Friday, November 7, 2014

It's Not Always About the Apology

Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This week, 12 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts.

My prompt is: Who was the toughest person to forgive in your life? How did you bring yourself to forgive?

It was submitted by:

I’ve blogged about this once before, about forgiveness and this particular story, but having written about it previously doesn’t change my answer so here goes….


The thing about forgiveness is that it’s never just given. It’s not something we just decide will happen and so it does, simply and easily, especially when you've been extremely hurt by someone…when that hurt runs deep into the core of your very being, when an apology doesn’t really cover it, when an apology was never really given, when forgiveness is more about you than them.

I learned that the hard way.

In March of 2006, my father was given 6 months to live. With treatment. Without treatment, that gap of “living” would have maybe been a couple weeks or maybe not depending on how badly his brain
continued to swell from the tumors that had metastasized there from the late stage renal cell carcinoma that was taking over his body. When I got the call that carried that news, I wasn’t really sure how to feel. I was shocked, sure. And on some level, I was grief-stricken. This was my father still, after all, and aren’t Daddies always invincible to their little girls? Even Daddies with a penchant for hard drugs and hitting?

Mostly, though, I was numb. Confused. Completely blank.

We hadn’t had the best relationship in my lifetime to say the least. Even as a little girl, my mom tells me I didn’t want to have much to do with him and would cry if she left me in his care. She has to tell me these things that happened because, for the most part, I can’t remember it on my own. The first 12 years of my life up until my parents divorce is pretty much a collection of hazy snapshots that look much like polaroids taken by a drunk man with parkinson’s
disease. There really aren’t many clear memories and the ones I do have involving my dad are things I wish didn’t exist inside my brain.

From everything I’ve read, and believe me I’ve put a lot of effort into trying to understand why I don’t remember, a child who lives in a high stress environment simply doesn’t store memories like other people, like other kids who were allowed to be kids and not shrinking violets scared to move or talk or breathe. Basically, the brain is so often in fight or flight mode that storing memories takes a backseat to survival. Those blurry captures of time exist because my brain was too hypervigilant about what mood the man was in, what he was doing, where he was, and what I could do to fly under his radar. I do remember that...the way he was...even if I don't have my own pristine stories that verify it.

After my parents’ divorce, I lived with him for awhile, and things then were even worse. He had young girlfriends, a bigger coke habit, was drinking a half gallon of whiskey daily, an occasional crack habit, started selling more drugs to pay for the alcohol habit, and an even bigger temper. He went to prison for awhile for trafficking and came back worse than ever. Of course. And, at that point, it was either move out or he was going to kill me either in a drunken car accident or out of sheer, unadulterated, black rage.

We didn’t speak for a long time after I moved back in with my mom, and even when we did, it was tentative. Forced niceties. Awkward. Devoid of warmth and kindness and love. I couldn’t even hug the man without feeling slightly nauseated just because of the fear reaction that he always caused. Like Pavlov’s theory for abused kids. Beat a kid enough, cause enough fear and those reactions occur without the child even being hit. For life. I still flinch a lot of times when someone swoops in to give me a high-five.

My son was 6 months old at the time my dad got his diagnosis. Dad had genuinely been trying to be a decent grandpa. It’s not like I would have ever let the boy spend the night there. (oh fuck no). But the first time my dad saw him, his face lit up…I’ll never forget it. It’s something I’d never really seen before in his eyes—a mixture of joy and awe that a life he brought into the world had created a life herself. He made more effort to be part of my life, and I didn’t put a stop to it really. Realistically, he already had the cancer by then, but none of us knew it. We didn’t know he would be dead in less than a year, buried on my birthday in September 2006. We didn’t know if he had just gotten to the doctor sooner instead of being stubborn and numbing himself with weed and booze every day he might have made it longer.

So, when I got the call, I knew, consciously knew, that the thing I wanted to do most for him before he left this world was to forgive him… I needed it as much as he did. I needed to forgive him for the hurt and the lies and for choosing drugs and alcohol over his family. I needed to forgive him for all the namecalling and the emotional abuse because I would never be okay in my own skin unless I did that. I absolutely couldn’t fathom a life with all the pent up resentment I had for this man, the scorn, and, if I’m really to be honest, the shades of hatred I sometimes felt for never having anything close to resembling a normal childhood, the hatred for him blaming me when I was raped at 13 because of his own failures instead of supporting me and admitting he was wrong to leave me alone for days at a time at that age.

It didn’t happen.

His death came and went and the more I wanted to forgive, the more I felt desperate for it, the more frustrated I became until I convinced myself that I would never feel the sweet relief that a release from all that stifled darkness would bring me. I even got a tattoo that symbolized my badge of courage for making it through what I did and coming out relatively okay…something I thought would bring me closure. It was from the cover of a book I was reading at the time that had so much to do with similar themes—a child abused. But it didn’t. Nothing did. Nothing gave me a sense that I would ever be able to make peace with it all so I gave up.

Sometime in the year following his death, my stepmom called us, my brother and I, out to his house to give us some items of his that she didn’t want. Believe me she kept the lion’s share for herself and
had already burned anything and everything from our own childhood except a few bowls of photos, so it wasn’t much. A couple of hats. A shirt or two. And a box of records… The music note on my wall in my bedroom is made from 45s that were in that collection. I won’t say it happened the first time I listened to his records. I won’t say it happened while I lovingly made that music note. But at some point after walking into my room each day and seeing it, listening to the kinds of music we both loved (classic Southern rock), and not trying to force it, I forgave him. When I listened to those songs, I could see him singing along and fist-pumping at the best parts… I could remember times when he would tell a sorry son of a bitch (that’s what he called his friends. I know.) to listen to that fucking part right there and he’d turn up the sound system at his home bar and let the song speak for itself with his swimmy-red eyes closed and his head tilted back a bit soaking up every single bit. Long nights of hearing him drown his sorrows in a bottle and good tunes would come back to me. Along the way, I suppose I figured out that the man I had come to loathe for breaking me in so many ways had also given me some of the things I love most about myself—the way I love music, the freedom I find in a good song, the way I love to share it with others so they know what I know, and the way I love it when I listen to a song with someone (a song I picked for them to hear) and watch their face totally change in awe. From there I figured out other things…my feistiness and assertiveness, the fact that I tell it like it is without sugarcoating shit, my quick wit, my take no bullshit attitude.

He may not have known what it meant to be a good father, and I may have had a fucked up childhood but somewhere along the path to growing up and raising my own son, I figured out that he loved me in his own way, and he definitely passed down the kind of things that make me a better person. At least by my own standards. And that’s all that counts.

Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts.  Sit back, grab a cup, and check them all out. See you there:                          Baking In A Tornado                                       The Momisodes                          Spatulas on Parade                      Stacy Sews and Schools                            Dinosaur Superhero Mommy                         Climaxed                   Someone Else’s Genius              The Bergham’s Life Chronicles             Confessions of a part-time working mom                    Silence of the Mom                       Crumpets and Bollocks                             Sparkly Poetic Weirdo


  1. Such an amazing journey to where you needed to be. I guess sometimes, as much as we may want and even need to forgive, we need to acknowledge that it has it's own time frame. I'm glad you got there.

  2. That is all that counts.

    There's never a deadline on forgiving, thankfully. Once you get there, it is nice to have that peace for your soul ❤

  3. So glad you found forgiveness! It's definitely not something that can be rushed, it has to come in its own time.
    You and I have a lot in common, only it was my mom that was an alcoholic. She was also schizophrenic. She died when I was 20. At that time I had to learn to forgive myself. One of the hardest things I have even done.

  4. I can only imagine the inner strength and greatness you must have in you for your life's journey. So glad the music helped you to get closure.Thank you for sharing!

  5. What do you say to something like that, that doesn't sound pitying or patronizing?

    There is nothing I can say that would let you know that I understand, on some level. Because I haven't had the life you've had.

    So I will say that I am glad you found forgiveness at last and I'm proud to know you.

  6. what a journey, what a struggle. Forgiveness is so powerful and takes such inner strength...