getting to them too. So I forfeited what could have been, for protective reasons. I am married and we are happy with our furry children, but as you know, it is not the same. My father is now 80-years old. We have not had any contact in over a decade. I am told he is in poor health. I forgave him about 20 or 25 years ago. But at the same time set boundaries of what he would need to do for us to have any sort of relationship. Specifically, in my own home, he would have to treat me with the same courtesy I treat a cashier at a retail store. He refused to extend to me that courtesy and now we are where we are. Many, many, many people have told me I have not forgiven him, because reconciliation has not transpired. But i hold steadfast to the notion that forgiveness and reconciliation are two separate and distinct things. Forgiveness is rarely earned, but given as a gift. Reconciliation is earned by changed behavior.
One day my phone will ring and I will learn of my father’s death. I sometimes wonder if I will have any regrets. I hate to admit this out loud, but in all truth, I suspect my life will change very little. I will still miss what never was … and I will still do everything in my power for my family to be different. This insanity, this hurtfulness, this abuse stops with me and will no longer be part of the family dynamics again. Never.
Darla, thank you for sharing this glimpse inside your heart and story. I’m sorry for all you have lost as a result of past trauma. I remember for years fearing (I think that is the right word) that my father’s death would bring me more comfort than grief, because finally there would be no possibility of my nightmares ever coming true, so your ‘wondering’ if you will have regrets makes sense to me. And the last two years of dad’s life made a big difference in how I felt after his death, and still the greatest grief is that of what never was, and in the end I think that is the greatest grief possible. Praying God’s grace will continue with you.
That is powerful, Trudy. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Richard. I am thankful for God’s grace, mercy and the miracle of redemption.
Trudy, thank you for your honesty and courage in this post. I just followed you. Blessings, Jean Brunson
Thank you Jean! And many blessings to you!
Thank you for this post I can relate!
While my dad is not physically abusive he is verbally abusive and manipulative. He has recently started telling small lies or just saying stuff as facts that are. not. true. He has almost zero respect for my mom and treats my brother like he don’t know anything sometimes. He yells at my mom almost every day… they always fight. Sometimes he talks to me about stuff before her or tries to get me to make decisions with him… that makes me feel uncomfortable and mad because thats not right!!!
I have tried forgiving him, its an ongoing struggle. The Bible says to respect your parents, I know that they aren’t soposed to be perfect, but neither are they to be abusive. How do I respect my dad???
Jessica, I am so sorry for what you are going through. It is the current abuses that are always most difficult (for me) to hear because it means the suffering is in the present. I obviously know little about your situation–not the least of which is your age, or your brother’s age–or what resources you have for getting help. If you need support, there are supports available and you are welcome to send an email through our website (www.generationsunleashed.com) which is a private conversation. It isn’t right for a parent to put a child in the middle like that, and use them emotionally (or otherwise), so you have the ‘right’ (for lack of better word) to tell him that he should talk with your mom first. Your mother deserves respect, as does your brother, and so do you. When the Bible says to honour our parents, it isn’t suggesting that we accept abusive or manipulative behaviour. Boundaries are healthy, and you don’t need to feel guilty about having them. As for forgiving… It will remain an ongoing struggle as long as the abuse is current. However, forgiveness doesn’t equal silence, and struggling doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven.
God bless you!
Your story sounds all to familiar to me.
Through the great mercies of Abba Father I have found peace with most things, but there is something I wonder about.
My dad passed away over 5 years ago , but I still have dreams about him in peaceful settings doing nothing particular at least several times a year.
Wondering,is this “normal” or am I missing something?
Thank you Jake! That’s interesting about the dreams of your dad… I’ve heard of that kind of thing before, and am glad they are peaceful dreams. For me the nightmares hit really badly over the time of the funeral–especially that first night; it took me years to talk about that night, even to Tim–but since then the nightmares stopped and dreams of dad are vague. (At least not terrorizing!) 🙂 It would be an interesting thing to hear from others, and find out how common it is. Many blessings to you!
I’d be interested if anyone would have some insight.
Nothing pressing,I’m just not used to dreaming about someone who has passed on.🙂