Every year on July 22, I celebrate my birthday. I might get together with friends, or perhaps go away on vacation. There's only one thing I know for sure. On July 22, I plan to call my father so he can wish me a happy birthday. My dad knows it's my birthday, and I know he wants to talk to me, but he is unable to call.
Growing up, I went to a private school on scholarship. Most of the other kids' parents were successful in business, and could afford the tuition. My mom was a housewife, and my dad a carpenter -- when he went to work. There were many times my father was out of work, putting an even bigger financial strain on the family. Not only did we not have money, but we were also trying to "keep up with the Schwartzes." It was hard to understand what was going on in my father's life, and why he was unable to provide the life we wanted. The life I felt I deserved. I was angry and upset with my father for not properly providing for us. I blamed him personally.
As a child, I didn't know why my dad was in and out of the house, and at times he was out of work and just "not around." I know my family was trying to protect my innocence by not explaining things to me, but by not being told what was happening, I could not understand the situation. In the absence of any information, I just thought the man didn't care. Little did I know that he cared very much and simply was unable to do any more than what he did.
Maybe I am unworthy of being loved?
By the time I was old enough to comprehend the truth of the situation, I had convinced myself that my father was a terrible man who didn't love me, didn't care about me, didn't want to be a part of my life. And I thought to myself, perhaps this was because I was un-lovable? I thought, maybe I am unworthy of being loved or cared for?
I looked at the man who "made me feel this way" and blamed him for everything.
My mom and dad divorced, and as a pre-teen, I moved in with my grandmother and cut all ties with my father.
As I grew up, I began taking classes and reading books about self-improvement and self-empowerment. A recurring theme seemed to emerge: Fix the relationship with your father.
I was stuck in the "daddy doesn't love me" syndrome, which affected my everyday life, and all of my relationships. I knew the answer was to get over the past, and go see my father.
One of the hardest things in life is change. To be where I am is a lot easier than to implement a big change. It's just easier to go on with the hurt and pain with which I am already familiar and accustomed. To change means hard work. It means getting past the past. It may be over, but in my mind it still is very much there. To go see my father and let go of the anger and hurt was a big step. Perhaps I could just go on and forget about it.
After a slew of failed relationships, I realized I was unable to have a healthy relationship without it, and I decided to make that big step.
It wasn't easy to even find my father after all those years. I almost gave up, as the search proved to be an additional difficulty in this already pain-staking process. It would have been so easy to just stop, and go back to life as it was. But I knew I would never be able to truly go forward and let go of the past, without healing this wound.
After almost 10 years of no contact whatsoever, I went to see my father. On the way there, I envisioned the fight we would have. Perhaps I would put the blame in words, to finally express how I felt all those years. Maybe he'd have things to say to me as well. I might leave in a huff and never go back. In my mind, the possibilities were endless. And none of them were all too pleasant.
As I entered the house where my dad lives, I got the answer to a lot of my questions. My father lives in a nursing home, for the mentally ill.
He shuffled toward me and gave me a weak hug. Then we sat and talked. It was a simple conversation, no more than the level of a small child. But my healing was in that meeting.
There was no fight, no blame, no hurt. Just two people, who have love to give and desperately would like to have it reciprocated, both open to the possibility of having a new relationship.
Those years of blame, hurt and pain… all for nothing.
All those years of blame, hurt and pain! They were all for nothing. I had brought upon myself feelings of resentment toward my father, and feelings of insecurity within myself. If I had only been willing to open my eyes and see what was really happening, I could have spared myself years of hurt and pain. There is no deeper wound than the abandonment by a parent. But I was not abandoned. If anyone did the abandoning, it was me.
I now saw my dad in a whole new light. A man who gave me life, and then tried to cope as best as he could. And maybe life would have been better if I had been able to support him through his illness.
My dad was sick. And though it would be egotistical of me to think I had the right to be angry in the first place, I forgave him. I let go of the past, and recognized that it was what it was, and there is no way I can change that now. All I can do is make a new start for myself in this moment, with a pure forgiveness, from the heart, for any old "hurts."
I knew I had made mistakes as well. Perhaps all these years would have been different, if I had seen the whole picture long ago. If I had accepted my father for who he was, and who he wasn't. If I was able to look past my selfishness and realize that in a family, it's not just the parents who provide for the children, it's a team effort. I apologized to my father, and he forgave me with pleasure.
And I realized that this might even be harder than forgiving him. I began the road to forgiving myself. Realizing that the only way to make up for all those lost years is to do what's right in this moment, and avail myself to the relationship I never let us have.
In the Bedtime Shema prayers, there is a beautiful passage about forgiveness: "Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me... whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly or purposely."
There is an incredible power in forgiveness. I discovered that my forgiveness toward my father was an amazing opportunity for me to open myself to the possibility of meaningful relationships in my life. Without this, I was stuck on a merry-go-round of blame and anger.
With the power of forgiveness, anything is possible.
But with the power of forgiveness, anything is possible.
Shortly after I re-opened my relationship with my father, my life dramatically improved. My relationships were on a deeper level, and they took on more meaning. I was able to relate to people with a basis of trust and openness.
The commandment to "honor your father and mother" always had seemed to me like a one-sided deal. But now I am able to experience the benefits of this crucial part of my life. By deciding to accept my father for who he is, and who he isn't, I am able to accept others, including myself.
Now, I call my father on a regular basis, and visit him quite often. I take him on walks and sometimes we go out for dinner. I check on him to make sure he is getting along with his roommate, and that the nurses at his home are taking good care of him. God has given me a special challenge, and I am up for it. I choose my life exactly as it is. I choose my dad exactly as he is. And every day is a new opportunity to make choices in life. Today, I choose to utilize the power of forgiveness.
As I walked away from writing this article, I wondered how to end it. I flipped on the radio, and this song was playing my barest thoughts:
"I don't wanna be angry no more. It's just another heartache on my list. I don't wanna be lonely anymore."