Essay: Forgiving My Father

Mar 29, 2019

“On the way to the hospital, we didn’t have a name picked out for a girl,” my father liked say. “We were so sure it was going to be a boy.”

I spent my life trying to make up the difference, trying to prove I was valuable.

“Why only one A?” he asked after my first year at college. When I got straight A’s, he complained that I was “too intellectual.” And always, “too thin.”

I should have realized he was impossible to please, but parents are powerful. If he didn’t love me, how could anyone else love me? The last time I saw him he recited his familiar criticisms, adding that I’d ruined my daughter’s life by getting divorced.

“I don’t deserve this,” I said. 

“I’m just telling you for your own good,” he said. 

He died soon afterwards of heart failure which didn’t surprise me. He left me out of his will which shouldn’t have surprised me either. Unforgivable, I told myself, but anger finally wore me out. I wanted to forgive him but I couldn’t get there.

Months later I was watching home movies and, in one brief scene, saw my mother looking  tense, my father terribly thin. World War II had just ended and he had returned from the South Pacific, only to be diagnosed with a serious illness. In his gaunt face I saw so much fear.

For the first time, I felt compassion. Forgiveness might be within reach.