Some fathers are better than others. Some do some wonderful things, some do some crappy things. And even the best dads make mistakes. We’re human. But hanging on to those mistakes can make the original pain even bigger—you can’t get past age 30 without figuring that one out, as you drag another “resentments against Mom and Dad” tale onto the therapist’s couch. So how to let loose that iron grip on childhood wrongs? How to let go of the rocks of resentment about what Dad did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say? Here are some ideas:
Get some perspective.
Find a bunch of people who had worse dads than you did and compare stories. Bars, 12-Step meetings, group therapy, the pages of a sloshy true-crime book, the Bible. They say we shouldn’t go around comparing ourselves to others, but sometimes gratitude can be found in just such a move.
Fake your forgiveness and see what happens.
Say your father said something really, really awful to you, a long, long time ago. Maybe if you didn’t eat so much, you’d look as pretty as your sister. Something like that is bound to wound even the most sassy and confident 11-year-old girl. Years pass, everyone gets older, the wound festers. Dad, you say one day, maybe when he’s really getting on in years and the moment feels right, I forgive you for saying that mean thing about me, that thing that defined my body image and kind of messed me up, if you want to know the truth. Even if you don’t forgive him—chances are you don’t—say it still. What happens next will help. It might help a lot (he will actually apologize) or it might help not much (he will stare blankly at you). The point is you told him you forgive him. The stagnant waters of your resentment have been stirred. And everyone knows that when you stir up water, sometimes the most beautiful things can float to the surface.
Write it all out.
I know, I know, this one is as old as … well, writing. Write down exactly what happened and why you are so miserable about it. No one has to read it. You can even burn it. But write it out. And then write it out again, and again, and again. In detail. Difficult, sad detail. Then read it out loud, to yourself. It’s amazing how this process can suck some of the power out of even the most stubborn and stewing resentment.
Read about it.
There’s a movement out there called Restorative Justice that is truly inspiring. This group “emphasizes accountability, making amends, and—if they are interested—facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons.” Although the movement is focused more on crime victims and perpetrators, the theory behind it—that in forgiveness is strength and healing—can apply to lots of tough situations. Like forgiving Pop.
Don’t try anymore.
A+B=C. A is today, B is Dad apologizing and realizing what he did wrong, and C is my happiness.
Toss B and C in the trash. All we have is A. All we have is today.
And today, that’s a fact.