This past weekend I found myself angry at my dad because my chainsaw quit working. Yep, angry at a 69 year old man who lives 5 hours away because I couldn’t get a power tool to work. A few weeks ago we had an ice storm. A really bad ice storm. We have a lot of trees around our house and we lost several large sections under the weight of the ice. After the thaw I was left with a big clean up job and spent the better part of the weekend cutting up downed branches and dragging them to the street. Halfway through the job I had a problem with my chainsaw that brought my work to a standstill.
I’m the type person who, when confronted with a problem, will attack it and not back off until I’ve figured out a solution. I use a chainsaw once or twice a year at most, and I’m not exactly mechanically inclined to begin with, so figuring out why this thing wasn’t working for me wasn’t the most natural or the easiest thing to do. After tearing it apart and finding what I thought to be the problem with the braking mechanism, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to repair it to get me up and running again before I ran out of Saturday. And so after about 30 minutes of total frustration I found myself cussing my dad. Seriously angry. Angry that my dad hadn’t showed me how to use a chainsaw. Angry that I was struggling with figuring out yet another thing on my own. Angry, in short, because I felt that my dad hadn’t been there when he should have.
I’ll preface this story by saying I’ve never doubted my father’s love for me. And I love him very much. I can’t imagine life without him. I’ve always known I could turn to him if I needed something. Anything. He’s a soft-hearted, gentle, wonderful man who loves his children dearly. But like every parent does, he made mistakes, and now I find myself, 30 years later, still in the process of forgiving him for childhood hurts.
I was 14 years old when my parents split up. Dad had been in and out of the house prior to that, and the divorce was probably about two years overdue. It was a good divorce if there’s any such thing … my sister and I weren’t put in the middle. I remember the last night my dad was at home, or actually, the first night he wasn’t. He worked at the same company my entire life and came home at pretty much the same time every night. That night it got close to dinner time and he wasn’t home yet. My sister and I were hungry and began to ask, “When’s dad coming home?” I remember my mom calling us into the living room, sitting us down on the sofa and with tears in her eyes and telling us that dad wouldn’t be coming home anymore. And so, at 14, I became the man of the house.
There’s a void left in a child’s life when his dad isn’t in the home. There are roles that only a dad is capable of filling, things only a dad can model. Things a mom simply can’t do. I know there are single parents who will read this, and I don’t want to convey the message that your children are any less loved because both parents aren’t in the home. That’s not the case. Wonderful things can, and do, come from less than ideal circumstances. My sister and I are examples. Some of the most involved fathers I know don’t have the privilege of coming home to their children every night. What I am saying is that for me, as an adolescent, it was hard not having my dad there at nights to talk to. I sensed it at the time, and have come to realize it even more so now that I am a father myself … I missed something important. I missed a calming influence. I missed lessons being handed down. I missed daily pieces of life. I missed my dad.
So now I’m grown and a good part of my adult life has been marked by these feelings of resentment. They manifest themselves in many different ways: phone calls go unreturned, trips home for the holidays aren’t made. In my mind I know these are things I will later regret, but there’s all too often a disconnect between my head and my heart, and in the back of my mind the words, “I don’t owe you anything” seem to surface again and again. There’s a simple answer, I know. Forgiveness. That’s what I’m working toward, but I can’t help but wonder why it’s taken me 30 years and I’m not all the way there yet.
The process of forgiveness began years ago with the realization that while these feelings of anger and resentment may be normal to some degree, they aren’t right. They aren’t healthy. They’re damaging and they’re slowly robbing my dad and me of one of life’s most precious relationships: the relationship between a parent and child. I also came to realize that I want to get back what’s been lost. That’s the journey I’m on, and it’s been a long one. One that hasn’t always been easy.
For a long time I think I wanted answers to questions. The “whys.” I got past that. Some questions, I decided, are better not asked. My parents harbor a lot of guilt and don’t need painful memories dredged up and relived. I’ve looked back time and time again and I can understand their circumstances at the time. Where they came from, the age at which they were married, the resources available to them. They were kids raising kids. Anyway, I’ve gotten enough indirect answers without prying. And the “whys” really aren’t important today. The forgiveness is what’s important. The healing.
What does forgiveness look like? For me, it’s not a onetime act. It’s a process. Sometimes it’s swallowing feelings and reaching out. Sometimes it’s examining a wrong and realizing it wasn’t done with the intent to hurt me. Sometimes it’s accepting that people are flawed. Sometimes it’s simply saying I forgive, because I’ve been forgiven. It’s fighting selfish feelings for the sake of making a relationship better. What it looks like in day to day life is as unique as the people involved. For my dad and me, it’s played out in simple conversations on the phone, in going to ball games, in fishing trips, in riding motorcycles together. In short, in making up for lost time.
My desire is to truly hold no record of wrong. To be free from the anger and resentment. To extend the grace that has been so freely given to me. The chainsaw told me I still have a good way to go … but perhaps it’s one more thing in life that isn’t a destination, but rather a journey. I love you dad.
PS. My neighbor hired a couple of good ole boys to clean up his yard. They had four chainsaws between them, so I figured they knew a thing or two about them. I showed them my problem and they suggested I pull the brake off to get the job finished. Not the safest thing in the world, but I did it and finished out my yard. It takes more than a chainsaw to kick my butt.
This article orginally appeared at ReadyAimLife.com.
James Kissinger is a husband, a father, a student of life… a man with more questions than answers. He lives in the northwest corner of Arkansas with his beautiful wife, Sara, and daughters Audrey and Sally. He was raised on sweet tea and fried foods and is thankful for his Southern heritage.