Paul L. Caron

Sunday, June 18, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: My Father Failed Me. Here’s How I Learned To Forgive Him.

New York Times Op-Ed:  My Father Failed Me. Here’s How I Learned to Forgive Him., by Esau McCaulley (Wheaton; Author, Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal (2022)):

McCaulleyAI do not recall giving a single Father’s Day present. There were no cards hastily scribbled on colored paper during elementary school art class. My dad never received the barbecue apron with a silly message on it. My siblings cannot recall ever giving him gifts, either. This was no joint decision; it was an instinctive, shared response to trauma.

Father’s Day reminded us of what we didn’t have: the father to do all the things we saw other fathers do. We wanted him to cheer for us at sporting events, deliver the wise quip that embarrassed us in front of our friends or pass along the wisdom that might guide us through the complexities of being young and Black in an Alabama that had little patience for the foibles of its darker citizens.

But providence did not deliver us that type of father. We shared a city, if not often a home, with a man troubled by addiction. He came and went in our lives, his presence and absence coinciding with the cycles of sobriety and relapse. For a long time, all I felt about him was anger because he seemed to care more about drugs than his children.

Our lack of relationship played a central role in my own story, and for a long time, his failures drove me to be different from him. I would be a father who was present in the lives of my children. When the time came, I would get my family to a place of safety and love.

We never developed that traditional father-son relationship, but I did forgive him before he died in 2017.

There are evils done by parents that obliterate relationships and leave marks that are hard to overcome. Nonetheless, for many of us, forgiveness is an important step in the healing process.

What changed in me that made it possible? How do we forgive people for wrongs that left real wounds, for actions that harmed not only us but other family members we love?

I forgave my father not because I concluded that his actions were not as bad as I recalled. They were. I began the long process of forgiving when I recognized him as more than a character in my story. My father, Esau McCaulley Sr., was a human being in his own drama. ...

This Father’s Day, I probably will get a present or two from our older children and handmade cards from the younger ones. My youngest daughter is still at that age when the spelling on her cards is something of an adventure. It is a joy to receive those cards because they represent the full extent of her skills at the moment of composition. I have come to see my own parenting as akin to those flawed cards. I had to begin with the skills I had and grow into a role that was more complex and difficult than I imagined.

I will inevitably disappoint my children because I am human. They also entered their father’s life in the middle of things. I had my own demons to overcome. Nonetheless, I have loved with all the tools and tricks I could glean from others. That struggle to care for them better than I was cared for as a child was the only gift that I had to give them. For all the ways that I fail, I pray that they forgive me.

Other op-eds by Esau McCaulley:

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