Insight by itself isn’t particularly useful. You need to actually do something with it in order to benefit. I’ve known for years that I never fully mourned my father’s death. That the knot in my shoulder probably has something to do with him. That I’m angry with him for hurting Mom and me, lying to us, and abandoning us. That I’m not going to recover from my depression until I forgive him.
But today was the first time I actively expressed those emotions to him. With Wakana’s support and guidance I propped up a stuffed animal to represent him and yelled and cried and stood with my hands on my hips and didn’t hold anything back. I wasn’t nice about it at all. I was brutally honest.
Something came out that took me by surprise. Something extremely familiar, yet completely unexpected: Disappointment. I’m disappointed in him. It seems absurd, what right does a daughter have to be disappointed in her father? Well, this daughter is all grown up. And yes, I’m disappointed in him.
When he married my mother, he made a promise. I’ve made that same promise to Fox, so I know how important it is and how difficult it can be to keep. But I’ve made a commitment to keeping that promise, to always working with Fox to keep that promise no matter what. My father broke his promise to my mother. I am very angry with him for that. I am very disappointed in him. These are my emotions that I feel, and I feel them toward him because of something he did.
When he helped to create me and took on the role of father, he made a promise. It might never have been spoken, but it was a set of expectations I had for him: that he would protect me, that he would live by the values he taught me, that he would be there when I needed him, that I could trust him. He broke his promise. He hurt me both physically and emotionally. He lied to me after teaching the importance of honesty. He was a hypocrite. He abandoned me. And he taught me to value and respect him more than I valued and respected my mother. For all her flaws, she deserves at least as much respect as him. He should have modeled that for me, but he did the opposite.
I am very, very disappointed in him.
Here’s the thing: I’d been directing that disappointment at myself. I’d taken on the guilt I imagine he would feel, were he alive to hear the things I said today. I took responsibility for his failings; I believed I was the one who’d committed the sin of betrayal; I thought I had to redeem myself and did everything I could to do so and felt crushing guilt when nothing I did was enough. Maybe it’s possible for a father to make it up to his daughter after disappointing her as my father disappointed me. Maybe. But for a daughter to make it up to herself? Impossible. Nothing I can do will make my disappointment in my father go away.
But now I am directing it at him. I am disappointed in him. I am giving him the responsibility I’ve been carrying for the things he did to hurt me. It’s his responsibility. He’s the owner of the guilt. He’s the one who, if he were alive, would have reason to feel like he has to do something to redeem himself. Not me.
I am the one in control, the one feeling the disappointment, the one with the ability to sentence or forgive. I am the Judge, the Warden, even. I was never on trial. He is.
I’ve expressed my anger, my rage, my disappointment, my hurt, my sorrow. I’ve yelled and cried. I’ve handed him the burden I’ve been carrying. It’s his burden, it was never mine; it belongs to him.
And under all of that, I love him. I’d been saying I wanted to punch him, but when I had the stuffed animal standing in for him I decided it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t need to become violent, to have that violence on my shoulders. I hugged him instead. I chose to express my love for him.
Now it is time to let go. To say goodbye. And to forgive.
Can I really just walk away from all of this?
Well, I have lots of people whom I love and who love me. I’m married. I’ve already lived 16 years without him, carrying a burden that was never mine. I’ve experienced success and I’m learning to tolerate failure, as much as I dislike it. I’ve been and will continue to develop my talents and skills. Some day I might even have meaningful employment. Children of my own. A legacy.
Yes, I can leave this burden in the sand. I can walk away from it. That is what I choose to do.
You disappointed me, Dad. You weren’t the father I needed you to be. But I know that you were human, and humans make mistakes. And I still love you, Dad. I’ll always love you. So I choose to forgive you. And I need to live my life. Goodbye.