Were I to forgive you, Daddy … [A tale of domestic abuse, Part 2]

I just posted a piece on domestic abuse.  This is a tiny bit of my personal story that I wrote several years ago.

The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive, but do not forget.  — Thomas  S. Szasz

First published in March 2010.  This was not easy to write and it will not be an easy read.   Although my father was a dynamic, incredible, and beautiful human being he was also the perpetrator of psychological abuse in my life.  The ongoing work of processing that hasn’t been easy.  He’s been dead more than five years.  That’s created some space for honesty.  My goal has been, for many years, to get to a place where I can forgive him.  It has been interesting.

If you were a fan of my father, Dan Harrison, this will be the most difficult for you.  Just as it was unimaginably hard for me to write.


If I were To Forgive.

If I were to forgive you Daddy, does that mean I must forget the pulse pounding fear I felt when I was around you?  The acid stomachs you gave me.  The rage dreams I still sometimes have at night.  The shuttering tears that I couldn’t stop, even when you yelled at me to do so and now I can’t make tears come at all.  The stutter you hated, but couldn’t make me lose.

You made me something broken, something messed up.

Our family was Sadness.  Illness.  Meanness.  Pride.  Anger.  Fear.  Our family was Rigid. Perfectionist.  Isolated.  Secretive.   Constant striving.  Never measuring up.

I found some small strength and safety in sarcasm and attempted humor.  And when you made me stop, there was only safety in distance, in invisibility.  Like mine, your words punctured something deep inside.

Sometimes we laughed; it was a shrieking, jaw aching, gut busting laughter from the relief of it — it was almost a sob — until you pounded on the table.  Stop, you would roar!  You felt we came too close to meanness.  You’re damn right we did.  And then, we didn’t.

If I were to forgive you Daddy, does that mean I must forget the yelling?  Door slamming.  Your rage fits.  Should I forget the fearful anxious cleaning when you were coming home – after weeks and weeks of travel while Mother was always alone?  Why did we clean, to please you.  Why were we afraid, because you were never pleased.

Should I forget the religion you forced down our throats?  Say “I forgive you.” Say “I am sorry.”  Say “I believe.”    I couldn’t forgive.  I wasn’t sorry.  I didn’t believe. “You will sing this song and study the Bible, because I say so.  And never, ever argue with me for I am never wrong.”

Daddy, it takes my breath away to remember all the times you had one of us up against the wall, sobbing.  And you wouldn’t stop.  You kept on, and on until you broke us.

You made me something broken, something messed up.

Our family was Sadness.  Illness.  Meanness. Pride.  Anger.  Fear.  Our family was Rigid. Perfectionist.  Isolated.  Secretive.   Constant striving.  Never measuring up.

If I forgave you Daddy, would the bad memories stop?

… When I was about ten we spent Easter at a cabin.  You had certain ideas of what would happen.   But you can’t make me sing.  You couldn’t make me feel whatever you were feeling.

… Or Thanksgiving with the gorging on turkey almost worth being forced to be thankful.    There was no ‘pass’ when it came to gratitude.  Or whatever you expected.

There was no pass. You changed us.  You made us something broken, something messed up. Our family was Sadness.  Illness.  Meanness. Pride.  Anger.  Fear.  Our family was Rigid. Perfectionist.  Isolated.  Secretive.   Constant striving.  Never measuring up.

Were I to forgive you Daddy, I’d have to stop being invisible for within this “super power” I found a certain peace.  If you can’t hear me or see me, you will leave me alone.  I’d hide out in my room — reading.  Reading romantic novels where the hero was larger than life — loving and devoted, trying to be somewhere, anywhere other than home.

There was so much pain.  So much fear. You changed us.

Daddy, would you have me forgive your dying confession that you were addicted to your rage? It made you feel righteous.   At the end of your life, you felt regret but wanted me to know you still felt right all those years.

Well I’m addict.  I know the lies we tell ourselves that ”I can’t stop.” I know a little of what it takes to overcome an addiction.  It starts admitting you are powerless.  That is what you could never do.  Oh, you would return full of regret and self-pity you never changed.

I reject Your Jesus who never freed you from your pain. I reject your life and actions of hypocrisy, serving God and abusing at home.

And yet, I have forgiven you.  Why?  Because that is not the Jesus I have known. The God I have known has expected me to change.  Clearly spoken and told me to lie down, be humble, let go, cast off, and cut away the things that make me broken.  As I give them up, the addictions, the anger, the bitterness, the lack of forgiveness, the depression, the fear, the isolation, the invisibility …  He fills me.

I am filled up, and as I experience going back over two and a half decades sorting memories and returning — making furtive glances and long wretched journey’s back. —  There are things that I do remember and that I will never forget.

But I forgive

You. Because I must.  God said to me forgive as you were forgiven.

And though this brings no justice, I can live with it.  You may have changed me from whoever I was meant to be, and I will always remember that and wonder who I might have been.

ON THE OTHER HAND God made me, not you.  And I have begun to overcome all that pain, a broken spirit.  I have begun to paint a portrait of a life that is visible; a colorful life, with joy, generosity, gentleness and kindness.  I have become a woman with a heart once broken, but pieced back together and strong.  And my heart is bursting with the forgiveness that I have received. And I am laughing.  And some day I believe my tears will return.

You were the sort to put rubbing alcohol on my mosquito bites, because you couldn’t stand how I wouldn’t listen and stop scratching.  You were constantly picking at me, never satisfied.  But, as a child this was something I could control. You can’t make me stop, though I would bleed and it hurt.  It is cathartic to be in control.  But some day I hope I will let go completely and won’t need absolute control of myself.  Someday, God will open up my heart completely from the prison I put it for protection and long ago lost the key.  The day God unlocks it will be a day I can only imagine, but I believe it can happen.  Then I won’t be so afraid of people.  I will jump toward life not constantly be pulling away!

Yes, I forgive you Daddy.  For now I can laugh and love when I want to, I pray and study because my heart craves more from God and I believe I have begun to create the life I was meant to have lived.

Yes, I do forgive you Daddy because there is no justice in love.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:8 NLT)

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9 thoughts on “Were I to forgive you, Daddy … [A tale of domestic abuse, Part 2]

  1. I’m glad that you have found your way to forgiveness. It is one part of the freedom in Christ. To know you have been forgiven and then to dispense that same grace. It is the most lovely part of being a Christian, knowing that I don’t have to do the judging, punishing or setting straight. God will do it, and he’s better at it than I could ever be.


  2. ahhhhhhh….

    that’s what I feel. Tension builds and builds in this poem, this meditation, and then: RELEASE. Forgiveness. The chains fell off, your heart was free, you rose, went forth and followed our “thee”.

    Still, as always, I am convicted in my own parenting. My own anger (not rage, except that once, which the 8 year old brought up, just the other day, and the 11 year old had seemingly forgotten. Scary.)

    And, selfishly, I am glad you can forgive your father because maybe someday my kids will forgive me. Hopefully sooner than later. Hopefully things aren’t quite so dark. It’s hard to self-evaluate things like this.


  3. I’m grateful on your behalf that you were able to let this out, and walk this path. My heart is sorrowful that you lived with this until now, and it’s sorrowful that you never really had the chance to say this so he could hear you while he was alive. I thank God that you are able to whisper to the ether, and know that the burden of this is lifting. I know this isn’t easy, but grace runs as deep as the pain and harm. You’re not in a great feeling place, but you’re in a great healing place. Keep going, Melody. Keep going.


  4. Powerful, Melody. These words need to be spoken. There are so many children of people in ministry carrying these burdens around, trying to hide their limp to uphold their parent’s reputations. And so many parents who can’t get the help they need, because the world insists that they play the hero, and refuses to acknowledge their brokenness. May people have ears to hear…


Thanks so much for reading and sharing.

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