People are often surprised to learn that my late father was a minister. When they try to label me a “PK”, “preacher’s kid,” I tell them, I’m not really a preacher’s kid since I didn’t grow up in my father’s house. My parents divorced when I was a toddler. My father remarried. His new wife had five children from a previous marriage.
I think my father started pastoring a church when I was about seven or eight years old. Although my father lived about 20 minutes away, I only saw him four or five times a year. I spent a couple of weekends at his home, and he would make a brief visit on Christmas Day.
I was indifferent about my father until I was about 12. One day, I saw the program for his pastor’s anniversary celebration. There it was. A picture of him, his wife, and her children. The text said something like, “Rev. and Mrs. Clay have five children. The church folk thought that my father and his wife had five children together. There was no mention of me. My father’s congregation didn’t know that he had children from a previous marriage. At that point, my indifference became resentment.
As an adult, I always spoke to my father a few times a month. When I went home to Virginia, I made a point of seeing him once or twice during the visit. But the resentment, hurt and anger were always there.
I don’t know why I decided to let it go. Maybe the load just got too heavy. I learned to reframe every thought that I had about my father. He didn’t come to my high school graduation, but he came to my oldest daughter’s high school graduation and even made arrangements for my great aunt to travel with him. I have plenty of negative memories that I could focus on. All the events that he missed. All the slights. All the hurt. Concentrating on what my father did wrong doesn’t change the past but would make me a prisoner in my own head.
Whether your father is alive or dead, you can still forgive him. Here’s how:
1. Decide that you will forgive your father even if he doesn’t deserve it. If you are a Christ follower, you know that you must follow the example of Jesus and forgive those who have mistreated you. If you need a secular reason, unforgiveness only hurts you. You’re allowing the person who wronged you to hurt you over and over again with no effort.
2. Understand that forgiveness is a daily, sometimes hourly process. Once you decide to forgive, the ugly feelings and memories will creep in. You have to release them. When you forgive someone, you’re not giving him a free pass on what he did. You are deciding that you no longer harbor anger, resentment and a desire for revenge.
3. Accept his apology. My father never said “I’m sorry.” But he apologized with his actions. He never taught me to ride a bike, but he helped buy my first car. He never told me what to expect from men, but he called me every day when I was going through a divorce. If your father apologized with words or actions, accept it.
4. Get help. A Dad-Shaped Hole in My Heart by H. Norman Wright is an easy read on this topic with practical solutions. Consider enrolling in therapy with a trained counselor. You can vent in a safe space and learn specific solutions.
What is the first step on your forgiveness journey?