My wife Shelly really disliked my father. Before he died over 20 years ago she was polite when we were with him, but when we were alone she made no secret of her disdain for him.
Why Shelly disliked my father
She thought she had good reason for her resentment. In her eyes he had treated me very badly: He had not helped me financially as a child, while I was working my way through college, or during my early adult years when I struggled. Most people who knew about my relationship with my father agreed with her that my father was “cheap” and had treated me “badly.”
My parents had divorced when I was three. My dad provided my mom with virtually no child support ($15 a week) despite his ability to do much more. He had little involvement in my upbringing. When I was 14 he told me he was leaving town (we lived in Miami Beach at the time) because, he said, “Your mom is driving me out of town with her constant requests for money.” By this time he was giving her $30 a week and she was working two jobs to make ends meet.
He didn’t tell me where he was going when he left and the only way I could reach him was to give a letter to my aunt (his sister who still lived in Miami Beach) and she would mail it to him. My dad didn’t help me financially with college (despite telling me hundreds of times how important it was to get a college education) and I saw him only three times in the next 27 years.
I reestablished contact with my father
After attending a workshop on completing your relationship with your parents, I tracked my dad down and reestablished contact. I saw him once a year and talked every couple of months. After I married Shelly we were in even closer contact. He enjoyed spending time with my oldest daughter Blake during the first few years of her life.
Although as a child I missed having a dad in my life and although I was upset as a child about how hard my mom had to work when my dad could have helped a lot more, by the time I married Shelly and had children, I held no resentment toward him.
Shelly and I gave my father’s behavior different meanings
You see, the meaning Shelly gave my father’s behavior is that he was a bad father who didn’t really care about his son. The meaning I gave my father’s behavior is that he did the best he could do given his beliefs, especially his beliefs about money. Because he lived through the depression, he was always worried about money, even after he accumulated over a million dollars.
Moreover, my dad had never finished high school and was a “self-made” man. He was a successful businessman who had never received assistance from anyone. He told me shortly before he died that he was concerned that if he helped me financially in college and beyond, I would never know that I could make it on my own.
Here’s the point of my story. After Shelly learned how my father had treated my mom and me as I was growing up, she asked me how I could forgive my father. I replied: “There is nothing to forgive. Even though I wasn’t happy about what he did at the time, he did what he thought was best for me.”
What I didn’t realize at the time and I do today is that events have no inherent meaning. In order to forgive you need to have been wronged. If events have no meaning, wrong exists only in your mind—it is a meaning you give to the other person’s behavior. No meaning, no wrong. No wrong, nothing to forgive.
(I’m sure that some readers will think of situations that must have inherent meaning. See two earlier blog posts that delve deeper into what I mean by events have no meaning and some of the implications of that fact. http://www.mortylefkoe.com/why-create-meaning/#, http://www.mortylefkoe.com/real-meaning/#)
Here’s how someone else saw the same issue
Here is a comment posted by someone in my occurring class about forgiveness once he got that all meaning was in his mind, not in the world.
“I do not expect any admissions or apologies anymore. The events have been made neutral, non meaningful and its impact will evaporate with that understanding. … It is important for me to understand letting something pass into non meaning does not mean forgiving that event, because if something does not mean anything it does not need to be forgiven. It just is not important.”
You don’t need to forgive yourself either
By the way, just as you don’t need to forgive others because they didn’t do anything “wrong,” so too you also don’t need to forgive yourself for anything because you’ve never done anything that needs forgiveness. Dissolve the meaning that seems to make forgiveness necessary and there will be nothing left to forgive.
This is likely to be a very controversial post. I’d really love to know if you agree or disagree with my point of view and why.
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