Friday, March 27, 2009

How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?

Father, I barely knew you. And when I knew you, you frightened me. Mostly you showed me what not to do, what not to be. With your reign of terror, the fever of alcohol and violence that held our home and family hostage, you taught me. You taught me how to destroy spirits and lives including your own. You shone a light on the path not to walk.

Thank you.

A good buddy and I have recently been talking about raising our boys and the path to manhood; a path not necessarily walked with tremendous consciousness, but a path every single boy must find his way upon. With or without guidance, every young boy will one day wake up and find himself a man. With or without consciousness, we will each of us find ourselves trying to 'be a man'; trying to discover what that means. We fumble our way, sometimes never knowing that 'being a man' is nothing more than fully becoming a human being - a human being who is flawed, who knows love as well as fear; who knows both courage and weakness; who is vulnerable and yet strong - a being, fully human in all its shades, nuances and inconsistencies. A man.

Raising a child is one of the most valuable and basic ways to affirm life, to leave this earthly place a little bit better - or not. Almost anyone can reproduce. Big deal. Not everyone takes the job seriously. Not everyone cares about the fine art of growing a human being. After all, human beings are almost a dime a dozen, what with 6, soon to be 7 BILLION of us on the planet. It's easy to forget. It's all too easy to forget that each one is precious. We too often are imprinted with the opposite message - that we are disposable. Disposable humans fill the landscapes of wars and prisons, mental hospitals and the streets, third world shantytowns and middle american families. We treat others as disposable when we ourselves have been treated as disposable and have come to believe it as truth and fact. We've unquestioningly been bought and sold - all too easily tossed aside and discounted. Just turn on the TV. There's hundreds of messages telling us we're not good enough, and if we just purchase the next latest thing, the new and improved thing that we lack, THEN we will be someone, something, a person of worth that can be measured by a material yardstick; someone worth more than the 'disposables'.

It has nothing to do with being a good human being.

Our fathers are supposed to be one of our strongest signposts along the way. Sometimes a sign points the way. Sometimes it warns "Do Not Enter".

I am fortunate. Before my father died in his eighties I was able to have an honest talk with him. I told him how the violence I'd grown up with had damaged me. I wanted him to know before he died, before we no longer had a chance to sit down together face to face, how his actions had hurt me as a child. I also told him that now, as a man, I could forgive him, knowing that he himself had never been shown better, knowing that he also must have had great pain and hurt shown to him. Others in my family were alarmed that I would speak so frankly about things that there was an unspoken family agreement that such things should remain in the shadows of silence. Somehow it was believed that if we didn't speak about these things, then the pain would touch us less. Instead, I spoke. And my father spoke in return.

He was an old man getting ready to die. He had a conscience to clear. He apologized. With total sincerity he told me, had he known any better he would have done better - simple as that. And a lifetime of pain and hurt was washed away. He was free to move on and so was I.

Years later I saw the movie "Smoke Signals", a favorite movie of mine written by Sherman Alexie. It's about fathers and sons, pain and the convoluted yet simple path to forgiveness and redemption. It's a movie about becoming a human being - a man in all his flesh and spirit. The movie ends with this poem by Dick Lourie, as Victor, the main character, tosses his father's ashes into the river. it's a powerful scene, a powerful moment in the journey to becoming a man.


Sandi said...

Whoa. This piece is strong...very strong. I can actually feel the tension, the pain, the sadness, and the relief. Some tears were shed while I read this, too. Thank you.

Stella Magdalen said...

See now this is my mantra - if they could have done better, they would have. Even as I am trying to assist a friend to wake up and be appropriate with her children, when I get SO frustrated when she doesn't just "snap out of it", because I know she knows better she just can't seem to DO better, I have to remember and chant that when/if she can, she will.

If Popeye's any indication, (and I have to assume he is) ya (both) done good.

el poquito said...

Thanks Stella, I'll accept we had some influence, but he truly is his own man. His brother also. They come in with their own agendas, ideas etc.

For instance from the tender age he always scarfed down all the seafood when no one was looking, once stuffing his pockets full with shrimp and crab legs from a seafood buffet. As we hit the streets he started pulling his own private buffet outta his pockets. Also, by age 6 he was known to 'swear like a sailor'. (the principal had to have a little talk with us)

Today he's north of Amsterdam building a tall ship, impressing the harbor master with his skill and experience. When the ship is built by August they plan on sailing to the Caribbean and be rum-running. Go figure.

Could NEVER have foreseen any of this! He's from a different time and place - our job was to provide a lot of rides to the boat and his future - glorified chauffeurs.

I'll tell him you said 'hi'.