How do we forgive our fathers...

I spoke with my father tonight (thank God for cell phones.) And as we spoke about my children (and his) - about my work (and his) - about his hopes and health (and mine) I found myself going back in time to this poem by Dick Lourie that I first heard in the movie, "Smoke Signals."

The text warrants copy, too:
How do we forgive our fathers?
Maybe in a dream?
Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often?
Or forever, when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage, or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?
Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?
r for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning, or shutting doors?
for speaking thru walls, or never speaking, or never being silent?
Do we forgive our fathers in our age, or in theirs?
Or in their deaths, saying it to them, or not saying it.
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

When I was a child I used to ride with my father in the car during the summer as he traveled from town to town as a salesman for Mobil Oil. We would chew Wrigley's gum, talk about his mother, listen to the Red Sox and ramble on about what his work meant to him. We would sing cowboy songs and listen to radio shows from the 1940s on the radio in the dark on our way back home to my sisters and brother and mother. I loved those summer trips.

Years later, when his spirit was polluted by other spirits - and the 60s divided generations from their roots - we would argue about hair and politics and race relations and music. For a long, long time we didn't speak - it was safer for us both - but then my sister's son died (and I buried him at five years old) and my sister died (and I buried her two years later) and my grandmother died (just a few months later and I couldn't even speak). And when my mother died and all my father could do was weep - after all those deaths and all those years and all that silence - I discovered that we had a lot to say to one another, so we talked. In small doses, to be sure, because that's how men talk (mostly) but, talk we did.

As I told him good-bye and "I love you" tonight, I thought of my own children - grown and married - and how much we each loved the movie, "A River Runs Through It" when they were children - each in our own way because it was about children and their father - all imperfect.

The film closes with a father offering a wonderfully melancholy sermon about the mystery of loving those closest to us - and never quite getting it right - in words that were offered mostly to himself:

Each one here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.
Made me think of this wonderful tune by my boys, U2, about Bono's pop whom he always fought with until the old guy came down with cancer and needed to share the pain and loneliness with his kid...

And so it goes... and the ancient words of the Psalmist come to mind as I pray over my family - and so many other families - that are filled with love and wounds both at the same time: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea; though its waters rage and foam and though the mountains tremble at its tumult. For the Lord of hosts is with us... Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in all the earth. (Psalm 46)


Luke said…
i loved that movie Smoke Signals. i really love how that clip illustrates your point so clearly. wonderful stuff here from one that has father-issues. very healing!
RJ said…
Thanks, my man. I am grateful we have connected. I hope we will keep on as your time in seminary deepens, too. Be well.

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