My father and I had a very tumultuous relationship from as far back as I can remember. I was a strong-willed and precocious child who asked too many questions and had my own mind. While my parents and religious leaders attempted to mold me into their version of the perfect child, I was not easily bent to their will. I craved learning, I craved a deeper understanding of why things were the way they were, and often my parents and those around me were unwilling or unable to answer my barrage of questioning. My mother always resorted to “Go ask your father,” and my father’s all too often answer was “Because I said so,” or “Because God said so.” Their inability to set my mind at ease left me to my own introspection.
My religion taught parents to bring their children to salvation by whatever means necessary. My father’s weapon of choice was his hand on my body. Whenever I failed him, or his religion, in any way, it resulted in a full assault on my bare behind. I was terrified of my father and wanted nothing to do with him, yet in the same token I wanted desperately for him to love me. I went out of my way to do things I hoped would make him proud of me, anything that would bring some kind of recognition or even a hint that he cared at all for my existence in his life.
As I grew older my hate for father grew, as did my hate for his religion. God for me was an angry and vengeful man just like my father. I despised any God that would force me to feel so much pain, and force me to endure shame and guilt, simply for being human.
I was twenty-one years old before my father told me he loved me. I had been away from home for nearly five years by that time. It was on a telephone call he made to me in an attempt to apologize for the kind of father he had been. But I was unable to accept his apology. It took all he had to say “I love you” and as he did I simply replied, “like Hell you do”, slamming down the phone, furious that he had taken so many years to give me what I had desperately craved as a child. I had never known love and as a result I did not know how to receive it or give it, not only to anyone else, but to myself.
It was several years before I had enough respect for myself, to be able to forgive my father. It took a tremendous amount of courage on my part to face him and offer my forgiveness. I did this not for him, but because I had finally found enough self-respect to know that I deserved to be free of the resentment I held toward him. My father and I repaired the relationship, and over the years it evolved to be one of mutual respect and understanding. And while we would never agree about religion, or his concept of God, we agreed to disagree. Today would have been my father’s birthday. He passed away a few years ago, free of animosity or resentment between us.
As I came to understand myself, and my own brand of spirituality, I came to see my father with new eyes. I came discover that deep beneath his tough and unrelenting exterior was a kind, gentle and sensitive man that only gentiles in the outside world were ever allowed to see. It was a side of him that I never knew existed until a few years before his death, when I saw him for who he really was, and not who his religion expected him to be.