May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Many of us do things that may not harm us physically, but destroy us mentally. In my opinion, holding on to unnecessary anger is one of those things that can destroy us mentally. This was originally written on Father’s Day 2014, however a discussion around forgiving others is a great way to kick off Mental Health Month.
“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself”
For years, Father’s Day meant nothing to me.
Growing up in a single parent household we didn’t celebrate it. My first memories of my father were phone conversations and looking at a prom picture of him and my mother. I knew he was light-skinned with a small afro and wore glasses; he was handsome.
The phone conversations with him were brief. The conversations revolved around how I was doing and promises that he was coming to visit; he never did.
At five-years old, my disappointment passed quickly. I believe this was because I didn’t miss what I never had. I often wondered “What does a Daddy do? My Mommy does everything-worked, cooked, cleaned, spanked us, took us to church, and talked to us about men.” (I can’t help but chuckle and shake my head as I read that)
When I was seven-years old my sister and I spent our Christmas break in Philly with him, his new wife (and her kids), my grandparents, cousins and my half brother and sister. My question “What does a Daddy do?” had been answered from my two weeks in Philly. I had concluded that they work all day, buy the Christmas gifts, and take you out for pizza and movies when they have a day off. (I am really laughing and shaking my head as I read that) I had also concluded at that I was OK if he wasn’t around because my Mother did all of that stuff.
Even though we struggled financially, it wasn’t until my mother became ill (she had her first schizophrenic episode when I was nine) , that I began to have feelings of anger towards my father. Although my mother never spoke badly about my father, my grandmother would often remind us we should be grateful that our mother didn’t abandon us like our father did.
I’m sure her comments added to the feelings of hate I began to harbor for him. Each time my mother stopped taking her medication, times became extremely difficult and my hate towards him grew stronger.
Despite these feelings, I had hope that he would call, write or show up one day and make things better. Near the end of my senior year of high school, I managed to find a phone number and address for my “Pop-Pop” and left a message for my father to call me; I mailed a graduation invitation to him as well.
When he called, we had small talk and I told him that I really wanted him to come to my high school graduation. He said “Yes, Babygirl, I’ll be there. I am so proud of you!” That was the last conversation I had with my father, and the trip to Philly when I was seven-years old, was the last time I saw him.
I have chosen to forgive my absent father, and here is why:
1. I cannot change the past.
He wasn’t around. Yes, I may have some “Daddy issues”, but I cannot change the fact he wasn’t there. I can only work on healing my wounds that were caused by his absence. At a certain point we choose to hang on to anger, hate, and pain, and it shows. Once I realized that I could overcome that pain, forgiving him was easy.
2. I don’t know the whole story.
I’ve heard bits and pieces of why my parents divorced, but no one ever sat us down and said “This is why the divorce happened…” As I got older I heard more, but the bottom line is I don’t know why he wasn’t around. What did he go through during his life, that caused him to be absent? Would he have been abusive or an alcoholic? Would he have had my sister and I removed from my mother’s custody when she became ill? Was he granted no visitation in the divorce? (insert Kanye shug-and refers to #1.)
3. I needed to get over it.
It may sound a bit harsh, but it is true. I needed to start my healing processes. Growing up with a schizophrenic mother can cause enough issues in a child, and in my opinion those are more deeply rooted that the issues from my absent father. I couldn’t begin to build a relationship with my mother and deal with her illness, if I was holding on to things that weren’t a factor in my life. I hadn’t seen or spoke to my father in years-he didn’t know I hated him. That hate was only taking up space in my heart.
4. I needed to stop being angry at the rest of my family.
There was nothing I could have done to make him be a father. I was a baby when the divorce happened. It was not my responsibility to reach and try to establish a relationship with this man I didn’t know, nor was it anyone elses. It wasn’t my mother’s responsibility to force a relationship. It wasn’t my uncles or cousin responsibility to be the bridge between my father and I. The fact that my father was not around was due to his own actions-maybe (I have to refer back to #2)
Will I ever have a relationship with my father? I hope so. But if not, I am OK with it at this point in my life. It took me a while to realize it, but my grandfather is a great example of good father, and I know he loves me. I was not privileged to experience a father’s love firsthand, but I have learned to love myself, and loving yourself is the greatest love of all (per the late great Whitney Houston).
Frugal Feministas–Who have you had to forgive? How did you do it? Is there anyone you refuse to forgive? Please comment below or email me, I’d love hear your thoughts on forgiveness.
Christina Lattimore| Blogger & Mental Health Advocate | www.speakawaythestigma.org