To forgive and (not) forget

One of the few photos I have with my father. Circa 1999.

I haven’t seen my father in 11 years.

I’d like to say that many difficulties have prevented us from seeing each other. That he has desperately tried to visit us, but obstacles always ruin his plans.

But this isn’t that kind of story.

My relationship with my father has never been a good one. Sure, we’ve had our moments, clusters of seconds in which I felt loved by him. But most of my memories of him are tarnished with sadness.

It all started when my mom decided to divorce him. Their marriage was an unhappy one, filled with my father’s emotional and verbal abuse, lack of communication, and certain members of his family and group of friends made it a toxic affair.

My mom tried to make it work, but love wasn’t enough.

I remember it clearly, my father packing up his last box, glancing at my mom as if hoping she’d change her mind. Mom was falling apart, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by looking at her. She was trying to be strong, for her, for us.

My sister G was only a year old back then, and I had just turned 11.

I remember how my father sat down on the couch across from me, his eyes devoid of emotion, his voice deep and gruff. I remember how he looked me in the eye, and how I dug my fingers into the couch’s arms, terrified of him.

“The moment I leave this house, it’s like I’m dead to you. You don’t have a father anymore.”

He said those words so easily, effortlessly. As if he had been practicing them all day, waiting for the perfect moment to say them and stab me in the heart with every syllable. I can still recall the way my stomach lurched, suddenly heavy with feelings I couldn’t recognize back then, but that marked me forever.

“Like a ghost,” I muttered.

If don’t know if he heard me. All I know is that he stood up, gave me a last glance, and walked out.

He wasn’t “dead” for long. After the divorce, he started seeing us every Saturday, or every other Saturday. It was always the same thing; he would take us out to eat, then to visit my cousin or my grandma, and then drop us off at the house.

I hated him. Hated him for saying those words to me and then taking them back but not apologizing for them. I hated him because he hurt my mom. I hated him and wanted to tell him that, but I couldn’t. I didn’t, for my sister’s sake.

G adored him. G looks just like him, same big brown eyes and thick dark hair. My father favored her over me, which didn’t bother me; I was always my mother’s daughter.

But I knew that if I told my father how I felt about him, it would damage his relationship with G, so I kept quiet. I resented him, terribly so, and sometimes I wanted him to disappear.

However, things changed. He started talking to my mom again, and they became friends. My father was dating someone at the time, and he eventually got engaged to her. But he would spend long amounts of time at our house, laughing with us, watching movies, making my mom smile.

We were finally a family, in a weird, unconventional way.

I forgave him. My heart forgave him and I was suddenly happy that he was in my life. We would go out and eat ice cream and share stories; he would tell me about his childhood, take me fishing and hunting, and we bonded. We had never bonded while my parents were still married.

My father remarried, but he still spent time with us at the house, went to my junior high graduation, tried to teach G how to ride a bike. I was happy. We were all happy.

And then, it happened.

Mom got pregnant, and when she told me, it took me exactly one second to figure out who the father was. My father was my mom’s first boyfriend, only husband, and she never dated again after the divorce.

I was furious. Furious at my mom, furious at my father, furious at everything. I knew what was going to happen, our “family” would be destroyed, my father would disappear, and the world was going to end.

That’s exactly what happened. Well, the world didn’t end. But my father did disappear.

I’m not going to write about the aftermath, about all the horrid things he did and said, out of respect for my youngest sister and my late mom. But he did unforgivable things, things that ended up with me having to file a police report, my glasses broken and a bruise under my left eye. Things that ended with my mom crying inconsolably for hours, all pain and rage and grief.

Our relationship was damaged forever. My father became, once again, a ghost.

We moved to northern Mexico when my youngest sister, M, was barely a year old. G was devastated, she missed my father so much she would cry every single night, waiting for his call. I was just glad I didn’t have to see him ever again.

He rarely called. Weeks would go by. The child support money was always deposited on time, but that was about it. He never made an attempt to visit us. Mom didn’t make enough money to send us to visit him, so that was that.

I hated him so much it made my blood boil. That anger affected me deeply, and I spiraled down into an awful depression, complete with suicidal thoughts and manic episodes. I was terribly unhappy, and the pain was too much to bear.

I carried this pain with me all up until last year, during mom’s illness. My father rarely called or showed support during this difficult time, which lasted a year. He even blamed my mom for this detachment of his, saying that it was her fault for divorcing him.

Yeah, I know. I wish this was all made up.

My sister G invited him to her high school graduation. Sent him texts. Left voicemails. I also texted, left voicemails. Mom did the same. We never heard from him, and he didn’t attend my sister’s graduation.

I was fed up, I had had enough. In July of last year, I called him, left an angry voicemail, and waited. He finally called back, all indifference and standoffishness, and while he ranted, blaming everyone but himself for everything, it clicked.

I had always been searching for closure with him. I kept waiting for an apology I would never, ever get. His half-assed presence in my life was wearing me down. I interrupted him, telling him that I was done with him. That I didn’t want him in my life anymore and that I didn’t need him. That he could still fix things with my sisters, but that he was running out of time.

He hung up on me. And that was my closure.

I walked back to my mom’s room after that call, sat on the bed, and mom gave me a funny look. I told her I had just talked to my dad, but didn’t get into details. Mom said I looked lighter somehow, and I smiled at her and said, yeah. Yes, mom. I feel lighter now.

My last conversation with my father happened when he called the day mom died. I don’t remember what he said. I just remember I didn’t want to talk to him, and handed the phone to G. I haven’t talked to him since.

Removing my father from my life is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I don’t miss him, and I don’t love him anymore. He killed that love years ago. I am fond of him in the way that he will always be my father, and that without him, my sisters wouldn’t be here.

I’ve forgiven him for what he did to me. I didn’t forgive him for his sake, but for mine and mine only. All that anger I felt towards him was only affecting me and not him, making me sick, affecting my personal relationships and my mental health.

But I will never forget how much he hurt my mother and my sisters, and how he continues to hurt my sisters by not being involved in their lives. I can’t forgive him for that because it’s not my forgiveness to give. He’s the one missing out on my sisters’ accomplishments, and I feel a little sorry for him.

I will never forget the things he did to me, but I use those bad memories to become a better person every day. It’s not an obstacle, but a motivation to do good things and live my life as a good person.

I have forgiven him. I will never forget. And that’s okay.


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