The Sins of Our fathers

Cover:The Sins of Our Fathers

Friends, Christianity Today is running this piece as the current cover story.  If you'd rather read it there, go here.
(And---winners of the last week of giveaways announced below. Two more books will be sent out this week as well. Details at the end of the post.) 

Ten years had passed since I had seen my father. At the time I had no photographs of him, just a vague memory of his face from our last visit. When we pulled up in a rented van to the VA housing complex in Sarasota, Florida, my husband saw him first.
"There he is." Duncan tipped his head to point.
I turned my eyes slowly. A man was standing under the awning of the complex. I saw his dark skin, his head, nearly bald and square, and a barely visible neck. It was him. He was just as I remembered but bigger, maybe 40 pounds heavier than the last time, when I had left my young children to fly down for three days. I had not forgotten those three days of silence.
Now I stared at him, frozen. How do I play this scene? I thought. Loving daughter greeting long-lost father? Kind daughter bringing her children to meet their grandfather for the first time? Angry daughter wanting just a few words from her father?

Duncan stopped the van. I got out slowly and opened the doors for the kids, holding my breath. They piled out one after another. My father stood there seeming not to see them, as if they were inconsequential to his life—which they were. He knew nothing about them, had never even seen photographs of them. I had never sent any because my father was barely interested in his own children, let alone his children's children.
When the last one jumped out, suddenly I was on. I knew what to do. I hugged the strange man, patting him on the back with the tips of my fingers. I did not want to get too close to him.
"Hi. How ah ya?" he asked in his Massachusetts accent. He smiled a little, showing a few remaining teeth, all broken.
"Good. We had a little trouble finding this place," I said with false brightness.
It had taken us two days to get here. We had flown from Kodiak, Alaska, from the far northwest corner to the far southeast corner of the country. It was spring break 2006. Mostly this was a trip to see him. He was 84, so I knew this might be my children's only chance to meet him.

They didn't know anything about him, and they never asked. But over my then-28 years of marriage and 16 years of parenting, I had learned from my husband and my children what fathers were for. And I wanted them to know who my father was, for themselves. Someday they would care.
Two hours into our visit, I had run out of conversation. I was quiet and grim. He hadn't asked the names of my children or spoken to them. He had barely spoken to me. Scrambling to claim a memory from the visit, I suggested we go for ice cream, his favorite food. We stood in line for our cones and ate them under a tree, watching the traffic. Just before we left the stand, I told Duncan to take a photo. I wanted to remember this moment.

My father sat at the picnic table with a slight smirk on his face, looking utterly content. I stood behind him, my lips taut, mouth clamped shut, containing as much emptiness and anger as I could hold. How can I still want? How can I forgive him for all the years past, for this moment even now? He is utterly content with his ice cream, while his daughter sits beside him starving to death, and thinks the ice cream is pretty good today, isn't it?
I would not come back to see him again, I decided, no matter what.
Five years later, I got a call from my sister.

"Leslie, Dad was at the VA hospital last week. They thought he might have had a heart attack. I found out today."
"How did you find out?"
"I talked to Dad on the phone."
"You're talking to Dad?"
"Yes. I've been calling him almost every week," she said, her voice calm and assured.
"Every week? And he talks to you?" I couldn't hide my confusion. I couldn't believe that out of the six siblings, she was the one calling him. It was her room he had visited at night when he was home, when the rest of us were in bed. We didn't know until decades later.
That was not his only offense. He either couldn't or wouldn't keep a job, leaving us to a childhood of shameful poverty. When I was 13 years old and my mother was going to school so she could seek work, my father took the bit of money we had left and drove away in his car, intending never to come back. Unfortunately, weeks later, he returned. Years later, when he finally scraped together some money, he moved 2,000 miles to Florida to live on a dilapidated sailboat.

"Why are you doing this?" I asked my sister.
"I've forgiven him, Leslie."
I hung up. The room was spinning.


And it kept spinning-------until righted, slowly, by a cautious obedience to "forgive as you have been forgiven."  Easy?  No.  Done? No.  

The rest of the CT story is here:  If you know the story already, there's more: a quick summation of the ways we're destroying biblical forgiveness (Thank you, Dr. Phil, Lewis Smedes, etc.)

Last week winners: Wanda Howell,  Marge Neufeld. Books are on their way!

If you'd like a chance at a copy of Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, please share this post on your social media, and let me know. 

May the peace of Christ be with you and those you love---and those you are trying to love----this week.