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Heart & Soul: Forgiving our fathers

If you live in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom, you probably remember that last Sunday, June 16, was Father’s Day. If you had been watching television in the last few days, you no doubt saw the commercials for cards and gifts for daddy, showing happy families together. At the risk of dating myself, many of them looked like scenes from “Father Knows Best,” a television sitcom that aired from 1954 to 1960.

If that wasn’t your experience, some pain might have come up for you when you watched those. Some thoughts of how it should have been versus what it was. You might still have thoughts of being abandoned, or not loved, if your father was not present in your life growing up. For decades, the divorce rate among heterosexual couples in the United States has been between 40% and 50%, so close to half the population comes from a home where both parents were not present. If that was your experience you know that even though your father divorced your mother (or vice versa), he also divorced you. Or you might not have ever known your biological father.

Even if he was physically present, he might not have been emotionally available to you. And if he was there, he might not have accepted you when you “came out,” or both.

Whatever your experience with your father, the thoughts of how it should have been might have brought back painful memories for you.

If you are a father, and for whatever reason just couldn’t stay in that family situation, you might still carry some guilt and shame about leaving. When I left my heterosexual marriage after three years, because it just didn’t work (for a variety of reasons), I left my wife, but also left my 2-year-old son. Today, so many years later, I can still see look in his eyes of hurt and not understanding why daddy was leaving.

We sometimes fall into a trap of watching television or a movie and thinking that is real life. The truth is what we are watching is script that someone wrote, that may very well have little to do with life as it really is. Very few if any families really look and feel like the ones in “Father Knows Best” or “Growing Pains” or even “Family Ties.” But there is the temptation to see that situation and decide that our lives should look like that.

We wish our fathers loved us (although we never really know if they did or not), nurtured us and accepted us. If they didn’t, the only thing we can do is forgive them.

I was talking with a friend of mine some time ago about his father, who was abusive, and pretty much all things you wish your father was not. When I suggested the need for forgiveness, he just about exploded, and told me all the reasons he did not deserve forgiveness. I reminded him that while his father very possibly didn’t deserve it, he deserved the peace and quiet he would get from forgiving his father.

Forgiveness is completely illogical. It has nothing to do with the deservedness of the person being forgiveness. But like walking with a rock in our shoe, we won’t be able to live whole-heartedly and in peace if we continue to carry hurt, anger, and resentment. It is the very best gift we can give ourselves.

If your father was emotionally or physically abusive, you might be thinking, and feeling, that your experience with him was just too painful to forgive. Sometimes we just can’t imagine how we could possibly forgive something so horrendous. If that is your experience, I invite and even challenge you to just give in. (Not give up, but give in.) Your inner wisdom, the still small voice, your intuition, your higher power, whatever you choose to call it, knows how to do this, even though you do not.

You’ll read in my book about a painful beyond my wildest dreams time in my life. There was no way that I, by myself, would or could forgive what had happened — forgiving a dear one, as well as myself. The only thing I could do was give in, and over time, I was able to forgive.

You don’t have to do anything. But wouldn’t you rather get rid of the clutter of anger, hurt, and maybe shame, that you relive every year on Father’s Day? It’s the best gift you can give yourself.

Take care of yourself.

The Rev. Jerry Troyer, a native of San Diego, is the senior minister of Joyful Living Church, a non-denominational New Thought spiritual community. He is the author of the new book, “Coming Out To Ourselves … Admitting, Accepting And Embracing Who We Truly Are. Troyer and his husband, also named Jerry, live in the San Diego area with their golden retriever Roxie. Visit his website HERE.