How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.
Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?
Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our Fathers what is left?
– Dick Lourie
Maybe, it’s better to have painful ties with some of the people in our lives than no ties at all.I started this post months ago and didn’t know where to go with it. Then, moments ago, I left my dad sitting in McDonald’s waiting for the bus to take him home. He spent the weekend with me and my husband. My relationship with my father can be summed up in one sentence: It’s really fucking complicated.
When I was in my early twenties my father spent several months in a psychiatric hospital in the city where I was attending graduate school. I would regularly visit him in the hospital. It’s hard to describe a psychiatric hospital to someone that has never been there. It’s even harder to describe it to someone who has never been there to visit someone they love. They are frightening places filled with frightened people. As a visitor, you must pass through several security measures, much like a prison, or boarding an airplane. Once inside, there is a disturbing cacophony of sounds and people aimlessly shuffling around.
A staff member would escort me to a dark and musty room filled with old audio/visual equipment. There my father would meet me. I jokingly referred to our visits as our “Tuesdays with Morrie” meetings. I’m not sure he understood the reference but that’s how it felt to me. I would sit with him and we would talk about life. He was wrestling with the realities of a schizophrenic diagnosis and I was indecisively moving through my twenties.
My dad could be a terrifying man. The first three weeks of his hospitalization, he didn’t recognize me as his daughter. He was convinced that his daughter had been murdered. He would look directly at me and call me an impostor. He was angry that someone would come to impersonate the daughter he lost. I tried week after week to visit and he turned me away. Until one day he walked in and sat down. He said he was so happy to see me.
Our minds are powerful beyond measure.
Despite the best efforts of his treatment team, he still experiences audible and visual hallucinations. We talked some about what those look like today as we sat at McDonald’s. He said, “I hate that you don’t believe me” and I replied, “I know.” It’s incredible what a person can adapt to in terms of their reality.
I struggle with resentments, anger, sadness, and pain related to my relationship with my father but with all of that, there are redeeming moments. There are flashes of a well-intended father. For example, I didn’t know that I would have time to see him off today and when I walked into the restaurant his eyes lit up and he smiled. He asked, “Did you come to say goodbye?” I smiled, nodded, and sat with him and he told me he was glad I was there.
Some have accused me of loving my dad because he had financial resources. That allegation is absurd. There is no amount of money that would make what I’ve endured okay or forgivable. Thankfully, forgiveness has nothing to do with money. I’ve always known somehow that my dad really does love me. I can’t explain how I know this, I just do. In the end, it is what it is, and what it is, it is really fucking complicated.
“We children of schizophrenics are the great secret keepers, the ones who don’t want you to think that anything is wrong.”
― Mira Bartok,