Forgive AND Forget?
Updated: Oct 12, 2019
Since writing my last post, Letting Go, I have struggled to get up enough courage to write the continuation. Lately I keep hearing the importance of sharing our stories so that we can be a blessing to others, but something about sharing my story publicly instead of with just my husband or closest friends causes my insides to knot. I think a major cause of that is fear. All of my grown-up life I heard sermons or read for myself that “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18”.
Before I can ponder the meaning of that scripture, other scriptures about forgiveness take over. If I don’t forgive others, then God won’t forgive me for my sins either. What does this mean for a person like me who was raised in fear from day one? Round and round I go, finding courage to share the truth about my father, but then being squashed down again by the thought that Jesus loves him too. And, since he is still alive, if I share, what will happen to my family relationships? Will I lose my sisters forever? My Mom? My Aunts? And, since he was never reported for his behavior (except by me several years ago), he was never charged, so there is no proof of anything that happened. It’s only my word. Who am I? In my own mind I’m just a little “unknown” creature with big ideas that only go anywhere with the Lord’s blessing. I can’t do anything without the help of the Holy Spirit… so here I am, struggling not to hyperventilate.. Help me, Jesus. I can only do this little bits at a time.
The most confusing, but good thing about my childhood is that it wasn’t ALL bad. Children are generally very forgiving of their parents’ mistakes and they cling to the good memories, most of the time. I can look back and remember dad taking us out in the boat to go fishing on weekends when we lived in a trailer park on a lake. I loved catching fish, and not having to bait a hook because dad would do it! I loved the rare peaceful calmness I felt when we all sat patiently waiting for fish to bite. I loved the amazing untouched beauty put there by God Himself thousands of years before. I especially loved being able to get out of the boat with my sister, wearing our life jackets, and swim to an island with ice cream buckets to fill with tasty wild blueberries. Mom always packed food, and if we had to pee, as gross as this sounds, we would just sit over the side of the boat and let it go while holding mom’s or sister’s hand so we wouldn’t fall overboard. Way out in this watery Canadian country there was nobody around for miles.
There were many times that dad would forget which way to drive the boat back to the public boat launch. He never listened to my mom, so he would drive us around island after island, getting close to one shore and turning around repeatedly. One night he had gotten us so lost that it was pitch black outside by the time he finally got us back. Mom was very grumpy because she had seen the lights at least twice before but he refused to go close enough to see if she was right. She got us three girls into the truck and sat with us in the cab, waiting for dad to back the boat trailer into the water and then pull the boat up all by himself. All at once we heard a splash and saw the frown on mom’s face turn into the biggest grin. Then she couldn’t help herself and the grin burst into full-out laughter. I was worried at first, but knew he was ok when I heard him muttering in Hungarian. Although the trip home was satisfactory for my mom it was miserable for me. Two adults and three girls on a bench-seat in the old green Ford truck. Not only did I have to sit right up against my soaking wet father, I also had to constantly remember to move my knees away from the stick shift or they would get smashed and bruised. As tired as I was, I tried very hard not to sleep on the way home.
One day, my parents invited 4 friends to join us on a fishing adventure. All was fun, maybe a little crowded, but comfortable. Until mom got a bite at the end of her line. It was not just a little tug. There was a monster that pulled so hard, her entire rod bent down into the water and she struggled to hang onto it. You’ll never guess what happened. It’s like what happens when there is a traffic accident on the freeway. Everybody wants to see it, so they GAWK and slow everyone else down. Yes, EVERYONE ran over to Mom’s side of the boat to get a look at the fish. Dad rushed to squeeze through the crowd so he could scoop up the fish with the net he held in his hands, but I was THE ONE who got in his way. Mom’s rod snapped in half and the monster-fish swam away. It was all MY fault and I was the only one who didn't even get a glimpse of the fish. Dad, in his crazy anger, yelled at me in front of all our guests. I hid under the canopy at the bow for a very long time, embarrassed, humiliated, and ashamed. This is the story I think of when I hear fishermen boast of "the one that got away."
Like all other instances that I got into trouble, I never knew when Dad wasn’t mad anymore. I never knew if he had forgiven me. I never knew what I could do to make it up to him. I never knew if I would ever be able to make him proud. Eventually I would see that he was not fuming anymore, and I could quietly ease my way back into his presence, hoping to get some sort of approving glance or smile that would help me feel like I was still at least acceptable in some way. If I said I was sorry, his answer was always, “Don’t say you’re sorry. Just don’t do it again.”
The only time he was full of praise was if I was all dressed up for some reason. Then he would want me to sit on his lap. It was, to me, as if I had somehow earned the privilege of sitting on a throne, only I was like a doll that had captured his attention for a few short minutes. Sometimes those short minutes seemed like an hour, though, and I wanted to get off the throne but was afraid I would insult the king by making such a request. So I would wait until he got tired of me being there, or I had a chore or something to give me reason to leave. It has taken many years for me to understand why I would be uncomfortable sitting in my father’s lap. He didn’t fondle me that I remember. Once, I’m pretty sure he had an erection but I didn’t know what that was until many years later. I was trying to get comfortable in his lap but something was digging into my rear and thighs so I asked if he had something hard in his pocket, which wouldn’t make sense because his pockets were to the sides. He only looked sheepish and said “oh.” and let me get down that time. He usually stroked my hand, or arm, or petted my cheek or my hair and gazed at me with a weird chin-tilted-up smile and say things like, “you so purty..”. It was inconsistent, embarrassing, confusing, and belittling. Even today at 49 years old if someone, including my husband, tells me I look pretty I struggle to believe them and often think, “Huh. Well, maybe you think that right now, but it’s only temporary.”
It’s this kind of low self-esteem that drives people to crave the solitude of the deepest pit away from all possibilities of more ridicule, or else to work their fingers to the bone in search of some kind of acknowledgement from other people of success, or to do anything and everything they can to earn the approval of someone they look up to. I have bounced around between all of those. I had tried for so long to please my father that my expectations of myself had become ridiculously high and unreachable, nearly destroying my marriage and family at one point. The only reason I can come up with for marrying a good Christian man who truly loves me and hung on for dear life is because God intervened. He continues to demonstrate what perfect love really is. Love drives out fear. Because of Jesus I don’t have to fear punishment, ridicule, belittling, or failure. He accepted me even though I never could become perfect.
So what about my Dad? If Jesus accepts me and forgives all my mistakes, then that means He can accept my Dad and forgive all his as well. But here’s the catcher of it all, at least from what I have gathered during my healing process. Jesus offers forgiveness to everyone, but we have to acknowledge that we NEED it. The Pharisees were quick to judge other people but were blind to their own sin. Jesus rebuked them numerous times for their unwillingness to see the truth. King David, however, was called “a man after God’s own heart” because not only did he love the Lord and still sin, he acknowledged his sin, repented of it and had to accept the consequences.
I have had many conversations with other Christians over the years about forgiveness. A few times my dad’s name came up, or my ex-brother in law who sexually abused my niece and nephew. Each time, the attitude was that I needed to forgive these men in order to be able to move forward. Each time, the people in the room had no clue what it was like to be physically, emotionally or sexually abused as a child. One person actually asked me if I tried to have a conversation with my dad to see if we could make amends rather than being estranged from each other. Of course I did! Several times, painstakingly over the phone because of the many-hours distance.
In one conversation I managed to tell him that I still struggle with math because of the way he drilled me with math questions at the dinner table when I was in high school. He called me stupid because I couldn’t understand his method of thinking in my head, not being allowed to use pen and paper. When my little sister (5 years younger than me) started answering, I believed I truly was stupid and stopped trying to answer. My dad’s response to this was “oh, I didn’t know..” and not much else. Rather than trying to make him feel bad I told him it was ok and changed the subject because I couldn’t stand the thought making him cry.
In another conversation I point-blank asked my dad if he actually touched my aunt’s breasts when she was an early-developing pre-teen. He was married to my mom and was the father of myself and one baby sister at the time. His answer? “She wanted me to. All of those girls were always after me.” It never even occurred to him that even if it were true that an eleven-year-old girl wanted him, a thirty-something year old, to touch her breasts, it would be inappropriate and just WRONG. When I reported this to the police (I had to repeat much more of my story than I have written here three times before I found the police in the correct district), and to other professionals and counselors, I was told that my dad’s behavior was, in fact, sexual abuse. His responses were classic. Pedophiles, sexual predators, or opportunistic abusers blame the victims for their actions and believe that they are right in doing so.
My dad’s response to my question demonstrated that if he could not show any remorse for the one behavior I mentioned, he would not accept responsibility for his behaviors that were even worse. 1 John 1:8-10 says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us." My dad probably will never come forward on his own to confess what he did wrong. He has never, since I've known him, SINCERELY apologized for anything. Since I was the only one to ever report my father for what he did before and during my childhood to myself, some of my cousins, aunts, and neighbor children, there is no way that he could be prosecuted. If even one person were to step forward, they would add that testimony to mine, and then there would be a case, although not very strong until more came forward. It’s been so many years, and there is no evidence other than our word. Nobody wants to go to court over any of it. So this man remains free to be the kind, helpful, hard-working neighbor and friend that those on the outside think he is, but still very capable of molesting a child if given the opportunity. That makes me sick to my stomach.
Can I forgive him and forget? I believe I have some suppressed memories and I’m ok with that. Those memories probably don’t need to come out anyway. Once, after going through a marriage seminar with my husband in which we had to forgive the people who hurt us, I thought it would be ok to invite my dad for Christmas. My baby sister told me he would be alone if her family came down without him, so I felt guilty. My mom was living with us at the time, and I had somehow assumed that she would be ok with us all pretending just for Christmas that we were a family again. She was not. I had to UN-invite my dad over the phone. The ironic thing was that I had to tell him that mom and I are going through counseling because of him and it’s just not a good time after all for him to be with us. His response? “Well, I won’t be coming to visit over there for a very long time…” and other words that hurt my heart deeply because it was all about how I was hurting HIS feelings; not one iota of remorse or sadness whatsoever that we had to go through counseling because of him. If one of my children told me I was not welcome, I would be so broken-hearted I would do anything in my power to make it right so that I would not lose my relationship with them. I have not spoken to my dad ever since and he has made no effort to contact me.
Yes, I have forgiven him. He was severely abused throughout his childhood. He never got help and turned away from God after my mom and two of us girls left him. But forgiving doesn’t allow me to forget. Forgiving heals ME, but doesn’t heal him. He is still the same person and always will be unless he receives Christ and accepts responsibility for his actions and repents, which I'm not sure is actually possible... but I'm not God. My grown children were never left alone with him the times we were around him in their earlier years. My current little ones will never know him. One of the last times I talked to my dad he sniffled, “all I ever wanted was a family.” Unfortunately, he does not know what a family is supposed to be. He never learned what perfect love is. There are consequences to sin. For EVERYONE.
I know I was struggling at the beginning of this blog post. I have to tell you that now my heart feels more at ease. There is something to be said about writing and sharing our deep hurts – and this was only a very short snippet of my past. The problem with being raised by a narcissistic, abusive father is that my brain has been trained to protect him and to feel guilty about anything that goes against him in any way. His behavior begins to disappear in my mind over time, especially during seasons that our family seemed to be happy when I was growing up. I miss those times and wish I could have them back. The guilty feeling of abandoning my father floods over me and I am forced to remember why I had to make the decision to let him go. I can’t tell you what that does to my heart, my mind, my soul. He may physically still be alive, but, as in my dreams, I am forced to let him die over, and over again and wake up to reality in tears.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. IT ALWAYS PROTECTS, ALWAYS TRUSTS, ALWAYS HOPES, ALWAYS PERSEVERES. Love never fails.” 1 Cor 13: 4-8
Father in Heaven, thank you for rescuing me and showing me what love is. Thank you for BEING my Father especially when I felt most abandoned, for lifting me up when I felt most broken, for carrying me at my weakest times, for humbling me when I forgot to give YOU the praise, for your patience and forgiveness when I have acted selfishly, for catching all my tears in a bottle, hearing all of my prayers, and repeating all of this over again because I still don’t get it right. You are so so good to me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Thank you for reading my story. I hope it gives you a little understanding of my desire to make a difference for children. My hope is to provide parents with tools that I wish my mom and I both had as we were raising our children. Tools, including words of affirmation, and activities to help #prepare, #empower, #armor, #restore, #love, & #secure children that I am now using as my husband and I raise little ones again. I hope you'll join us in Raising PEARLS.