Femme Fridays – for black women: Fathers and Forgiveness (the unmentionables)


“I’ve tried and tried to forgive this, but I’m much too full of resentment.” Beyonce Knowles

I feel some apprehension creeping in as I write this post because I know this is a sensitive issue. In a previous post I talked about how being a black woman is not easy. The first point I made was that for most black women, life is not easy because we grew up fatherless, or where our fathers were present physically, they were abusive or emotionally absent.

This post is about the role of forgiveness in relation to our fathers. I have chosen to focus on black women, mainly because this post is linked to the previously mentioned one. Of course, these principles apply to women across cultures as well as to men.

My intention is not to bash fathers, in fact, you’ll find that this post is more about us than about them.

Some of us have good fathers, others have bad ones but one thing in common that we all have is that our fathers are human. They hurt us, disappoint us, anger us and make us sad. Maybe your father hurt you in ways that you feel you can never tell anyone else about, it still hurts too much. And maybe you’ve never felt ready to face the reality of how disappointed you’ve felt about your father and you’ve had resentment for him simmering beneath the surface.

Here are my thoughts on why we should forgive and why we should not:

Do forgive :

For personal freedom. Have you heard it said that “Forgiveness is releasing a prisoner and discovering that the prisoner is you.”? Not forgiving someone has a way of binding you to that person, it can even begin to define you. Your life becomes about proving that that person was wrong about you. For example, if your father abandoned you or disowned you, you may feel driven to justify your existence to him, to the world. Often we think we’re exerting our independence but we’re actually like remotely controlled machines or puppets – your father still holds the strings of your heart and can tug at them at will. Live free!

For your relationships. We can all probably trace our wounds from our fathers back to early childhood. Maybe you can remember hearing other kids at school talk about their dads and it made you wonder why you didn’t have one. Or you have stored up years of memories of forgotten birthdays; financial issues caused by his irresponsibility; violence; things he said/ didn’t say; what he put your mother through… You may have decided many years ago to hold on to your unforgiveness until justice is done for the wrong committed against you. Is this your way of punishing your father? The truth is that when we hold on to past wrongs our hearts become like a closed fist – strong, hard, impenetrable. Sure, a great defence mechanism, nothing unwanted will ever enter. But it also means that the bad stuff gets trapped on the inside and the good can never come in. You may become insensitive, you may struggle to relate, you may really want to be open but fear that this makes you look vulnerable and weak.

Don’t forgive:

To change your father. I’ve heard stories about people whose relationships were instantly restored after having forgiven someone. I’ve also heard stories about people who forgave and died never having heard the offender repent of what they had done. Forgiveness may indeed be the key that unlocks the door to reconciliation with your father. But it is not a means of leveraging. Forgiveness by definition is about writing off a debt – by your choice, you decide that that person does not owe you anything. You don’t expect them to change.

To please anyone else. Ultimately, forgiveness is about us coming face to face with the state of our own hearts and choosing healing over pain, letting joy in instead of anger and trading in our ashes in exchange for beauty. Real forgiveness is a choice borne out of a personal conviction, not external pressure.

What’s on your mind? I would love to know!

Thanks for reading.

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