My own father passed away in 1989 at the age of 80. Last week, he would have been 104. Interestingly, we shared a birthday. His portrait hangs above our fireplace during the month of June to commemorate the twin holidays.
I miss him something terrible… and he was a toxic son of a bitch.
As I contemplate the incongruity in that sentence, it does not escape me that there are people out there for whom Fathers’ Day is a yearly reminder of inescapable horrors. How do you celebrate this national day of remembrance if your father raped you every day from the time you were three until you finally ran away from home? What kind of holiday is it for you if your back and your psyche still carry the scars inflicted by leather belts and cutting words? Not all daddies are the warm, loving, protective creatures we see in the memes and glurges.
This picture hurts to look at; it’s very close to home.
It was difficult to forgive my father for his shortcomings while he was still alive, because he was so damned difficult to be around. People who knew him from afar thought he was debonair, witty, dashing, charming, and suave. He was, after all, a prominent actor with an IMDB rap sheet as long as your arm, and he moved in some fairly interesting circles. He was a gifted sculptor, spoke several languages, was an accomplished dialectician, and during his heyday was in large demand for playing heavies, Mexican banditos, Italian gangsters, tough attorneys, and the like. He was all of that, but for those who dwelt inside his intimate circle, he was mean, stubborn, selfish, violently angry, combative, aggressive, immovable, and not a little psychotic. The trouble was that he also had a good heart, loved his family, and wanted only what was best for them (filtered, of course, through what was best for him.) As a result, the situation for me was never black and white – which made reconciliation even more difficult.
I wish I could have come to terms with all of it while he was still alive, because there is so much I could have learned from him, if I was willing to receive it. I can only be content with having laid the demons to rest, and celebrating what good there was to celebrate. Even after his passing, it wasn’t easy – because he never really recognized how much pain he inflicted on those who were the closest to him. But harboring resentment, they say, is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the enemy, and I’ve found that to be true. Forgiveness is a healing balm, and a space I’d much rather live in.
As alluded to above, I had it fairly easy. While my father’s words cut like knives , he never violated me, never hit me. I cannot hope to understand what some others have gone through, and the journey to peace is going to be different for everyone; I always think of Forrest Gump knocking down Jenny’s childhood home with a bulldozer as part of her symbolic journey to wellness. Ultimately, people who hurt us die – but the issues we carry inside us go on forever unless we ourselves put them to rest.
A beloved mentor of mine fell by the wayside in life as a result of being unable to forgive a perceived insult. It changed his life completely, and isolated him from a massive community of friends, associates and supporters. I lost contact with him about 7 years ago, and I can only assume he passed away; but I would have loved to see him set aside his stubbornness and return to the company of those who loved and honored him.
When it comes to understanding the power of forgiveness, there is one I look to as a guide who embodies the power of letting go. Azim Khamisa lost his son in a tragic gang-related incident; a 14-year-old boy, given a gun and told to “make his bones,” shot Azim’s son Tariq while he was delivering pizza to a false address as part of a gang initiation. Instead of falling into the trap of a lifetime of hatred, he realized that there were victims at both ends of that gun, and partnered with the shooter’s grandfather, Ples Felix, to establish a foundation that teaches young people how to reject kid-on-kid violence. The young triggerman, Tony Hicks, has been influenced by this unusual choice, and has been offered employment by Khamisa’s foundation when his 25-year sentence has been completed.
Everyone’s situation is different, and I cannot speak to each person’s horrors, nor do I attempt to minimize their suffering. But forgiveness is a gift that we give largely to ourselves, and I know from personal experience that coming to terms with injustice and letting go is much preferable to internal anguish carried around for a lifetime; my soul is cankered enough on its own without deliberately adding acid to the mix.
For some, there may never be reason to celebrate, other than to hoist a glass and say “thank God the bastard is gone.” But I know it is possible to come to a point where the day of remembrance is no longer torment; when one can take joy with friends or family who had better experiences, and honor the vast majority of fathers out there who – despite personal failings – did their best to shelter and nurture and protect and raise their children into responsible, caring and contributing adults.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
 The Greeks have a proverb for it: “Η γλώσσα κόκκαλα δεν έχει και κόκκαλα τσακίζει” (the tongue has no bones, but it breaks bones).