In January this year, I had lunch with my whole family for the first time ever: Ash, Little Brother, Super-Niece and my Dad. The cafe looked out over the Pacific – the peaceful ocean – for the most awkward vegetarian pizza in recorded history. We small-talked our way around safe topics, while my belly churned.
It was the first time I had spoken to my father in almost four years. There was a moment when decades of unspoken resentment spilled out of me and into the world, and neither of us had the tools to navigate our way through it. So we didn’t. We just stopped talking. He didn’t send congratulations on our marriage, and I didn’t offer any comfort when his wife finally lost her long battle with cancer.
One would think that 12,000 miles of distance would make it easier to let someone go. But in my experience, even death is a gossamer thin layer of separation. Despite my best efforts, my fathers absence from my life has been a constant, underlying presence.
Since I dove into coaching last year, there have been many moments where I have felt the threads of old stories and old pains tug me back to the box of grief that was our relationship. I resisted poking around: it just left me with a cocktail of sadness and anger, sometimes indifference; always longing. And then I went straight to the chocolate.
When I knew the Sunshine Coast leg of our Christmas holiday would mean he was 20 minutes drive away, it seemed churlish not to reach out.
Forgiving someone sounds like such an evolved, mature thing to do. In reality its a long climb up steep sand dunes, in the wind. And the wrong shoes. A month before the holiday, still not really bought into the idea that I even wanted to forgive my father, I attended a group meditation class on forgiveness. I sat in a circle with five other women, and before we were led through the visualisation, we talked about who we wanted to forgive. My heart was broken open at the pain they were carrying: at what they were prepared to let go of. It was humbling. I started the meditation judging and comparing my own hurt. I felt petulant, small, hungry for attention and validation that I mattered. Its not lost on me, that this mirrored how I often felt in my fathers presence. It was not exactly the panacea I had secretly hoped for. But the act of sitting there, helped.
As our holiday drew closer, I began to feel anxious and sick whenever I thought about seeing him. What if he rejected me? What if it resulted in a huge, awful fight from which there was no going back? What if the thought of our impending meeting ruined the rest of the holiday? Why is it always me that has to do all of this bloody work? I couldn’t see that anything good was going to come from this. Other than the knowledge that I tried.
In the end our much built-up lunch was a huge anti-climax.
Ash, my brother and I had talked a lot about how we could make it easy on everyone, (I am filled with love and gratitude for how empathic and loving these men are) and so they discussed football with Dad, while my niece and I did awesome drawings on the back of the menu. I was disappointed that none of us seemed able to talk about anything real. But it was a start. By the time we flew home, I was feeling pretty neutral about the whole thing.
And then a couple of months ago Dad emailed me. It was a tentative safe message, and so I immediately tried to decipher what it could all really mean. Ash suggested I didn’t concentrate on the words, but feel the intention behind it. Eventually I replied, saying I didn’t know how to make this better, but it felt good to hear from him.
Over the months, our emails have become less wary, less safe. I am consciously, slowly, re-building a relationship with him.
I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness over the last year, but that doesn’t feel true to what is happening here. There is too much attached to forgiving him. I still feel hurt if I let myself fall down the rabbit hole of old pain – I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t happening now – and it’s becoming easier and easier to catch myself.
I think this is more about acceptance. I have softened my need for him to be anything other than who he is. And these days I have deep trust in myself, to be able to work through wherever this takes us.
The other part of this is that I have realised there is much to be grateful to my Dad for. Somehow our souls wound up in this lifetime in this way. And all of our flawed humanness has led me to here.
And everything is ok.