Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers
My father never said goodbye that day. He was much more interested in his hot dogs and beans, his favorite dinner. I knew I could not make the long journey again from Alaska to his nursing home in Florida. I knew I would never see him again. The doctors said his heart would not last much longer. I struggled to say my final words in the public dining room around his tiny table.
“Dad, it’s been so good to see you this week. I, ummmm, don’t know if I’ll get to see you again. So . . . uhh, I have to say goodbye. I really love you and . . .” My voice trailed off. He was busy trying to spear the hot dog with his fork.
I waited for a response, but I should have known better. My father never responded as others did, even when young and healthy. He may have said “I love you” once or twice in my life, but I can’t guarantee it. His children were of little interest to him, except for the one he sexually abused.
My brother was there with me that day, hoping, like me, for some kind of affirmation and even blessing. He was physically capable of this. We had had several conversations over the last five days. Not all had been dismal. One of those times, he complimented me. Another time, he looked at pictures of my children and acted interested. One day we sat together eating hot fudge sundaes. I cherished those moments. But in our final minutes with him, he was focused on a spoon of beans. We swallowed our hurt and both kissed the top of his bald head, gave him a hug in his chair, and slowly turned to the exit with his silence heavily following behind.
Forgiveness Isn’t Always Pretty
This was the not the ending I expected. I desperately wanted a beautiful bow on my relationship with my father. No, it didn’t even have to be beautiful, just the ragged ends tied together in some fashion. And why shouldn’t I expect that? Hadn’t I (finally) forgiven my father? Didn’t forgiveness promise at least that?
I had forgiven my father. That alone was miraculous. Two years before his death, I felt a piercing, insistent tug back toward the man I had run from decades ago. I had no good memories to lure me back. It was the Holy Spirit convicting me through the prayer I had uttered for decades without a thought: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, NIV). It was that delivered the final blow: I was the unmerciful servant who danced out of the presence of the king, freed from my massive debts, who then collared the poorest, most pathetic man in my life demanding, “Pay up! You owe