Musings: Forgiving My Dad

Today’s topic is: “Is there someone you need to forgive?” 

This is certainly an emotionally charged question, isn’t it?! I’d be surprised to meet someone who has never held a grudge at least once in their life. And while it’s certainly healthier to do so, sometimes, it can be very hard to forgive.

There is someone in my life who I’ve been working on forgiving: my father. As I’ve mentioned before, I lived out in the country in northern Vermont until my parents announced their divorce in the winter of 1986. Like nearly all divorces, it wasn’t neat and tidy. There were hurt feelings all around. As a very impressionable 10-year-old girl, the brunt of my anger and confusion was directed at my father’s sudden change in behavior.

When I was growing up, my father was a great dad. He loved to teach anyone who wanted to listen and often spent time showing my sister and me how to make things, or fix things, and how stuff worked. He built us a stellar tree house in the woods. The summer he turned 40 (which seemed old to me as a 5-year-old), he climbed a 40-foot tree and ‘rescued’ a baby crow which we kept as a pet. He used to do a magic trick using an empty paper bag in which he could catch invisible balls. One evening, he put chocolate syrup on an old rubber boot, cut it up, and ate it for dessert! (He might not have actually eaten it in the end, but the shock factor and entertainment value were certainly there.)

But during and after the divorce, something fundamental changed about his personality. Granted, parents splitting up is a tough thing for most 10-year-olds to make sense of, but even other adults who were around at the time thought he was acting strangely. Here was my takeaway from the divorce: my dad said that God told him my sister’s soul was connected to him and my soul was connected to my mother. So he wasn’t supposed to have me in his life anymore (and that also meant my sister wouldn’t be in my life either).

That first summer after the divorce, I moved with my mom to Arizona. My sister spent the summer with him but moved back in with us before school started. My mom married my loving stepfather that October and life went on despite me feeling that so many things were still broken. It was messy for awhile but eventually, I created my own coping mechanisms. But even today, there is sadness, confusion, hurt, and residual feelings of abandonment. And my relationship with the term and concept of ‘God’ has never recovered.

My father is old now. His health has been declining for several years, but even before he started getting sick, he didn’t travel to visit my sister or me. He wasn’t at our graduations or weddings. He hasn’t met my two daughters (his only grandchildren) or my husband. I went alone to visit him last year when I thought he wasn’t going to make it through one of his many health dips. It was a short visit with a couple of tears. He seems mostly happy with his life, even though he has missed out on so much of mine. When I left, he didn’t tell me he loved me; he wished me a safe trip.

I called him on his 75th birthday earlier this month, his ailing mind making him seem much older than his years. I told him all about what is happening with the girls, our big garden, and the progress my husband is making on renovating the vintage camper van. He doesn’t speak very well anymore but he seemed glad to hear from me. He laughed at the funny parts of my stories and asked if we were planning to visit. I told him we hoped to see him in the fall when the leaves are changing. He sounded happy about that and said that he had some wooden toys that he’d like the girls to have. I hope he has a chance to meet them before he passes on, even though they will likely be too young to remember meeting him. Maybe that’s alright. He’s so different now. I really wish they could have met the man that I knew growing up. The man who will live on in black-and-white photographs and a handful of often-repeated funny stories.

As for me, I hope that one day I can fully forgive him for all the old hurt and I remind myself to be grateful that my experiences have created a joyful and fulfilling life.


~ Phoebe DeCook

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2 thoughts on “Musings: Forgiving My Dad

  1. Diane says:

    Thanks for your authenticity….that had to be hard to write.


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