This letter demonstrates that asking forgiveness can heal the pain of long-buried hurt. One doesn't need to be an eloquent writer to simply apologize.
A Father's Apology to His Son
BY JOYCE AND BARRY VISSELL
Reprinted with permission.
This forgiveness anecdote illustrates the power of reconciliation by acknowledging our mistakes and asking for forgiveness.
Hal, a participant in one of our workshops, felt moved to write the following letter to his now 24-year-old son, who he had not seen in over a year.
I need to apologize to you for some big mistakes I made in my fathering. I hope this allows us to feel closer to one another. My greatest hope would be for you to forgive me.
Although we have never talked about it, there were maybe half a dozen times in your childhood when I struck you in anger. One of those times stands out sharply in my memory, and I imagine in yours as well. I think you were about eight. I came home from a job that I hated, more frustrated than usual. You were throwing a ball in your room, which I had previously told you not to do. I heard the crash of broken glass and ran into your room to see you had just broken your window. I lost it and started hitting you, even several times in the face. I think it was the worst as well as the last time I have ever beaten you. Afterwards you were crying and I felt terrible, but I never let you know my remorse or apologized for my cruel actions.
I want you to know how sad I feel for every time I hurt you, but especially for that one particular evening. It weighed heavily on my heart for many months, and over the years it has caused me much grief. I have often judged myself a bad father because of that episode alone.
I want you to know it was never your fault when I hit you. No child deserves to be hit by a parent or anyone else. I was needing to let you know how upset I felt in each situation. I was needing to express my anger, my disappointment with words rather than my hands. But I had never learned this from my own father. What I did to you I learned from him. It's terrible how abuse can get passed down from generation to generation. My greatest hope is that this terrible legacy stops with you.
Although I believe I never hit you again after that night, it has taken me till now (with help) to understand that it is never too late to apologize and ask for your forgiveness. I am so very sorry for taking out my own frustrations on you. It was clearly wrong for me to ever hit you. I need your forgiveness, and also understand you might need time to forgive me. Someday you may be a father. If that comes to pass, I think you will be a better father than I was to you. I sincerely hope my apology helps. I love you.
Writing this letter helped relieve Hal of a burden he had been carrying for years. But there's more. Two months later he received the following reply, showing what is possible through asking for forgiveness.
Thanks for your letter. I have to admit it came as a total surprise, even a shock. I've been busy with my life, so I haven't thought about the "beatings" for a long time. Those memories were difficult. When I first read your letter I couldn't get past the bad feelings it brought up. I actually had to put it down for a few days. But when I picked it up again and read it more carefully, I got what it was all about. Wow. Thank you for apologizing. I guess better late than never.
Yeah, I can begin to forgive you now. It helps a lot to know how bad you felt. I only wish I would have known that sooner. All these years I've felt it was all my fault, that I deserved to be punished. From your letter I can understand that, of course, I never deserved to be hit, not by you or anyone. It's probably going to take me some time to let all of this sink in. It's kind of like having a new dad.
I love you too, dad. Thanks for writing.