Forgiveness is the greatest gift

Father’s Day has always been strange to me for a few reasons. I think it’s because I spent the greater part of my life not celebrating it and later trying to figure out what I should be feeling on such a day.

Despite that, it’s always heartwarming to see the stories and messages, on social media and in numerous magazine articles, about the influential role fathers play in the lives of their children. Men are not celebrated that often in contemporary culture, so it’s great to see them acknowledged as heroes, nurturers, supporters and pillars of strength for their families, at least once a year.

The lack of emotion I grew up experiencing on Father’s Day was as a result of my parents’ divorce when I was very young – too early to have any conscious recollection of my father. All I had was the occasional story about aspects of his personality or which part of the world he might have been in. Then, there were the occasional sightings – mostly in black & white photographs. Once, my brother and I were watching TV and caught the rare sight of people who looked like us in a commercial for Ovaltine, the cocoa beverage (in those days, images in advertising for major brands always featured White actors). It turned out that the smooth business executive whose secretary made him a cup of cocoa was my dad – a fleeting glimpse, never to be repeated.

My first real memory of my father is when I met him at 16 years old. He had decided to return to Jamaica for a vacation and started writing to us in an attempt to forge a relationship ahead of our meeting. He insisted on bringing for us everything two teenagers could possibly want, plus anything else he could think of. Paul and I were wary initially but decided to be open to the possibilities. It went well at first but gradually degenerated when my father decided to assert himself and be incredibly protective without good reason. Laying down the law with a ‘my way or the highway’ type of approach did not resonate well with us. We were both well-behaved and responsible, and resented any strong-arm tactics from my father, no matter how well-intentioned.

Despite some missteps during those first few weeks, we managed to get through it and build our tentative connection further by letter and telephone. By the time I was 18 and ready for university, Dad stepped in with an offer for both of us to study in London. We were more than apprehensive but felt strongly that it was time for my father to relieve the pressure that my mother and other family members had borne for so long. The experiment lasted all of four months and ended disastrously. It would be another 16 years of virtually no contact before we reconciled.

It took a long time for Paul and I to get to a point where we could completely forgive my father for not being there and for not being able to meet our most basic expectations when he finally showed up. The love that I am now able to express for him has come as a result of my personal growth and a realisation that I am the ultimate beneficiary of the forgiveness and compassion that I show to others. Just being able to call him ‘dad’ was a significant moment for me and one that freed me of the resentment that I had held inside subconsciously.

The strangest part of all this is that I wouldn’t change a thing. Seeing my father raise two younger sons made me realise that by not being there, he had given us a wonderful gift. Being raised by my grandmother, mother, aunts and older sister was an amazingly nurturing experience that has infused me with the empathy and intelligence that I use to navigate life and its challenges with grace and calm. It didn’t feel like anything was missing, save for those odd occasions when other children would boast about their dads being bigger or stronger than anyone else. Looking back, I’m immensely grateful to those women for filling the void so effortlessly that even now I struggle to think of anything that I missed out on.

When I called my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day, I was smiling deeply, knowing that whatever pleasure he got from my distant voice was matched by the satisfaction I feel for making his later years as pleasant as possible. It was great to hear him rambling on about the World Cup matches and reminiscing about the times he lived in Italy and Germany as a struggling actor, and what it was like to watch football with friends during their glory years.

I realise now that he did what he knew how to do. Unfortunately, marriages and children don’t come with a guidebook or instruction manual – parents do the best they can and sometimes it’s not enough. When I listen to him talking about his adventures living and working in Europe, and all the amazing experiences he’s had, it’s pretty clear that my father was not ready for the constraints of raising a family. If he had stayed, it would have been a disaster. Instead of resenting it, I admire his courage for daring to live a life that few Black men of his generation could even dream about. He learned German and Italian, made many friends and took more than a few risks.

For anyone trying to be a good father, the best way to assess your current efforts is to project ahead to when your children become mature, responsible adults. What would they say about you if they have to write a piece like this?

For those celebrating fathers today, try to look past their shortcomings and accept them, flaws and all. If, like me, your father wasn’t always around, trust me when I say that forgiveness is the best Father’s Day present you could give to him and to yourself.

I hope you had a wonderful Father’s Day.

I wasn’t anything special as a father. But I loved them and they knew it. ~ Sammy Davis Jr.

One of the greatest gifts my father gave me – unintentionally – was witnessing the courage with which he bore adversity. We had a bit of a rollercoaster life with some really challenging financial periods. He was always unshaken, completely tranquil, the same ebullient, laughing, jovial man. ~ Ben Okri

“Don’t forgive him. Forgive yourself for believing there is something lacking in you because he wasn’t there.” ~ Iyanla Vanzant

18 thoughts on “Forgiveness is the greatest gift

  1. Willy, this was an awesome piece on many levels. I am an infrequent visitor to social media and only saw this because I was asked about Fathers Day posts on my timeline.
    This writing mirrors many of my personal experiences with my own “dad”, which I would love to share with you over breakfast, lunch or dinner.
    My ultimate ability to forgive my absentee father freed my conscience and reinforced my desire and commitment to be the best father I could be.
    True forgiveness is not easy, but necessary for restoring the soul. I also, like you, would not change the narrative of my life. My grandparents and a very young single mother did for me, what I could not fully comprehend and appreciate until manhood. Because of them, I have effortlessly embraced the challenges of marriage, parenting and now grandparrenting.
    Our upbringings were not unique to the times we lived in, but thankfully we have emerged all the better from it.
    I wish you continued success in your life journeys and we’ll catch up soon.

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    1. It’s great to hear from you and for you to share this experience with me. Sometimes the toughest challenges in our lives make us the best people we can be. Your fatherly presence in your family means so much to them and to you. Looking forward to the next time we catch up. Please click ‘follow’ to get notification of my blog posts – they only appear once a week or fortnight.

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    2. Michael, it seems absentee father was the thing of our time. I would only missed my father when my mother carried us to the beach during holiday times and seeing fathers playing with their children in the water. I never really carry resentment towards him. I only dropped him when I see how selfish he is. He was supposed to meet my son and when my friend went to pick him up he said he had to go to church. I guess me being not there he thought there was no money to get. For the first time I felt anger towards him. I have never had a conversation with him since.
      I wanted my son to have some type of relationship with his grandfather. I guess it will be up to my son to reach out to him. So far he seems to not care much to meet his grandfather.
      Unlike you I have never call my father by a name, whether dad or otherwise. Nothing felt comfortable to me.
      I cannot say its anger, resentment or anything negative I am feeling as I write. It just that I feel no emotions towards him I would feel for my mother. Consciously I feel nothing. It’s like he never existed. Who knows, I might be subconciously angry towards him and not aware.

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      1. You are angry and it’s completely understandable. Like you, I never felt anything towards my father until I had to interact with him. Luckily, my father has tried to make up for not being around or being the ideal father. Forgiving him was a gift to myself, more than anything. Sometimes they don’t come to a full understanding until their mortality is in question. Your son has you – that’s the most important thing.

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  2. I was in school when my mother called to tell me, that my father has put all his personal belongings in his “Mercedes” trunk and zoomed off.
    The worst part of it was, my mum was made a stay at home wife (graduate with a B.Ed) by my school cert. dad.
    Suffering started two days later after the food in the kitchen finished.
    To make matters worse , he went ahead to sell the house we lived in, my Mum and siblings were harassed and evicted.
    We all hated him deeply, but we also realized that memories of him made us miss him, I think we still loved him regardless.
    6 years later, a call comes to my Mum’s phone, saying he is dying in a hospital, everyone available rushed to the hospital, while praying to God to spare him.
    We showed him love and have continued to …..left him to dwell and regret his past actions.
    I personally love and appreciate him for the huge sacrifices he made for us especially in our early years education, he sent us to the best schools even when he wasn’t in that league and my education is something I am always proud of.

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  3. As usual thank you for that article from the heart. It always strikes me that when you take the time to look on the other side of a negative experience so often the positive outweighs all that you went through. With maturity we should look into and beyond the life events which may have created unhappiness and an inability to understand or forgive the actions of another person. AS I try to point out to my grandson whatever his father does including the errors, miscalculations, misunderstandings he does out of a place of love and caring for him, his child. Hope all goes well with you guys. Love and blessings

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    1. Hey mom, it was easier to write this than I first thought, proving that I really had forgiven deeply and not just on the surface. Your grandchildren will understand in time and be grateful. Thanks for being here; I look forward to your comments. xxx

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  4. I never really cared about Father’s Day until my kids made a fuss of it when they were growing up. They still do to this day. When I read the stories, I wondered why I feel no real love for that day. Like most of you my dad was not there simply because he died when I was twelve. Most of the friends I had, had their dads around. Though jealousy was never a part of it, I had people (men) in my life that filled the void. My dad was the coolest man I knew. Always had a suit on as men in his generation often did. To top it off, a nice fedoria was perched on his head.(I hate hats). My mom used to have me accompany him to his tailor shop during breaks from school. I never cared to go because I would miss hanging out with friends. Once there, it was a pleasant experience as his friends would often tell him how well behaved his son was and he must be proud. They spent a lot of time playing dominoes and just talking. Work was done but there was no urgency. I took from those experiences a lot of things. For one, my mom, never knew the amount of idle time my dad had. If she did, she never argued about it as he was not one to waste his money, and two, he was always willing to lend a hand or give someone something. That rubbed off on me as I will give my last dime if you ask or if I know you need it. Bottom line is I spent all these years not carying about the day set aside for fathers as I lost mine so early in my life that it became just another day. My kids know that I am a good father and that’s all that matters. I now have nieces and nephews that reached out to me and reminds me of the good things I did for them and that makes me feel good. The things I remembered most about my dad though was the little things he would tell me as if he was preparing me for manhood. Things like “ never be a gambler, smoker or drinker” which I practice as I do neither, and “ never lend or borrow money” which I also practice. I miss my dad but don’t care for much for the day.

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    1. Hi Leon, it’s only a day’s celebration, while your memories have lasted a lifetime. Your children, nieces and nephews remember the things you’ve done for them every day. Your dad sounds like he was a really cool guy.

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  5. I feel unworthy to write a comment here because unlike other people on this thread, I did have a wonderful father for about thirteen years. I thrive on his legacy and hope to find someone like him for my unborn children. Indeed, just having a good man for a father influences children in deeper ways than we can describe.

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    1. Please don’t feel unworthy – all of our experiences are valid and unique. They all have contributed to who we are, because we can draw strength from both negative and positive experiences. I’m sure you’ll find exactly who you’re looking for – your dad set a wonderful example. Stay blessed.

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  6. This is deep … the comments more revealing … Michel .. thanks for this piece .. lost my dad in my teens to a tragedy..so never cared much for the day .. but great piece and for the personal touch .. that’s deep..

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    1. Thanks Chike! We all have our unique stories and I shared mine to help myself and others. I’m very sorry to hear about your dad – that must have been tough on your family. However, your best life is always on the other side of your pain. Blessings.

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  7. Thanks Michael. This is really deep and expresses the frustrations we felt as youths about our Daddy.
    Forgiveness and maturity about life’s trials and challenges have given me a clearer understanding on ‘why’ and ‘what’ virtues Daddy was trying to instill in us.

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