Just last week, my 88-year-old father laid out his theory: If my mother had stuck to pills or booze rather than pills and booze, he theorized, she would have been "just fine."
Oh, dad. Seriously?
I've always kinda wished my dad was a little more like Pa Ingalls and a little less like, well, Homer Simpson. I wanted him to be wise. To be selfless. To get things, without me having to explain them.
But while my dad has many wonderful qualities, he's more than a wee bit self-absorbed. He leans on others (read: me) even when it's ill-advised or inappropriate rather than deal with things himself. In short, he's not perfect. Not even close.
Not too long ago, I expressed my disappointment to my husband about something my father had said that hit an old and painful sore spot.
"I think my job as an adult is to learn to forgive him for being who he is," I said.
It's not so hard to forgive my dad for being who he is. He's a dreamer, a gentle man with simple needs. Kind and open-minded. A guy who believes, absolutely, that he's the luckiest man in the world. That his parents were the best. That his wife was the best. His kids are the best. His grandkids are better than best. I've never known a person so content with his life. So content with himself.
In the decade since my mother died, he has created something of a shrine to her, something she, with her "everything in its place" mindset, would hate.
"She was a true friend," he tells me often.
She was. I don't know a more loyal person than my mom.
My dad? Well...
There was that little issue with a secret friend back in the 70s that devastated my mother, a secret friend my father refused to give up, even when it was clear that my mom, who'd dedicated her adult life to creating the stable home she'd craved as a child, was falling apart.
He just couldn't understand what the problem was. It wasn't a sexual relationship, he insisted. They were just...friends. Friends who did things without my mother. Friends who met behind their spouses backs. Friends. What's so bad about that?
That my father still can't understand the problem speaks to his lack of empathy, his inability to imagine how painful this was to my mother. Or maybe it speaks more to his selfishness. He liked this secret friendship and so why should he have to give it up? It wasn't his fault my mother couldn't handle it.
And yet, he will regale anyone who will listen to stories of my mom. How beautiful she was. How smart. How loyal.
My mom asked for my forgiveness for her. My dad's not-so-secret friendship sent her spiralling into addiction (though, given her family history, it was likely a matter of time before something tripped that particular wire) and she drank/drugged herself into a psychiatric hospital for most of my teens.
She found sobriety through AA. She spent two and a half decades being the mom I'd always wanted before she died.
My job, as an adult, is to forgive my parents for who they are.
It's easier, of course, when the behaviour is no longer happening. When I'm no longer reliant on these people for my survival.
Easier, too, when each has requested, one way or another, my forgiveness. Or at least my understanding.
But even if they hadn't (and my dad has never apologized), it's still my job as an adult to forgive them for who they are. Which is not even close to saying that what they did was okay. Or that, as far as I was concerned, they could continue doing it. That's not forgiveness. That's enabling. That's co-dependence. That's self-harm.
No, it's a matter of forgiving them for being who they are – for having made awful choices that caused me a lot of pain but knowing that none of us can go back and un-do those choices. They are who they are. Or who they were.
They weren't perfect. Not even close.
The beauty of forgiving others for being imperfect is that it kicked the stool out from underneath my own martyr complex. I'm imperfect too. And I can forgive myself for that.
When I commented to my husband about my father – that my job was to forgive him for being who he was – my husband responded with this: "I think it's our job as adults to forgive everyone for who they are."
Including him, this man who broke my heart with his choices. This imperfect man who has tried every day since to be better. To never hurt me like that again.