Forgiving Our Fathers

by Janet Grimes

Father’s Day has a way of bursting through any barriers around my heart and releasing my feelings to splash all over the page before me. A gift of a tear or two to cleanse the soul–or at least, my soul ….

There are a million things we never had the chance to do together.

Piggyback rides. Pillow fights. Accidentally sledding into a tree. Saturday morning hair muffed by pajama-clad laziness. Wobbly first bike rides. Motivational lectures in 6 week increments to inspire me to get better grades. Outrunning the lightning bug brigade at dusk. Walking on the beach hand in hand, reflecting on years of quirky nothingness. Unreasonable teen-aged dress codes. Arguments that ended with a slammed door and echoes of “You just don’t understand me.” Spastic first car rides with me as the driver, complete with minor trash-can crash endings. My baptism. Spontaneous father-daughter dances to the music in our heads. And the most treasured walk together down the aisle as he escorts me to the threshold of adulthood.

dad-preschool-daughter-greyscaleSo many unfulfilled moments, but it was not his fault. You see, Daddy was the victim of a traffic fatality back in 1967 when I was just six-months-old. It was never his choice to be absent, but he was gone just the same.

As required by its very existence, life moved on for our small family of three; my mother, my sister and me. Mommy was the center of our universe, a role not easily fulfilled, but she mastered it beautifully. She placed our needs before her own on a daily basis; her soft but practical approach to life gently masking her inner strength.

Still, my father was my hero; or at least, my fairy-tale version of him was. With no memories to call my own, I could create him into whomever I wanted for that particular day. He was as big, strong, protective, understanding and gentle as I needed for him to be. If he had been here, I was certain he could do no wrong. He was my knight in shining armor.

So, I was stunned when someone once asked me, “Have you forgiven your father for being gone?”

Excuse me?

To forgive him would require me to admit anger for his absence, and as a child, I could never have done that. As a grown-up, after years of watching other people’s daddies, however, I began to understand it. As a matter of fact, I now consider myself an expert on this subject of fathers.

No matter the setting, I was quick to notice any father in my vicinity as he swept his teeter-tottering child off his feet. Some daddies were tough, intimidating until the giggle of an adoring son awakened the twinkle in their eyes. Others were expressionless at first, battling the screaming deadlines of the corporate world, but as soon as they were challenged to a race across the playground, their faces melted with escaping joy.

But soon, I noticed the broken fathers as well. Fathers without children. Children without fathers. Barely existing in worlds far apart from each other.

For someone who would travel across the world, if necessary, if my Daddy was out there somewhere, I wondered how this could be.

But I get it now; few fairy-tale fathers exist. Sometimes dads mess up. Sometimes they walk away, convinced that their kids are better off without them. Sometimes their kids are taken from their lives and they never get the chance to seek forgiveness. Years pass with no contact because both the father and the child feel unwanted.

Relationships are complicated, and I never had to walk in the footsteps of anyone who has been hurt by their own father. Still, if I could line up all the broken fathers across from all their broken children, regardless of their age, this is what I would say to the them:

Life is harder than expected. The past hurts, but the future does not have to; at least, not as much. Get mad. Tell your Dad he let you down, just when you needed him most. Tell him you needed him to protect you, and that you want to trust him. Tell him he is difficult to talk to, and you just need for him to listen. Do whatever it takes to make tomorrow better.

And Dads, God chose you to be a father, and He will show you how to do it if you let Him. Your presence means much more than your perfection. Forgive yourself, so that your kids can do the same. You need each other. You always have. You always will. Treasure your moments, for they are truly priceless.

I guess the little girl in me still longs for a happy ending for everyone’s fairy tale.

If only I could stand across from my own father, and say these simple words:

Just hold me, and never let go.

Yes. That is exactly what I will tell him one day, when we meet face to face.

janet-grimesJanet is a wife and mother of three who writes for several monthly online publications on topics such as faith, family and writing, serving as the Detroit Examiner for Christian Living. Her first book will be released later in 2010, and her second book project chronicles her life of growing up without a father, and how that pushed her toward a deep and eternal relationship with God. For additional information, visit her website.

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