Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dear Father I Forgive You

Dear Father:

You died many years ago. I love you. And I respect you in many ways.

Long ago you made some mistakes which I know you later learned to regret.

Father, you grew up dirt poor, to an abusive father, my grandfather - who was the genesis of so much heartache within the families of nearly every one of his children, and grandchildren.

Father, you were turned out onto the streets as a young adolescent as your family was struggling to survive, struggling to feed itself, during the great depression.

You even begged the police to take you into jail so that you would have food to eat, and a place to sleep.

This was the America you knew.

Your parents agreed to lie about your age so that you could join the Navy at age fifteen during World War Two.

And when you came back from the war, you didn't have anyone to guide you into going to college, and so you never did.

Instead you hung out at bars, and pool halls, and worked for your father in Springfield, Illinois.

Mother said she married you because she felt sorry for you, but I suspect it is because she was a widow, with two young children - living in a man's world.

She said you quit your job, and she got tired of supporting you, and she forced you to find a better job - and I believe her story.

You did manage in some way to move off the loading docks at Bunn Capital to a white collar management position. This was possible because the U.S. economy was exploding, growing by leaps and bounds - and because you were very intelligent, and hard working.

Even though you never even graduated from grade school you rose above your circumstances - and you became more successful than I have - despite my education.

My uncle told me that you probably saw one of your brothers drown when you were a child, and I can only imagine what that did to you.

And of course your father, my grandfather probably beat the hell out of you often.

You were a complicated man, living at the very end of a highly exploitative time in the United States - and the world in general.

You lived in a time when white men were still able to deny people their rights based solely upon race, and gender.

Father you lived in a time in which men ruled their families, and could do so with full support of a male dominated legal system.

You lived in a time in which women were expected to defer to men, and children were not to contradict their parents - or fear the consequences.

What my great grand father, a traveling fundamentalist minister, did to your father, my grandfather, is a mystery, but I suspect that sparing the rod was not even a consideration. I suspect that the cycle of abuse began at least that far back during a time when children, and women could easily be viewed as the property of men.

So when I heard stories of my grandfather beating up my grandmother, and whipping you to an inch of your life - I was not surprised.

Nor was I surprised to hear the stories that mothers within our family whispered to each other, but with us children around, about the latest violent act perpetrated by this husband, or that - it was after all the 1960s - and the times they were a changing, but not for their generation of women.

My father I am not writing this to expose you as some sort of monster, for you were not a monster.

But I have a right to my own life now, not one burdened with guilt, and doubts, about myself - about my childhood, or my future.

My dearest father, you were not a monster. You played with me, and cuddled with me, and showed me love very often. You had tenderness, and patience, and goodness in you. And I love you, and always will.

Which is why this it is so hard to say what I am about to say - to reveal the secret, the horrible shameful secret - that by taboo, I am not to reveal.

But I shall anyway for it is the shame, and the burden of the secret that has allowed such behavior to continue, one generation upon the next.

First I want to say, job well done for never having sexually molested in any way, any of your children. All of your children have been very forthright about that.

Instead it was the violence, and threats of violence which I must address with you.

Some of the earliest memories I have of you is that of trying to drag you off of my mother so that you would stop punching her, and kicking her.

I was just a little boy, of preschool age, but I had to defend my mommy.

And for that you turned your punches, and kicks to me - your rage knew no morality, no boundary. Physically attacking your own little son was o.k. somehow in your mind - at least in your moments of rage. Somehow you believed that I , a four year old boy, was a real threat to you - a full grown man.

How could I ever grow to trust you? How could ever believe fully that you, the most significant man in my life was to loved without holding back - when I never was sure if you would try to attack me?

Yet, it was not these occasional outburst of rage, and violence which you visited upon our family which had the most profound effect upon me, and those who loved you.

Instead it was the low level, but constantly present, fear of saying the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing. Never knowing when your rage would take over, or for what reason meant walking on eggshells, and it meant so many many whippings for things I never truly understood.

It was living in the war zone which you made of my childhood that had its greatest effect upon me as a person.

It was your effect upon my mother, upon whom you forced a miscarriage, when you beat her up for saying the wrong thing - when she was pregnant with your child! I wonder to this day what type of relationship I could have had with the sister or brother that you killed before he or she was ever born. I wonder about the soul that briefly incarnated into that little unborn baby only to have to flee your insane criminal rage.

You should have been locked up in a cage, a prison cell, for that act.

It was how you destroyed the relationship I had with my little brother, who had been my very best friend up until the day you vented your rage upon him for running and hiding under a bed - while you used your belt to whip him (while he was trapped under the bed) so badly that every (every) inch of his little body was covered in welts.

My brother was so filled with terror that he seemed to have left that day. I was only a child then, but I know what it is called now. Shock. You took this little boy and terrorized him so badly that he ceased being the little innocent creature he had been, and instead he did everything he could do to please you - for fear of his life - and he was not even five.

And I'm certain you did the same thing to me. For this I could hate you, and should, but I won't.

But it was that moment, of not being able to stop you - of fearing for my life, of looking at my sister - both of us crying, both of us knowing that you were insane, and that mother was out shopping - that we were at your madman's rage.

We were just children, but if we could have we would have made you go away by any means on that day.

It was the generalized, and always present level of anxiety which I learned to live with, and even ignore, which had its greatest impact upon me.

It was not being able to be honest with my friends about standing in the snow in my bare feet and pajamas in the darkness of a winter morning - while you searched for a plank of wood big enough to "bash my brains in" (your words) when I was only twelve - and listening to the calls of my mother that I should come back into the house so I could get ready for school.

It was the effect that growing up in that kind of environment had upon my ability to concentrate - or to even consider a future - growing up in a war zone so to speak.

It was that effect which being labeled as a "bad child" by moronic school officials who never knew, nor probably would have cared, what was happening until finally a school counselor asked. Yet in those days, that is as far as it went. Confirm the abuse, but remain silent, so on it continued.

This was the America that I grew up in.

It was the raging temper I have within me, that has taken a lifetime of struggle to tame, and decades of study to understand.

I look at your influence, Father, upon my siblings, and I know that your illness has reached into this very time, and has harmed marriages which you never even lived long enough to see.

I see my own timidity, my own lack of self esteem, my own addictive tendencies, my own depression, and I know where my lack of self trust, and the lack of trust I have in others came from. I know why it took me so long to believe that anyone would ever accept me, or want me to be their friend, or coworker.

I see the damage that you did.

But unlike some within the family, I have chosen to forgive you.

I believe I understand you in a greater context of history, and psychology - a field I spent years studying because of you.

And it is that understanding, that has allowed me not to hate you, but instead to love you. Hating you, would only harm me. Hating you would only be denying the you within me, something I can not risk doing.

Loving you, but hating your sin, so to speak, allows me to grow.

You did not have the advantage of an education, and you grew up in a time when whippings, or slapping a wife around was considered acceptable. The culture you grew up on was a highly exploitative male dominated age - and add to that your being mistreated, and neglected as a child and it becomes clear how you became the damaged goods that you were.

I also can not deny that in the last ten years of your life you calmed down, you began to grow as a man, and you found religion. You even told me that you loved me. You were growing up, and it took you until you were in your forties to do so. Your final years were in fact your best years.

That is not to say that you were perfect then, but I was too big for you to beat up, and sadly we both knew I could beat you up by the time I was fifteen. The problem with raising your son mean, is that he learns about defending himself - father. Yet, I could also see that you were growing - in a way that was not dependent upon fear. That is what I believe, and that is why I prayed for you, and your soul to be forgiven - that is the best memories I have of you - for you were not a monster, you were just a man struggling to become the better man you wanted to be.

And I can empathize with that.

If you had lived, I believe that you would have become more of the kind of person you should have been all along - the kind of person you would have been if only you had not been abused yourself as a child, but father, you just ran out of time, and died before you had that chance.

And now I have told the truth - I have broken the silence, I have aired the dirty laundry of the family for the world to see. I did not do so to destroy you, but to let you continue to grow through me - for you are not dead - you are in me, and I will take you to the next step father.

In the end, it is your children who choose how to look back, how to re-spect you.

It is your children who tell your story.

Some of your children say you were insane, or hate you, but I do not.

I love you father, and I forgive you, and only through this process of loving you despite the abuse you put upon me, and only by forgiving you - can I love the you within me, and forgive the you within me. For in the end, you were the single most important man in my life - you were my father.

May God forgive you for your sins, and grant you entry into Heaven.

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