Forgiveness is the final form of love. – Reinhold Niebuhr
What is your challenge or difficulty?
My biological father left when I was a toddler and I never saw him again. I am now forty-six years old, married, and the mother of two teens.
I can’t call him my father because I never knew him. So I refer to him as “J.” To me, his role in my life is much like a sperm donor. His exit from my life was the hardest thing that I have ever processed.
To give some context…
My mother married young. She was 19 years old. I was born a year later. My biological father or “J” was my mother’s ex-boyfriend’s best friend. She married “J’s” best friend in retaliation and with an attitude of I’m-going-to-stick-it-to-him.
(I was told that my mom’s boyfriend went to Vietnam. While he was serving, his mother began to make up lies about my mom. His mother said my mom was cheating on him. She even tried to run my mother over with her car. She thought my mom wasn’t good enough for her son. He believed his mother’s lies and they broke up. In anger, my mom married his best friend.)
When I was a year and a half old I became terribly ill. I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.
Doctors told my mother that I would be a vegetable. I could not walk, talk, eat, or even breathe on my own. I almost died. My parent’s marriage only survived for a little while after I got sick. My fate was better. I learned how to do all the things they said I would never again do on my own. I learned how to walk, talk, eat, and breathe without a machine.
I don’t know when “J” left but I do know his leaving made my mother singly responsible for a child. My mom signed up for nursing school and life went on. She was stressed but resilient. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese and lived over a bar sharing a bed for many years.
I was allowed to see “J’s” mother, my grandmother. She was one of the most incredible people that I have ever had in my life. My uncle also lived with her. My first cat was a gift from them. Through the years I continued visiting “J’s” family. I never wondered where he was. I had no idea really who these people were other than what I had been told. The situation felt normal for the most part, except a person was missing. A person whose name wasn’t mentioned.
My mom met a man who would become my dad…
Years went by and my mother met someone. They dated for four years before marrying. My mother wanted to make sure that he understood we were a “package deal.”
When my mom’s boyfriend proposed, he also proposed to me—with earrings. Suddenly I had a new dad and family. I had another grandmother. Aunts. Uncles. My new grandmother took me everywhere. We spent countless days together on vacation, at plays, shopping, cooking, and talking. She was an incredible addition to my life.
Visits to my paternal grandmother lessened. Interactions with “J’s” side of the family slowly drifted away.
My new dad decided to legally adopt me. This meant my name would change from mine to his like getting married. My records would change. I would cease to exist as who I was. I would become someone new.
Did I want to do this? I said yes of course. I was eight years old. Honestly, I didn’t really know what adoption meant. I now had a father who loved me. I felt like I fit in. (Up to this point, I was the only one in the house with a different name.) I met with a judge, told him I loved my new dad and the paperwork was approved. What I didn’t know as a kid was that “J” had to sign off on those papers. He had to give me up in essence.
When “J” signed the papers, he walked away from any contact whatsoever. No rights at all. I guess he didn’t have a problem with that because all the paperwork went through. I imagine it was easy for him. He had never contacted me in all that time. I had never seen him. I really didn’t know all this was happening.
As a parent, I can’t imagine giving up my rights to my children. I can’t imagine saying I would never see them.
How do you feel?
I felt left, rejected, and abandoned by him. I felt angry. I felt not good enough. For my whole life, I wondered if he would show up.
I was nervous. I would create stories in my head about meeting him. What would he say? How would he act? Would he tell me why he left? Did he love me?
As a little kid, I was always trying to be “so good” so that my mom wouldn’t leave as well.
When I dated I tried to be the most incredible and good enough girlfriend. Luckily I married a man who saw through that and accepted me for me.
Having children intensified my not-good-enough feelings. Now I felt I had to be the most wonderful mother on top of it.
I felt shame for being left. I felt anger and hatred. To want someone to be dead is not something I am proud of but my insides deeply hurt. I didn’t talk about the pain to anyone. It was like a dark secret that hurt to keep.
How has this experience affected you?
I felt like a little girl with pigtails sitting at the window waiting for her father to show up even when I was an adult and married with kids.
For years I wondered who my biological father was. Where was he? What was he like? I wondered what he looked like. Did I look like him? Did I have any characteristics of his? Would I leave my children like he left me?
“I’m not good enough” was my motto of choice.
What is your part in this experience?
My part in this experience was to learn a life lesson.
What are you learning about yourself, the situation, or others?
My mom’s role in this was to be in control. She totally controlled the situation.
I was not allowed to ask questions. I was not allowed to see “J’s” family. I was not allowed to grieve my grandmother’s death. I was only allowed to know what she wanted to tell me. She erased my biological father from my life. There were no pictures (my mother burned them all). No conversations. No information shared. She never talked about him. She never told me about him.
I tried to talk to my mother about it. I tried to ask her about him and things as simple as medical information. I tried to ask her why the marriage didn’t work. She just explained that she did the best she could. “He wasn’t the nicest man” was all that I received in answers to my questions.
I honestly don’t think my mother truly understands her part. I imagine that she thinks she was keeping “J” out of my life for my own good.
Not being able to talk to my mother was difficult and has not changed. Not being able to talk to her about my feelings. Not being able to talk to her about feeling less than. Not being able to talk to her about wondering if I was going to bump into him. Not being able to talk to her about who he was.
I realized that I had to forgive my mom too. In my journal I wrote her a letter and told her exactly how hurt I was. I didn’t send that one. I ripped it up and burned it.
I’ve wondered about my mom’s decision to marry in retaliation and how this has affected my life. I wonder if she had married the man that she “truly loved” if things would have been different. But then I realize they wouldn’t have had ME. I am a product of those two people even though “J” didn’t stick around to get to know me.
Once in a while my mother would get incredibly stressed out and scream something like “I’ll send you back to him” and “he didn’t even want you.” That hurt. That hurt burned deeply inside of me.
I was angry, but I was so afraid of her I wouldn’t be able to react. I said nothing. I felt abandoned over and over again and that’s when questions would come like:
Where the hell is he?
Why doesn’t he want me?
Why did he leave?
When is he coming back?
Does he have a family?
Do I have brothers and sisters?
How could he leave me?
Why wasn’t I good enough for him to stay?
Because I was afraid of my mother, I never asked her these questions.
A pivotal moment came when “J’s” mother, my grandmother, passed away. I was fourteen. My mother told me two weeks after she died. I was devastated. I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to a person I loved tremendously. My mom didn’t want me to see “J.” She didn’t want him to see me. She didn’t want a reunion of any sorts. I was angry. This is when it all started to hit me. The whole story of my childhood raged inside of me.
Another awakening moment happened in high school.
I had a cousin (on “J’s” side) in my homeroom. It was awkward the day that we figured out we were related! We graduated high school together. I wondered if “J” was in the stands that day and saw me graduate too. I wondered if he kept track of my accomplishments and me. I wondered if I just walked by him on the street. I wondered if I had just met a biological sibling in college. (College freaked me out tremendously. What if I dated, fell in love, or had sex with a family member?) Crazy thoughts rushed through me from time to time. I had no idea what “J” looked like. I had no idea if he lived near me. I had no idea if he was still alive. And I wished him dead. I wrestled with these thoughts off and on my whole life.
What can you explore and shift in your thinking, beliefs, or behavior?
I shifted my thinking about who I really am. I realized that my happiness is not dependent on another. I am in charge of creating my life.
I realized that having a life experience of true forgiveness could open my heart up to love myself.
I was afraid in my relationships that I would be the one that would leave when things got hard. I was afraid of the traits that I might have picked up from him. Was my short temper his? Was my strong independence his gene pool?
I began thinking about how I tried to forgive him and then BOOM those old feelings would come back.
When I became spiritual, my unresolved feelings about “J” bothered me even more. How could I be a light worker and not be healed? How could I help people feel their goodness if I wasn’t feeling good about myself? I read about forgiveness. But I knew that if I was truly NOT ready to forgive then I really wouldn’t be able to forgive…that’s fake forgiveness that comes back again and again until you get it “right.”
I began to see that I was carrying someone else’s story. This was NOT about me. This was about THEM—this was about my biological parents. They couldn’t work out their relationship. They weren’t meant to be together. Facing this wasn’t easy. I spiraled through anger, frustration, sadness, and grief. I was incredibly angry with my mother for her part in trying to control the situation.
One day I knew that I needed to find him. I had looked for him off and on for years on the Internet. Again, secretly hoping that he was dead and his obituary would come up. I think it is so much easier to be forgiving and when the person is dead. But he was living. He had a family. He even lived in the same state.
How did you choose to respond to this experience and what is the motivation behind your response?
After almost a full year of meditating and more journaling, lots of crying and lots of love from the angels, I chose to forgive “J.” Last summer just before my forty-sixth birthday, I sat down and wrote him a letter.
I said how I felt and that I forgave him for leaving.
I thanked him for his part in my creation. I thanked him because if he hadn’t been part of my creation I wouldn’t have the beautiful life I have now.
I told him about my wonderful husband and my beautiful children.
I told him about my love of art and my affection for his mother. I told him how sad I was that I hadn’t been able to attend her memorial services.
I told him that I had spent most of my life hurt and angry and pissed off when I had to fill out medical forms and had no information.
I told him I didn’t care about why he left.
I told him that I didn’t expect anything from him.
Then I mailed it.
How does your choice to forgive your biological father affect your life?
I’ve found so much more freedom in my life since sending that letter. To forgive is to free me.
I have no expectations now about whether I’ll see or bump into him on the street or that he might suddenly ring my doorbell. There will be no Oprah reunion moment.
The best part is that I really and truly do not wish anything negative to come to him.
I wished him well and I meant it. I thanked him and I meant it.
I wrote the letter for me and no one else.
Writing the letter helped me see my family, the world, and myself with new eyes.
I understood that his leaving opened my life up to the dad I was supposed to have.
I learned that it was his choice to leave for his reasons and that I really truly didn’t need to know any longer what they were.
When I forgave him, I opened a door for myself. I had struggled my whole life with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. I held myself back because I wondered why he left and if he would come back. When I forgave him it was like all of that blew away. I no longer had the dark cloud over my head. I knew that it wasn’t about me and that I was free to be myself.
I can now look at who I am without referencing him. I am a person of my own creation. I am in charge of how I feel about myself.
Forgiving him has allowed me to share my true self with others.
The little girl in the pigtails is good enough. I am good enough.
Forgiving him makes me feel more grateful. I am so blessed to have the life I have. I wasn’t supposed to survive Guillain-Barre Syndrome, yet I survived it and a hell of a lot more. Every night and every morning the first words out of my mouth are “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Stephanie. The United States. (Image credit: Stephanie).