Daddy will be so happy with me! I giggled to myself, as I skipped home from school with the results of my math test. “Daddy! Daddy!” I called out as I burst through the door and proudly thrust the sheet of paper into his hands. “I got an 89!” I shouted happily. My father took the paper from me and examined it thoroughly. “Was that the top mark in the class?” he asked after careful scrutiny of my work.
“Well… umm… no.” I admitted in shame.
“You can do better than this,” he said as he handed me back my disappointing results.
“But it was near the top,” I whispered while trying to hold back my tears. But my father was already on his way out the door. “Near” was not good enough for him; nothing I did ever seemed to be good enough for him.
I jumped through hoops to please him, but he continually raised those hoops to impossible heights. And as the years went by, my father became more and more difficult to please.
He was like a volcano, always simmering, just waiting to erupt.
He had always been prone to anger but as I entered adolescence his occasional outbursts became a more frequent and frightening occurrence. He was like a volcano, always simmering, just waiting to erupt. He never once raised his hand to hit me or my mother and I knew that he would never physically harm me, but even so, I was terrified of him. The slightest comment could make his blood boil and a mistakenly perceived glance could be enough to send him into a fit of rage. When I was 15, my parents divorced.
From that moment on I wanted nothing more to do with him. I had naively thought that when he left I would be free of him. But I could never be free while he had all the money, and with it, all the power. He held the purse strings in his tightly-clenched fists, while my mother and I begged for handouts. I was forced to spend most of my weekends with him and I found myself being dragged around computer expos every weekend and eating microwave meals for lunch. I loathed every moment with him and would leave his house shaking with rage.
A few years later, I was on my way to becoming a Torah observant Jew. I relished performing the mitzvot (commandments). But there was one mitzvah I could not seem to succeed in: “Honor thy father.” Surely God had not meant my father. He could not possibly expect this of me. There must be some sort of special exemption in my case, I reasoned to myself.
Truth Comes Out
As time went on and I continued to spend weekends with him, I tried working on this mitzvah, even though I did not feel like it and could not understand it. But I always failed miserably. I even went to speak with a rabbi and plead my case. I assumed he would exempt me from this cumbersome commandment. After talking things over, he didn't let me off the hook. Since there was no physical abuse on my father’s part, and we determined there was no danger to my emotional stability, my obligation to honor my father remained. So I began to make vague attempts to maintain a semblance of a relationship with my father, but for the most part our relationship was non-existent. Relationships don't change overnight.
One day it all came to a head. I was helping to clear the dishes away after an uncomfortable Sunday lunch when a plate slipped out of my hands and smashed on the floor. My father was livid. “You’re so clumsy!” he screamed. “You can’t even wash the dishes without breaking them. You’re completely incompetent!”
“It’s only a plate!” I shot back. “Only a plate?!” my father yelled. “The correct answer was ‘I’m sorry!’ You’re disrespectful of my things and you’re disrespectful with me,” he roared. “You never come to see me on your own accord. You never call me. When you do come, you stay for a few minutes and then rush out. You’re insolent, disgraceful and plain rude!”
“That’s because I hate you!” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“That’s because I hate you!” I screamed with all my might. The words were out of my mouth but there was no relief.
How long I had dreamed of shouting those words at my father. I imagined the relief I would feel at finally telling him the truth. But there was no relief. My father was shocked into silence and the raw pain was brandished across his face. I had wounded him.
And for the first time I saw my father in a different light. He did not want his daughter to hate him. Could it be that in his own, peculiar way he loved me? And all he wanted was to be loved in return?
I decided that from then on, things would be different. I would be different. Whatever my father was or wasn’t, he was still my father. He wasn’t perfect and he wasn’t who I would have asked for. But I couldn’t change his ways or exchange him for another. The only person I could change was myself.
It’s true that he had done many things that were wrong. But he has his own account with God, and I have mine. I am responsible for my own actions alone. There would be no more blaming my father for the bitter, angry person that I had become. No more running away from the mitzvah because I felt it was too hard and simply unreasonable of God to expect it of me. No more stomping my feet because life was unfair. It was time to accept my lot and make it the best that it could possibly be. God had given me this father for a reason, and I would try my best to treat him in the way that was expected of me, no matter how challenging it would be.
And challenging it was. After all, he was supposed to be the father, wasn’t he? Wasn’t it his responsibility to act like one? Why couldn’t he make a little effort with me for once? I continued to try to work on myself, and he continued to be his old stubborn self. I tried not to let it get me down. But it almost always did. Every conversation with him was fake. I pretended to care and I feigned interest. I choked out the obligatory words “I love you,” but I did not feel them.
But I did not give up, even though many times I desperately wanted to. Look for the good, I would tell myself again and again. Try to understand him, I would repeat to myself. I continually forced myself to stop focusing on what a terrible father he was and turned the focus on myself and how I could improve our relationship.
It was not until quite some time had passed that I began to notice the subtle changes in my feelings towards him and in our interactions together.
Slowly, slowly, I started to be interested in him as a real person and actually began to care.
Slowly, slowly, and after much begrudged perseverance, I began to see that my false smiles and fake interest were not so fake anymore. I started to be interested in him as a real person. And much to my surprise, I actually started to care.
After years of struggling, I have managed to push out those negative feelings. Deep down, not forgiving my father was a way of getting back at him for the pain he caused me. But in the end hating him had only hurt myself.
I now see that no matter what he has done, it is not up to me to decide whether he is deserving of my love or not. By focusing on his positive aspects, I see a whole new side to him. He is a kind, thoughtful and deeply caring man. He has so much love to give, he just finds it hard to express it.
He still loses his temper sometimes, but now that I am on his side rather than standing against him, I see how much it hurts him when he loses control of himself. At those moments he is like a wild caged animal, trapped in his violent temper and unable to restrain his emotions. I feel so sorry for him and he in turn appreciates my support and understanding. I am finally able to see past his limitations, and at last I have formed a real relationship with my father.
Looking back, I can see some of the reasons why God put me in this situation. I didn’t know I had the strength to overcome my intense hatred, but God knew. He didn't ask the impossible of me, only the incredibly difficult.
I worked so hard to free myself from the fierce clutches of hate and anger, and what I got in return was a man who I am truly happy to call my father. And that makes all the effort worth it.