A Lesson in Forgiveness

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In his somewhat less than fully coherent email earlier in the week, Ed attempted to teach me about the importance of forgiveness.  In a brief note of follow up yesterday, he again reiterated his belief that forgiveness is necessary for healing.

There are a few key things about forgiveness Ed doesn’t seem to understand, for example: There are people who should not be forgiven – namely those who would take forgiveness as a sign that they weren’t so bad after all; this way of thinking opens the door to rationalization of their past, and future, behavior.  Ed has never understood the breadth or depth of what he has done; forgiving him before he fully comprehends would be downright self-destructive for me.

The problem inherent to forgiveness is that the power resides in the transgressor’s hands. The psychological impact of forgiveness on the forgiver is determined by whether or not the transgressor has made amends.  Forgiveness without amends leaves the forgiver with diminished feelings of self-worth.  To date, Ed has not sought to make anything right, he has sought only to move on.

Pain is deeper and longer lasting when the transgressor intentionally caused it – repeatedly.  This cannot be overstated; when you repeat a destructive behavior time without number, you did not make a mistake – you demonstrated something real and lasting about who you are.  Forgiveness for this [child abuse] is a process, and it is dependent wholly and entirely upon the transgressor’s sincere acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility for ALL wrongdoing, and their  forthright desire to make amends for what their behavior caused.

Despite Ed’s belief in forgiveness as a panacea, it isn’t simple.  I am not simple.  My self-respect, peace of mind, and understanding are not based in my forgiveness of my father; and to forgive now would leave me despondent because he has not earned it.  Any benefit I could derive from forgiving him would come through his personal growth and desire to make right what he destroyed.

The kind of forgiveness I’m speaking of takes time and concerted effort to earn.  You don’t close the cycle and end the abuse quickly or easily, and those you have harmed need to know they are valued, treasured, cherished and loved now as they always should have been; they need to know it is safe to forgive.

Forgiveness is sobering, and honest.  And while we embrace the sentiment, “To err is human, to forgive divine,” it cannot be universally applied.  We cannot reap the benefits of forgiveness alone, we need the full and complete cooperation of our transgressor, and therein lies the quandary; those with the capacity to destroy the lives of their children seldom, if ever, see the need to repair.

So you see Ed, the ball is most definitely NOT in my court.

Reconciliation: A Caution Based on What I’ve Learned

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You begin to heal when you say, “No more.”  It took me a long time to recognize that – to feel the efficacy within “No More.”  It happened gradually  — when I realized the balance of power had naturally shifted because I had grown up. Eventually, I shut the door and never went back.

For me, no contact was the answer, and I maintain I had no choice, but many abuse survivors don’t walk away – for whatever reason, they hold on to dysfunction, often enduring a lifetime of abuse.

The attempt at reconciliation with Ed was a mistake on my part – people do not change.  I still believe people can change, but it takes a level of focus and commitment few possess.  It’s hard enough to make subtle changes – to lose weight, or resolve to save more money; changing the whole of who we are is damn near impossible.  And when dealing with an abuser, the need is a change in everything they are.

So I’ll amend that; I believe we can change aspects of who we are, but we cannot change our essence or our core.  A man who can beat his child – brutally and without mercy, will always be that man …

Real change begins with deep personal reflection, devoid of any and all denial, and progresses to the assumption of full responsibility for what you did and for what it caused. Finally, it entails making amends – not just with yourself, but with everyone you have hurt.  This last part can take the remainder of an abuser’s lifetime …

and those imbued with the capacity to abuse aren’t the kind who invest themselves in taking care of the wounds of others – they remain readily able to inflict pain, but not to soothe it.

Reconciliation with your abuser is a risky proposition, and it almost always fails.  In the trial, we are reminded of the pain – it can be a living hell.

I went to dinner with my father, sat beside him at a ballgame or theatrical production; spoke of trivial things, and not so trivial things, but it never felt right – or OK.  I was always his child in those moments – something I did not want to be, something I never wanted to be, something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy; he was, and ever will be, the father who beat and tortured me, the man I so feared and despised.

I learned a great deal in our correspondence, the written word so revealing of who we are inside.  He was candid, very matter-of-fact in his narcissism and grandiose belief in who he is today – so delusional in his own certainty in who he is:

Excerpt – 10/25/2014

“I have been thinking that one of my favorite Plays , and recent movie, Les Mis, has much meaning to my life with Janet. (Janet, my sister with developmental delays) I’m not good at character names, but I ‘m sure you and Rachael (my daughter) can follow along.. I’m thinking Janet and myself as the characters the ex prisoner and the woman’s small child. If I hadn’t stepped up to take care of Janet she would have remained in the State Hospital system and would have died simply a lost sole and her beauty and love cloistered from the world.”

Very determined to make me believe he was different, he played upon my compassion and empathy – he tried desperately to manipulate my feelings:

October 12, 2014

“Tim,

I came back early from my retreat at the Camaldise Monastery at Big Sur, I usually go off for a retreat at least once a year and alternate between Big Sur and the Monastery of the Redwoods, west of Garberville.

I usually go to get away for a few days where I can just be alone – fitting for the Introvert I am. The first day is mostly meditating and falling asleep as I meditate and simply catching up on needed rest. So why is this important?

During one of these sleeping meditations I woke up and realized I was crying. At 1st, I thought I was happy because of the wonderful “family” e-mail I had received before I left for the monastery. It took only a few seconds to realize that was not it at all, I was extremely sad. It was because into the middle of the ideal family e-mail spanning 20-30 years, there was a period of horrific pain, anger and mental distress for which I was responsible, and the pain hurt

.

I got up, closed the door to my room and sat with that pain, crying some more, then sat there and thought how I was going to say this to you. I came home a day early, thinking the long drive would help me decide how to tell you and arrived late last night. I was too emotionally drained and tired to put this down in words last night so I went to bed and am writing it now. This is how it came out.”

 

When considering reconciliation with an abusive parent, there is a ten-point check list to determine your own readiness, but perhaps the single most important consideration is this:

  • Have we both experienced significant emotional growth and change since we estranged? Or, are we the same as we were at the time of our estrangement?

 

I will say that it is crucial that you have grown and healed, but it is far more important that your parent has grown – and this growth MUST include the ability to accept without comprise all of what they did, all of what it caused – and they must be willing to make it right, whatever that entails FOR YOU! And all of this must be sustained throughout the course of any relationship that follows.  

Be careful if it seems too easy – never have the words “if it seems too good to be true it probably is,” been more true.

Be alert and ready to recognize false remorse, manipulation and gaslighting.

And don’t feel like you have to forgive until you are ready – and if that time never comes, understand that that is OK.

Just as it took time and contemplation to understand exactly how damaging my abusive childhood was, it will take time to fully process the impact of my failed attempt at reconciliation with my father:

It’s painful to realize your parent is a monster …

but it’s even more devastating to recognize that in the years of estrangement, all they have done is sharpen their claws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Key

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If he had assumed responsibility for everything he’s done, the ending may have been different – I may have been able to accept his apology.

I tried, but apology devoid of willingness and ability to hold himself accountable for what he did to me was empty and meaningless.  “I’m sorry,” turned out to be only words.

He has himself to blame, for everything.

I’ve done some soul-searching, and I know I gave him an honest chance; somehow, I was able to do that.  I sincerely wanted the ending to be different.

But it isn’t enough to apologize, you must – absolutely must, endeavor to make it right if you want your apology to feel sincere and heartfelt.  He would not do this …

“I’m sorry,” was all he had.

All he was willing to give.

And after everything he did, a willingness and desire to make it right was imperative, crucial, and necessary.

He’s plays the victim, or worse, a martyr …

His thinking is self-aggrandizing and somewhat disordered – definitely out of touch with the concept of taking any real responsibility for anything he has ever done.  I am basing this conclusion on several months of email correspondence with him; notes that left me stunned, shocked, speechless and in utter disbelief.

I kept every email he sent – allowed a few trusted friends and family – also my therapist – to read them, just to see what they thought about Ed; the consensus was unanimous and supports my beliefs; he was a cruel, abusive father who failed to meet even a single obligation inherent to the role of father, who now sees himself as someone good, someone other than who he really is – and worst of all,  he is incapable of taking responsibility for what he did to his children.

For my readers struggling with this issue in their own lives:  the surreal and disconnected attempt by an abusive parent to reach out to you years later, to apologize without taking any responsibility for what he or she has done, who offers no real attempt at making amends …

You are not alone; sadly, this is not an uncommon circumstance for survivors of child abuse to find themselves in.  As grounded as I was, as resolute as I had become: no contact with my parents again, ever, I gave him a chance … and I was moved by his apology devoid of denial – I tried to believe that was enough.  My attempt to forgive is well chronicled on the pages of this blog; I wanted what he was willing to give to be enough …

But it isn’t enough, it can’t be enough.

If someone can admit they beat their child – viciously, cruelly, and in ways they found sexually gratifying – time and time and time again …

If they can admit they were never there for their child; provided no emotional or financial support, little to no nurturing or affection …

and yet they do not feel compelled to make amends – to at least try to make up for all they have done, and what it has caused …

who can assume no responsibility beyond saying, “I’m sorry” …

I must conclude this is not a stable, emotionally mature man – and I do not want him in my life.

Father and Son – The End Of The Story

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At five years old I knew that if I ever had a son I would not treat him the way my father treated me.   With the innocence of a young child I already recognized the abuse for exactly what it was – I even understood that I would grow up one day, and I would remember everything he had done, and would continue to do, to me.  My father was an incredibly short-sighted parent.

I gave reconciliation an honest chance, and I invested myself emotionally to a point where I was risking my stability by continuing to allow him a place in my life.  The depression had returned, so had the anxiety.

When I met him for lunch, he gave me a birthday gift; a bottle of scotch and a very old copy of Tales Of The Arabian Nights – a book he read to me as a child.  The note he enclosed was poignant, and it made me even more sorry I was there to tell him we would never be father and son.

I don’t want complete estrangement now – not like it existed for more than thirty years, but I can’t have a real relationship with him either, it’s just too painful.  He is an old man, but he is still the man who beat and neglected me; he is the man whose reprehensible behavior caused so much pain, heartache and suffering.  For so much of his life he was not a good man, he wasn’t even decent.

I do not regret the last year, or trying to find in Ed a solid reason to give him a second chance.  I really wanted to see him as a different person from the father I remember … if he is I didn’t get close enough to see; in the end I realized he will always be the monster who so cruelly and heinously abused his children.

It’s hard, and I don’t want it to be the way it has to be – don’t want to keep my father at a safe distance; that isn’t the way fathers and sons are supposed exist, or live.  I look at my sons – the way in which they interact with me, and I recognize the bond is unbreakable, as it should be …

but I broke the cycle of abuse, Ed did not.  I worked diligently to give my children emotional security, Ed did not.  I made sure they knew they were loved, wanted and valued, Ed did not.

You can’t start – when your child is fifty-two years old, trying to be a good father; that transformation must begin before your child is born.

I hate the father he was, and

pity the old man I know now.

And I hope …

that one day he will finally understand with depth and clarity everything he did …

he will experience an epiphany that brings him to his knees and humbles every fiber of his being; a transcendent moment with the power to make him see himself as he truly was …

and then deeply feel the pain, humiliation and shame of everyone he hurt …

not just his own children, but his daughter’s best friend.

and then …

I sincerely hope he finds a way to heal.

Because without the soul-searching, and the healing only it can bring, his life is nothing more than a cover-up …

his life today only a disguise that cloaks the sins of his past.

And that isn’t a life at all.

If the last year, and our attempt at reconciliation, was a chapter in the book that is our story as father and son, he now has all that he needs to write the ending …

it is too late for Happily Ever After,

but there is still a chance for honesty …

and depth …

and purpose …

and sincerity …

and meaning.

And as painful and tragic as the early chapters of the story are …

that could still be considered a Happy Ending.

Own Your Truth, All Of It

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The other day, in response to this post, my aunt Bev sent my wife the following message:

“Holy cow! I just read Tim’s blog.  Guess you can’t change the spots on a leopard, after all.  I can’t believe what an ignorant so-and-so Ed is.  Oh, wait a minute, yes I can!  I still can’t get the sound of Tim’s screams out of my head as he was beating him.  I don’t remember it happening every time I was there, but it happened a lot!”

My aunt is about ten years older than I am, and she was very often at our house when I was growing up – her support in recent months has meant a lot to me, and my family.

I’m coming to understand more and more Ed’s self-denial.   It isn’t that he’s denied beating me – he knows he did, but his recall is extremely limited.  My therapist thinks this is due to his unwillingness – ardent, decided refusal – to face the trauma of his own childhood, coupled with the fact that he beat me so often the events themselves have all run together in his mind.  There is also some serious cognitive dissonance: the man he sees himself as now is antithetical to the man he was in my childhood, and we are talking about his acceptance of the fact that he was an Abuser – a heinously bad father and human being.  Whatever the problem is, it is his to solve.

I’ve tried to be as kind as I can – tried to understand how hard it must be for him after all these years to be faced with an angry adult child who needs for him to revisit a past he has spent decades trying to deny.  But his alternate reality isn’t reality, and his rewriting of the story – to make it partly a work of fiction to ease his own mind, doesn’t work for me.  I have struggled and fought too hard to recover from my childhood to accept half measures – or anything less than total recall, from him now.  What he is doing is offensive, and it is insulting.

It really is puzzling to me — everyone who knew my immediate family – friends, extended family, teachers – even school administrators – knew he beat me.  And they all understand he was an abuser – it didn’t happen once, or even twice – he violently and cruelly beat me, often.

It is as though he takes some sort of refuge in not recognizing how frequently he hit me; to his way of thinking its easier to reconcile isolated events because those he can see as mistakes; the truth exposes him to be a monster – a man he just cannot admit to being. Or maybe he is just a  Stubborn, pig-headed Shockley.    If stubborn pride is the case, I can’t mean much to him …

And then there is the real possibility he made the attempt to reconcile – to the extent that he has, to appease the people in his life now. It wouldn’t look good at all – after they read this blog, or were informed of its content, for him not to reach out to me.  Was I a fool to give him this chance?  Perhaps …

what he does now will define him forever in my mind.

Reconciliation: A Step Back

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Ed,

Just so we’re clear — my ability to communicate effectively isn’t altered due to Bipolar Disorder; you and I just think in fundamentally different ways.  I teach, I write, I perform a highly technical and complex job and I interact with friends, colleagues and family with no glitches at all – my cognition isn’t different from anyone else’s, nor is it in any way impaired.  (psychosis not withstanding, but you haven’t known me in a psychotic state, or anything even close to a psychotic state) Be careful assigning your failure to properly communicate with me to my having Bipolar Disorder – to make such a ludicrous assumption would be to display your ignorance and bias.

Here’s the issue:  I don’t understand how it is – how it can possibly be, that you don’t understand the story, or that you are unable to get it. You wrote the story for the first two decades of my life; you beat me, Ed.  You were an asshole – not just one day, but every day.  My memories are clear and vivid and real, so please don’t try to exonerate yourself by oh so ignorantly asserting that my memory is impaired, or my cognition faulty, due to Bipolar Disorder. If the fault lies in memory impairment, or cognition, you’re the one with the problem.

I didn’t write the letter about mental illness to give you an excuse for poorly communicating with me, I wrote it to give you some background; if you can say “happiness is a fickle virtue,” of Elizabeth not being able find real happiness, after all I had shared with you, you obviously don’t understand all she deals with because of your reprehensible parenting.  If what you got out of that letter was a belief that my responses to you are different than you expect because I have Bipolar Disorder, I can’t help you understand — no one can, you see ONLY what you want to see.  You don’t get it because you don’t want to – you cannot face yourself.

The fact is, during the first twenty-two years of my life, you failed Universally; as a father and as a man.  That is the story, that is all there is to it.  And after the ball game, when you went into the bathroom through the exit – presumably so you didn’t have to wait in line, I was appalled.  Where is the kindness and consideration you want me to believe is so much a part of you today?  Where is the integrity?  That was an asshole move.  Now, if there is something I don’t know – if you went in and waited in line, or if you are incontinent due to having had prostate cancer, I will amend my sentiments, but if it is nothing more than it appeared to be, the move speaks to your character and I don’t like what it says.

Regarding the bet YOU made.  What I felt when reading your texts was two-fold: one, you had to address something – meaning I could just wait in your opinion, without even the consideration of your telling me you had to end our conversation for the time being, and two; you were attempting to weasel out of your bet.  Perhaps I don’t get your sense of humor, I don’t think I ever did, actually, but you came across badly and that is on you, not on me, so it has nothing to do with Bipolar Disorder. I understood exactly what you said, and what you implied.

It should be fairly obvious to you by now I am still angry – I didn’t really think I was, but the bathroom incident at the ballgame, followed by the bet text, followed by your most recent email to me has shown me that I am, and rightfully so.  I’ve let a lot go, but not everything and I don’t think I can do that until you get honest with yourself, and with me, about the monster I knew you to be when I was a child.

You want me to detail every beating so you can share my pain — they all look just like the ones you’re willing to recall.  There were dozens of them, Ed.  I begged you for mercy, which you never gave.  You humiliated me time and time again.  The self-admitted asshole you were the day of the church picnic IS THE MAN WHO RAISED ME – HE IS THE ONLY FATHER I REMEMBER.  I cannot make this anymore clear.  You were a miserable bastard, a complete and utter failure, and your failure led to some pretty dire consequences; I’m reminded every single day when I take Risperdal, Wellbutrin and Lithium of the father you were.

But I am not unable to communicate properly because of that man – you are.  Read what I write, listen to what I say — and take it as gospel, don’t spin it, don’t see it through your eyes.  I am not a hard-headed, stubborn Shockley, I abhor that trait, that kind of person – I am able to see and feel and process the pain of others, even when doing so makes me understand myself to be a miserable human being. Sometimes it’s necessary to see ourselves through another’s eyes to truly know ourselves.

When you can do that, when you’re ready to do that, please let me know.  Until then, enjoy your trip, don’t drink too much bourbon, and we’ll see you and Marie for Catch Me If You Can and dinner to follow on June 12th.

Tim

Dear Timothy,

This is difficult for me, not because the circumstances are so complex – although they are.  And not because my thoughts and feelings are a twisted, tangled unrecognizable mass I have struggled to unravel and understand time and time again – although this statement is also true. It’s difficult because I love you, and watching you fight to be the man you are – separate from the disease you did not choose, is a nightmare for me.

It would be hard enough for me if Bipolar Disorder had come into your life – our lives, through nothing more than genetic predisposition, but that is far from our reality.  Your parents gave you the disease through years and years of abuse; physical and emotional – and let’s not forget every psychiatrist and therapist you have seen maintains you were sexually abused as well.  So your condition was preventable; for you Bipolar Disorder did not have to be.

For as far as I’ve come, any sort of relapse, however minor it may or may  not be, sends me back to square one in my own ability to cope with your condition.  And my square one is intense anger with the people who caused all of this:  Pat and Ed.

My notion of Ideal Father is you, the man who has loved and nurtured and cared for our children so completely and so well you are, to my mind, the very embodiment of the Ideal.  When I think about abused children, or of children being abused, I am immediately horrified and confused; how could any parent harm their own child? These people, your parents, are the antithesis of you.

I remember the day in the hospital when it all just came pouring out of you.  Pre-illness, I had seen you cry less than a handful of times in our lives, so your sob-laden unburdening was gut-wrenching for me to witness and hear.  Details that sickened me so completely I threw up in heaves in the ladies room before driving myself home.  I had always known you were abused, but until that morning you had spared me the graphic details, and hearing them felt like I had been shot in the stomach – the pain was physical.  At home, I cried harder than I had ever cried before in my life, and I screamed like some sort of wounded animal.  I don’t know how long I laid on our bed in tears, fetal position, trying to process your memories of the terrible things Pat and Ed had done to you.

I do know that when I got up, I was angry.  Actually, I was in a state of virtually uncontrollable fury.  In addition to all I’d heard from you that morning, we had a diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder, Dysthymia, PTSD and Anxiety Disorder – all of which were caused by Severe Child Abuse.  You’d come into this world healthy and whole, and your parents destroyed you.  The people who were supposed to love you, care for you and protect you had caused you such emotional and physical pain they had altered your brain chemistry and set you on the road to mental illness.  The injustice was all too much for me, and I felt vulnerable and powerless in that moment, but I loved you and was determined to help you recover.

In the beginning, I researched like a woman possessed.  I had to find a way to make our lives work for our family.  Finding our new normal took some time, but eventually it did happen.  Occasionally the illness would find its way into our day-to-day lives, but we were learning to cope as a family and happiness returned.  Nothing has destabilized our lives in the way the initial breakdown did, but minor relapses are inevitable and we’ve not escaped them entirely.

Although challenging for me always, your relapses were easier for me to cope with prior to Ed coming back into our lives.  It isn’t Ed as he is now; old and harmless, its knowing what he was and what he did to you, a helpless child — HIS OWN HELPLESS CHILD, that torments me now.  From afar physically, and at a distance in time measured in decades, I had found a home for my anger with him; it isn’t that I wasn’t angry, I was, but he’d been cut out of our lives like a cancer so long ago I simply thought he’d paid the ultimate price for what he had done; he had no contact with you, his only son, and he’d never even met his grandchildren.  That is a terrible price to pay – I cannot begin to imagine not seeing my children, not being permitted to know the grandchildren I will one day have; if that were to be my future, I’d say kill me now, truly, because I Know I could not live with the pain.

But Ed doesn’t feel that pain, and I don’t think he ever did.  God help me if I’m wrong, but he feels no pain at all in knowing what he did to you, or what it has caused; no pain at all in decades of estrangement.  He said words you told him he had to say so he might know you today, but there is no emotion behind them from what I can see. He doesn’t know or understand what it means to be a father, doesn’t feel – has never felt the pain of his child.  My God, he knows how emotionally ill Elizabeth is, or has been – has he reached out to her?  Has he offered her the apologies he owes her?  Whether she wants them or not, she deserves them.  Has he done this?  He says he intends to, but when?  What has he EVER done right as a father?

Last week, when you told me you were actively trying to forgive Ed, I was shocked; stunned beyond belief.  You went on to explain that you understand forgiveness to be for you now, but what about your principle; Child Abuse is Unforgivable?  I cannot imagine how difficult all of this is for you today.  How do you reconcile Ed with your concept of what it means to be a father?  A father, to your way of thinking, is full of integrity, patience and wisdom.  A father loves his child unconditionally.  A father would lay down his life for his child.  A father teaches, nurtures and guides.  A father pays for lessons and classes and college – supports his child’s dreams and aspirations so his child can discover who he is and learn to take care of himself in this world.  Is Ed ANY of that – has he done ANY of that?  He does not deserve you as a son.  He doesn’t.

Right now, because now has seen you struggle a bit, I cannot help but think of everything I know he did to you.  I hear your screams and pleas not to be beaten, even though he never did.  I understand you never really had a father, only a tormentor.  I see where his inadequacy led.

I will find my footing again soon enough, and I support you fully in forgiving your father even though I don’t think I can.  It’s hard for a wife to see her husband as a broken little boy, especially when that little boy grew up to be you, the most wonderful man in the world. You are a hundred times the man he will ever be, and as a father there can be no comparison – you are a father, he never has been.  What you have accomplished in your life amazes and staggers me, because you did it ALL on your own.

If you want Ed to be a member of your family, he will be part of mine – that’s how this works.  I will be gracious and giving, understanding, polite and cordial, but I will never believe he deserves you.

You have said so many times, ‘This isn’t about blame, it’s about knowing why and understanding.’  I see how true that is for you, how good and decent a man you are, but I struggle not to blame, and often I fail.  I am sorry.

You have never believed that people change – you’ve always believed they can change, but never that they actually do.  Do you still believe this?  Has Ed changed?  If you were five years old, would you feel safe in his care?   If our children were little, would you leave them alone with Ed?  These questions haunt me now; they are probably unfair of me to ask you, but I need to know your answers.

I don’t know Ed, I have never known Ed; I know only what I’ve been told, and none of that has ever been favorable.  Everyone from Pat to his girlfriend to a client of my mother’s – people I don’t know or scarcely know, warned me about him when we were dating, and now I know exactly what he did to you – help me understand why we are here.  Please.  Tell me you believe he is no longer a man who would hurt his  own child.  Tell me that and I’ll believe it, too.

This is all so hard for me, and I know Ed is trying – I truly do see it, but it doesn’t change the past.  Injustice, feeling vulnerable and powerless has always been next to impossible for me to process, and I’m angry because Ed, in my  knowing what he did to you, makes me feel all three. I feel twisted and torn and like I have to protect you somehow.  Ostensibly I know this is absurd, you are a grown man, and he is an old man, but I just can’t shake the feeling.

Has he been honest with the people in his life now?  Did he tell his sister the truth when she attacked Rachael, or did he take another, easier road to resolution?  Did he blame you?  Did he blame Bipolor Disorder and what Laura ignorantly believes to be true? Did he defend you by telling her the truth  about what he did to you, regardless of whether or not she would believe it?  Or is he a coward?   I need to know what you think and what you feel about all of this.  Your feelings are real, valid and they do matter.  They always have, even when your parents told you they didn’t.

You say I am your rock and your support, that you couldn’t do this – successfully manage Bipolar Disorder without me, but the truth is this:  you are my strength, even when you were desperately ill you were my touchstone and my life.  I simply adore you.

Help me understand Ed as you do, help me to see your reasoning in giving him this precious second chance.  I need to know how and why you feel as you do.

I have loved you since the beginning of time, and I will love you until the end,

Rhonda

Understanding

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My therapist has suggested small, targeted, facilitated group therapy for my continued care – I’ll still see her PRN, but this group addresses aspects of my life that can lead, when not successfully managed, to stress and relapse.

The first session was on Forgiveness.  Interesting timing as I have been actively trying to forgive my father …

In our situation, I put reconciliation before forgiveness – it usually works the other way around.  I had to know him today to determine if forgiveness is even possible – the man he was in my childhood didn’t deserve consideration from me.

Come to find out, forgiveness was never for him to start with – not that he doesn’t want it or need it – but for me.  I know, lots of you tried to tell me this, but it didn’t make sense – forgive him for my peace of mind?  Really?  I kind of see it now.

Here’s the thing:  he is trying really, really hard – and I appreciate that.  I see his effort – it is tangible, palpable and sincere. And that effort, that feeling that comes from knowing we are both striving to rebuild and reconnect in a new, healthy, positive way is what allows me to say – I want to forgive my father.

Yet there are times when my anger with him is just below the surface; I am not as patient with him as I would like to be – as I know I should be.  The past cannot simply be erased, and it does have an impact on the here and now.  None of this is easy – my wife says I make it look easy, at least most of the time, but it takes concerted effort in certain moments to remain calm and centered, focused only on today – and sometimes my struggle is  obvious.

I work diligently to control Bipolar anger and rage, and I know Ed has battled anger and rage issues of his own throughout his life – for the common ground you’d think this might provide, it doesn’t …

I have never once raged at my children.  I have never lost control and hit my children.  I have never hurt them, and I damn sure haven’t ever beaten them …

So anger and rage, which might be seen by Ed and I as a common enemy, actually leaves me feeling in all ways superior to him – as a human being, as a man, and most importantly as a father.

Ed doesn’t know how to be a father – based on what I experienced as a child, and what I still see today, fatherhood is utterly foreign to him. He tries now, and that means a lot, so I remind myself that I can’t hold him accountable for not understanding that which he lacks the innate ability to understand …

I was, and still am, an emotionally connected father – my respect, love and admiration for my children knows no bounds.  I built relationships with them that began the moment they were born.  I was never punitive or authoritarian – I taught by example and I explained right and wrong over and over and over again, patiently.  I wanted them to like who I am, to respect – not fear me, and to love me genuinely, not merely because I am their father.  I knew all of this, somehow I just knew it …

and Ed didn’t.

So I am choosing to forgive, because it is right for both of us.

At some point, I hope the residual anger dissipates …

and I hope my feelings of superiority melt into a true sense of friendship and equality, because I really am committed to having a new and meaningful relationship with  my father.

Reconciliation Update:

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It all started last weekend, it was time to plan and book our next trip.

As my kids have grown up, I have learned that scheduling a family trip can be a daunting task — but I was determined, so we sat down with five different schedules and came up with a small block of time (read VERY small block of time) in which we were all available.

Destination and date chosen, Alaskan cruise in August,  it occurred to me that I wanted to spend some time with Ed; I wanted to reconnect completely – I wanted to be a family again.

This trip is special; it marks my daughter’s, – my my youngest child, eighteenth birthday, and her high school graduation … and I wanted my father to be part of it.

but I wasn’t sure Ed would say yes to my invitation …

So, I bet my wife dinner of the winner’s choice, prepared by the loser, that he would decline.

Her response, “YOU  will be making Osso Bucco with Parmesan Risotto, Caesar Salad and German Chocolate Cake …”

I emailed Ed, extending the invitation to be part of our family vacation.  OUR Family Vacation

And it turns out I will be making Osso Bucco with Parmesan Risotto, Caesar Salad and German Chocolate Cake – but not just for my wife; Ed and Marie are coming, too.

I will also be brewing some Blackberry Beer to celebrate the evening …

We have two visits planned for March – attending performances of Sweeney Todd and Disney’s Mulan, both of which my daughter is in, and in April my sons, father and I are participating in a poker tournament together …

It’s all going very, very well.

Propensities and Principles – of Reconciliation

“Propensities and principles must be reconciled by some means.”  –Charlotte Bronte

Reconciliation with an estranged family member is possible, despite the bleak statistics … the failure rate is staggering.

I’d read and researched, been up and down with my father in my attempt at understanding – I’d spoken to my wife, children, friends, mother-in-law and therapist.  I’d listened to the advice of my readers …

Somewhere in the process I realized that relating to him now based solely on residual feelings from childhood – my being reactive (negatively) to everything he said, and my not seeing him for the man he is today wasn’t productive.  My anger – justified or not, was standing in the way of problem solving.  And about this same time, I began to understand that I wanted the problem of estrangement solved, and I wanted it all to have a happy ending … if that was possible.

So, I stepped back and away from what happened when I was a child and suggested we start with today. Build a connection now – a new connection based on our lives in the present.  I told him about my family and my life during the years since we’d last seen each other, I gave him hope in the form of sharing a few fond memories I had of him while I was growing up, and I invited him to an evening out with our wives.

 I extended an olive branch …

remembered my own principles; ‘a man should not be defined by his mistakes, but by what he does to make them right.’

And in remembering who I am, it dawned on me:

I had to give him a second chance.

In my anger and pain I hadn’t realized that believing in second chances meant I had to offer something, too – a willingness, an open heart. 

I thought, eventually, we’d have to revisit my childhood – but armed with a new connection, a solid bond, the moment would play itself out differently – it would be less complicated and more constructive – less painful and more resolute – less angry and more understanding.

Maybe my decision was wise, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that I no longer feel a need to speak of my father’s mistakes with him, no need to revisit my childhood and make the man he is today confront the father he was then.  He may not have been the father I needed as a child, but he gets an A+ for effort now.

In addition to getting my father back, I’ve gotten a far more complete understanding of my childhood – something I needed to feel whole emotionally.

I admire and respect his approach – to this day he will not speak to me disparagingly about my mother.  This is, even in my family where my mother has caused a sea of pain, destruction and heartbreak, the right thing to do.   Denigration is not the key to understanding, truth is.

If propensity represents the dark side of human nature, as Bronte suggests, acting on  our principles allows us to be something greater …

and to have something greater:

relationships based in truth, understanding, kindness, loyalty … and maybe even forgiveness.