Raise your hand. Who’s had a perfect childhood? Who has perfect parents? Who has the perfect family?
Unfortunately, most of us experienced a less than perfect childhood. Most of use have a less than perfect family. Most of us have less than perfect parents. After decades of being angry, disappointed, and resentful, I finally learned to forgive my dad for my less than perfect childhood. I finally learned to balance the expectations I built for my father, to keep them in perspective, and, above all, to keep them realistic.
At five or six years old, I learned a hard, cold fact about my family when I had the following conversation with my best friend:
“So, does your dad come over to visit on Sundays too?”
“What are you talking about. My dad lives with me at my house.”
Shocked and confused, I immediately ran home to question my mom why my father did not live with us. I remember she answered me quite gently. My mother told me that my father lived with his new family, and it was his job to care for them. But that answer didn’t stop my new-found feelings of abandonment. While my brother and sister enjoyed watching reruns of Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch and Little House on the Prairie, I was angry, disappointed, and resentful. I wanted my dad to be just like Ward Cleaver, Mike Brady, or Charles Ingalls so desperately
Unfortunately, my relationship with my dad was rocky from the day I was born. According to my mother, my father denied me as me being his son. Years later, I learned from a cousin that some of my family referred to me as ‘the crisis child’ and recommended abortion. When I was nine years old, my mother remarried, but The Brady Bunch it was not. My step-father was even less attentive than my real father. However, I did have one remedy for an absent father figure: I grew up in an apartment above my grandfather’s automobile dealership and the car salesmen downstairs went out of their way to fill the void the best they could.
Until I was 14, I lived in the same New Jersey town as my dad. I saw him every Sunday for a time, but then the visits became less frequent and eventually stopped altogether. I became angry and downright pissed – I didn’t even know my father. After I moved to Florida, our distant relationship broadened. I would write to him on occasion, and surprisingly, he would usually answer my letters. However, every letter began the usual way:
“I think about you all the time”.
At first, I believed it. After years of hearing it, I began to believe it was a cowardly cop-out.
Years later, after having children of my own, I became much more aware of the responsibilities of being an adult and the stresses of family life. I often thought of my father. “Why did he abandon me?” After questioning my mother about her side of the story, I thought it was fair to write to my dad and point-blank ask him why he chose to be absent from my life. After many weeks of waiting, I finally received his reply: “That was a long time ago and I’d rather not discuss it”. After some pondering, I determined that this was my father’s way of admitting his failures:
Was my father there for me during my formative years? Nope.
Was he there when I was a troubled teenager? Nope.
Was he there when I had children of my own and in desperate need of fatherly advice? Nope.
Was he there when I hit middle age, anxious and afraid of the future? Nope.
Did I expect him to be there for all these events? Hell yes.
Today, nothing upsets me more than when young adults brandish their entitled attitudes towards their parents – especially their dads. They want money, a new car or expect their parents to pave their way to Easy Street. I’m quick to point out that, unlike me, their dad was there for them. He read bedtime stories, taught them how to ride a bike and tie their shoes, helped them with their homework, held them while they cried on his shoulder and dropped anything to help them whenever they needed him – a list of luxuries I’ve never experienced.
Thankfully, I’ve finally come to terms with my father and our absent relationship. I can’t change him; I can’t force him to be the dad that I expect, I can’t fill in all the absent moments. I no longer compare him to Ward Cleaver, Mike Brady, or Charles Ingalls. All I can do is balance the expectations I built for my father, to keep them in perspective, and, above all, to keep them realistic. Perhaps there are deeper reasons yet unknown to explain why he chose to be absent from my life. And oddly enough, I believe him when he tells me “I think about you all the time.”
So, for what it’s worth to each of us, “Dad, I forgive you.”
Photo: ©Dave Pacailler All Rights Reserved