Content Warning: mentions of parental abuse. If you’re sensitive to these topics, please feel free to skip reading this blog.
What usually comes to mind when the word “forgiveness” is mentioned is the idea of “forgive and forget,” that forgiving someone means being on friendly, speaking terms again, which means I invite them over for dinner while we laugh and hug each other, and generally act like nothing happened.
I want to be clear here: forgiving someone does not mean condoning what they did, nor does it mean you have to be all buddy-buddy with them. My very first coach was abused emotionally, physically, and sexually by her father. She forgave him, and then subsequently told him that she didn’t want him in his life any longer. It’s entirely possible to forgive someone and still uphold your boundaries.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the dictionary definition of Forgive:
1: to cease to feel resentment against (an offender) : PARDON
2 (a): to give up resentment of or claim to something given in return or retaliation
Let’s look at that first part: “to cease to feel resentment against.” Notice what’s missing? Any mention of being in contact with the other person. It all has to do with you: do you feel resentment, and are you willing to give that up?
To illustrate, I’m going to tell you about my dad, Dr. Bill Yang.
[Note: My main laptop with the rest of my old photos is being repaired right now, I’m using this photo as a placeholder for now.] My father passed away in 2008, right as we were beginning to get to know each other as adults. He was 60, I was 31.
There are a lot of things to forgive him for:
- During my early childhood, he spent 2 weeks out of every month on business trips to China. Later on into my adolescence those trips extended to 3 weeks out of every month.
- When he did come home, he was uncommunicative and mainly kept to himself. He communicated in sighs and grunts.
- The only time I would get his undivided attention was when he was disciplining me for something. Now I call it physical abuse, but at the time I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. I just thought there was something wrong with me.
More specifically, I remember two instances that stand out particularly clearly:
- The time he was so angry that my tennis racket he was using became smashed and mangled. This was particularly impactful because I used tennis as the outlet for a lot of my pent-up emotions.
- One time he was hitting me so hard, I was surprised that my bones weren’t snapping. They definitely felt like they were going to. But now, looking back, he was a doctor and probably knew which bones were strongest, and how to inflict pain but not serious injury.
There are also things I forgave my mom for, but she’s still alive and I don’t want to put too much personal information about her on a public web site. You can ask me in-person or over a call about those.[Schedule a call here: https://calendly.com/coachsteveyang/25min]
In order to reach forgiveness, I had to start seeing dad as a human being. At a certain point, my childhood perception of my parents as infallible, all-knowing demi-gods switched, and I started viewing them as fallible human beings who, just like me and everyone else, had no idea what they were doing.
Once I started seeing the humanity in my father, I saw that his life was definitely not easy. He did the best he could with what he was given, and he wasn’t given much. Here’s a glimpse into what my father’s life was like:
- He was born in 1947 in Qingdao (aka Tsingtao, yes like the beer), immediately following WWII, into a civil war between the Nationalists (GuoMinDang for those of you who know), and the Chinese Communists.
- The head of his family was his grandfather, a General for the Nationalist Army that had fought the Japanese during WWII. He was easily recognized and hunted by the Communists. There were spies everywhere, and they had to flee quickly.
- They lost a few family members on the way to Taiwan, including his mother, my grandmother. Once they got there they awaited for their Political Asylum to the US to be accepted. Over the years, one by one they came over to America. My father was the last one, finally arriving at the age of 15. His father and other family members had already been here for a few years at that point.
- Once here, he found himself in a place where he didn’t speak the language at all, trying to find success in an American High School. His first year here, he failed all of his classes. His second year, he got straight A’s.
- He never knew a stable family life as a child, never experienced what it meant to have consistent support, love, or care. Generally, his childhood was a giant lesson in self-reliance. I can understand how he grew up not knowing how to show love, compassion, or support for other people. He never had a model for knowing how to do that.
Still, despite all of this, he was incredibly successful in certain terms:
- He got 4 degrees: a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, a PhD, and an MD.
- He had a corporate management job in pharmaceuticals, with an upper-middle class salary.
My dad raised me the only way he knew how, and mostly it worked. Here I am, strong and healthy. I learned things my own way. It wasn’t easy, and there were things that could have been better… a lot better. But I’ve survived and here I am.
This is where forgiveness comes in. It’s not his fault that he was born into his circumstances, just like it’s not my fault I was born into mine. To quote a recent conversation I had, “None of us asked to be here.” And yet here we are.
It doesn’t mean it was “the right thing to do.” It doesn’t mean it was easy for me, or that he couldn’t have done better. What it does mean is that I get to let go of resenting him for what he did. He did the best he could with what he was given. And so did I.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Did this blog bring up something for you? Have you been holding on to resentment or anger that it’s time to let go of? Please tell me. I’d love to know!
You can email me: Steve@CoachSteveYang.com
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