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Friday, August 19, 2022

Shabazz: Fathering Forgiveness

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This past weekend we not only commemorated Juneteenth, but we also celebrated Father’s Day! I wanted to share a personal reflection on fathering and another important “F” word: forgiveness. While my experiences may not resonate with all father and child relationships, I know from my connections in the world that there are many who share similar stories.

I’ll start by saying that I love my father dearly, and this Father’s Day would have been extra special as it was also his birthday, but he’s been celebrating both in heaven since April 2014. I didn’t always love my father, though, particularly because for most of my childhood he was relatively absent due to a variety of circumstances. It wasn’t all bad. I do have a sprinkle of childhood memories of him picking me up for holidays, stopping by to visit on occasion, and I’ve heard great memories of his fathering when I was an infant.

But more than I’d like, I have memories of waiting for him by the window to come pick me up and him not showing, waiting on him to call me back, crying because he wasn’t ever there when I needed him and being angry that other children had their dads attending school events. I felt abandoned and unloved by him — it took several therapy sessions to connect some behavior patterns and those feelings to him. My mentality was “F” him, but I later learned that that “F” stood for forgiveness instead of a certain four-letter word.

One random day in my 20s he reached out to me and next thing I know for my 21st birthday, my father was my date for my first nightclub experience — we danced, laughed and partied that night away. It was the beginning of a journey that I didn’t even know I was ready for. Over the next several years, my father began to make consistent effort toward reaching out to me and being a grandfather. I distinctly remember him telling me how he knew he had messed up at fathering me, but he wanted to make it up through his grandchildren.

The wall of distrust, fear of abandonment, hurt, etc. initially didn’t want to allow him in, but it slowly began to crumble as he worked hard to build a relationship with my family. I figured, sure, you can have a relationship with them, I’m grown and don’t need you for me — I was wrong! What I didn’t realize was how God was using that opportunity as an open door toward reconciliation. He (God) slowly pushed me toward forgiveness and healing in a radical way. Our once-a-month calls or visits turned into weekly and sometimes daily. My dad’s apologies and expression of his love during the last few years of his life made up for every moment that I thought I had hated him as a child — that same hate that I carried into adulthood.

I share this reflection and sweet memory in hopes you can take something away.

For the fathers out there: First, happy Father’s Day! Much appreciation to those who embrace the fatherhood journey and do your absolute best to adore, love, respect and instill greatness into your children. To those who have strained or distant relationships with your children, know that it is NEVER too late to heal the brokenness that may be in your child’s heart and build a healthy and loving relationship. It can take one call or 100, but never give up; keep chipping away at that wall that might be there until you have an opening. Then do everything in your power to show your love.

For the women out there: Celebrate the fathers in your life; encourage their relationships with their children. For those struggling with fathering relationships, I know the feeling of being that alone child and doing it alone as a mother. In whatever way you can, cultivate a healthy relationship, don’t get in the way, and resist projecting your feelings onto the children in your lives.

For the children out there: Parents won’t be perfect, and the absence of one doesn’t make you any less whole. If your father is currently active in your life, love and appreciate him; remind him of his value in your life as often as you can. If your relationship is strained or distant, be open to steps toward healing and forgiveness. It is not easy, but your heart yearns for love, so if there is effort, give it a try.

For me, the hardest part of forgiveness was turning that initial knob to the door of forgiveness. It is easy to stay in a comfortable and familiar space (even when that space is painful), but that one knob turn led to an unexplained peace. I am forever grateful that my dad fathered my forgiveness — he took a step, loved me through my healing and made sure I knew before he left this Earth that he loved me unconditionally. Lastly, I’ll say this: I know my story ended “positively” and that may not be the case for everyone. Forgiveness might just be the closure you need regardless of what the relationship outcome may be. I pray that if you need to forgive or you need to be forgiven, that you will take that first step forward. It is beyond worth it! Happy Father’s Day!

Dr. Khalilah A. Shabazz shares wisdom, lessons and insights on personal, social and societal issues of today. Contact her at shabazzk@iu.edu.

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