I woke up this morning after a really strong power dream. In the dream, I confronted my father in a very powerful way about something he did that devastated me 45 years ago. I said to him what needed saying, which I never had a chance to say in life. I stood up to him and let him have it.
I said, very clearly and in a strong voice,"I do not forgive you. I will never forgive you." And in the dream, and in my waking state, that pain and anger no longer have any power over me.
We have just come through the High Holidays, in which we ask for and grant forgiveness and are forgiven. In the background, the group confession of sins we chant on Yom Kippur, Ashamnu, is playing in my head. Wonderful word. Nu on the end of a Hebrew word designates it as "we" (verb) or "our" (noun), depending on the nature of the word. Ashamnu looks like it should mean "we are ashamed," but it actually means "we are guilty."
The timing of this dream may or may not be odd. I am thinking about not-forgiving in a time of forgiveness. I am wondering, as a parent, what thing I might have done to my kids that they would not forgive me for. And hoping there are no such things. Or that they have forgiven them. What parent has not inadvertently said or done something in a thoughtless moment? But this was a big thing. One of those things that can only be rectified with difficulty. One of those things that tells your child you do not give a rat's ass about it, that makes your child feel like a mistake for which you cannot quite atone.
I am wondering what effect my refusal to forgive has on my father's afterlife, if there is such a thing. Jews are all over the place on afterlife: no heaven or hell, but many other beliefs, from a permanent dirt nap to reincarnation and all permutations in between. Does one's failure to forgive cause hardship on the one left unforgiven? Must they suffer until forgiveness is granted?
I think being able to confront him directly in a vivid dream has enabled me to let it go, which in itself is a form of forgiveness. And in my own belief system, I think maybe his hearing me say it has helped him grow, too.
My father walked out on us when I was nine. He walked out on his business and his wife of twenty years and his only child, and even tried to sell the house out from under us as he left. Though he left us practically destitute, my mother was strong and she pulled us out of it. Her motto was "don't faint, do something." She was really mashed flat emotionally, but she kept on moving. He didn't show up again or contact me for about seven years. When he did, he offered neither apology nor explanation, though he said it was a religious conversion that prompted him to reconnect. My relationship with him was restored. Kids love like dogs do and will forgive a parent anything. Usually.
During the time he was away from me he had imagined what I was like, and unfortunately, the actual me did not match the imaginary one. I don't think he was able to reconcile the two very well. We saw him only occasionally when the kids were small.
One late afternoon when we were living in San Francisco, he showed up at the door at a very auspicious time: I was in labor with my daughter Madelyn. I was so excited to see him and that he would be there for her birth, but to my astonishment, he was not at all interested. Who knows how long it could take, and besides, he had dinner plans. He stayed about five uncomfortable minutes and left. Madelyn was born three hours later. He did not call me or visit the hospital or send flowers or a gift or a card. I think he finally met Madelyn when she was about 6 months old.
And that is the act for which I confronted him in the dream. I cannot imagine arriving at my child's home and discovering a grandchild was about to be born and just blowing it off to go to dinner with a total stranger. I can't even begin to get into a mindset that would allow me to think like that or imagine an obligation that would drag me away from such an event. It is truly unthinkable to me. But then, he had quite nimbly dragged himself away from his only child's entire life.
Maybe I do forgive him after all. I have lived with dogs a long time and have learned a lot from them about unconditional love. And he missed ever knowing what it's like to hold a newborn granddaughter in your arms. I wouldn't trade that for the world.
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