NYC251 cover image See all stories from issue #251, March/April 2016

Forgiving My Father

Names and some details have been changed.

When I was in 2nd grade my father had a serious accident at the construction site where he worked. For months after, he stayed at home and slept all day. He didn’t even help around the house.

Before the accident he was a fun dad. He often took me and my older sister on trips to amusement parks and to playgrounds with our cousins and friends. He made us breakfast and walked us to school. Holidays—especially Christmas—were fun because we got toys and ate together at the table and talked. We often joked around. The jokes were corny ones that any child would laugh at like, “I got your nose and I’m not giving it back.”

But after the accident he changed and grew distant. I was too young to understand what he was going through. I wasn’t sad, I was angry that he was so different, so bitter. He hardly talked to us and when he did it was mostly to complain or get mad.

For a few years, he didn’t work. At some point, he started drinking and staying out all night a lot. My parents argued. My mom worked part-time and barely made any money, about $40 a day. We had government assistance—like food stamps—and my dad got unemployment so that helped.

Three years later, he was able to go back to work. The drinking and staying out at night stopped, but he didn’t go back to his old self. As I got older, he said no to most things I asked for, like having a sleepover or a ride to a friend’s house. His usual words to me were, “Clean your pigsty.”

I didn’t talk to my mom about him. She didn’t like the relationship we had with each other, but didn’t do much about it. I was angry with her too.

Always a No

When I was 13, my friend invited me to California for two weeks over the summer. I was so excited to go. My father said no.

“She’s not going anywhere,” my dad said to my mom.

“Well, it’s too late. I already bought the ticket,” she said.

“You guys always do everything behind my back. It pisses me off. I feel disrespected!” he yelled. We would have asked him if we didn’t think he’d automatically say no, but I didn’t want to say that and extend the argument. I understood that he was angry and depressed about the accident, but I didn’t think it was fair that he took it out on his family. So anger continued to build up inside me. I did things he disliked to antagonize him. For instance, since we’re Greek, he wanted me to marry a Greek man, so I purposely went out with guys from other nationalities.

When I was 14, I started therapy to help me deal with all the negativity. My sister went too. I didn’t want my father knowing but my mother eventually told him that we were going because we hated him. (She didn’t use those exact words. She was nicer about it.)

Therapy helped, although I didn’t like it sometimes. My therapist asked me personal questions that I didn’t want to answer. She kept pushing and that bothered me. Also, there were days when I wanted to talk about other things besides my dad and she would say, “The main reason we’re here is to talk about your father.” But my world didn’t revolve around him.

Surprisingly, I noticed my father started slowly changing after he learned that I was attending therapy because of him. He didn’t yell at me when my room was messy; he made an effort to talk to me more. He’d ask me to help him on the computer, or about my college plans, or when I was getting my driver’s license. We both loved plants so we talked about different ones we wanted to buy. When he went out and bought plants, he would buy me some. When my room was really messy he’d say in a calm tone, “Don’t forget to clean up.” It made me feel awkward that he was nice. I was used to us not talking, and I honestly preferred it. I was still angry.

Major Setback

image by YC-Art Dept

My relationship with my father was improving until he did something that hurt me. My therapist rescued homeless cats and she gave me one. But we already had a cat and I was only allowed to have one. So I tried to hide the second cat in my room. Two weeks later my dad found her. “Whose cat is this?” he asked. He told me to get rid of her but I didn’t listen to him.

A few days later I came home with my friend Alex and my cat was gone.

“Where the F is my cat?” I screamed.

“You wouldn’t get rid of it so I did,” my dad said.

Then he went into the backyard. “I would not let that go,” said Alex. She fueled my rage.

I followed him outside and called him every curse I could think of. “I’ve hated you my whole life!” I screamed. I’d never yelled at my father like that before.

“You’re so ungrateful; I brought you to America and pay for everything. I’m your father and you have no respect for me. If I talked to my father that way he would beat me.”

“I don’t care,” I said.

I was surprised he did not get mad. Instead, he started to cry. I had never seen him cry before. But I didn’t feel sorry for him. All I felt was anger and disgust. He walked back into the house. I went to go talk to my friend and sister in my room. He never told me what he did with the cat.

Living in Peace

“Home” wasn’t home for a while. There was tension and I avoided my father. I was still angry with him and I wanted him to apologize, but he didn’t. After a couple of months, we slowly started talking again.

My sister convinced me to speak to my father when spoken to. “You said all those hurtful things to him just because he gave your cat away. You can’t just degrade someone like that. It’s just a cat, he’s your father. You’re dramatic,” said my sister.

“F you. I wanted him to know how I feel about him,” I said.

Even though I agreed to start talking to him again, I didn’t understand my sister’s point.

Still, other than that incident, my father has been trying to be a better person so I am trying to forgive him. He’s getting older and I think he realizes that if he doesn’t change, he won’t hear from me when I move out. It’s also important to me to live in a peaceful home, and for that to happen, I have to find common ground. I talk to him because he is my father and I’m tired of the arguments. Even so, I don’t regret the hurtful things I said to him. If I hadn’t said them, I don’t think he would have changed as much.

Right now, I’m fine with the relationship we have. Things have improved, and continue to do so. I’m less angry with him because even though he wasn’t a good father for a lot of years, he is changing. I know he has good intentions and wants the best for me.