Thursday, November 20, 2008

Always on fire

I was watching an old episode of Six Feet Under last night, where one of the characters goes to some self-actualizing seminar thing called "The plan."

In the show, the seminar leader talks to one of the participants, a woman from a foreign country. The woman tells this story about how when she was 12, her father had a dream that she was unfaithful to her future husband (who had already been picked for her), so her dad set her on fire. She then shows off her scars to the seminar.

The seminar leader responds with something like "you should invite your father over, and forgive him for what he did to you." The woman is of course skeptical, at which point the seminar leader says "as long as you can't forgive your father, you will always be on fire"

Now my parents never set me on fire, but I think the general principles are the same. Forgiveness is not for the person who is being forgiven. It's for the person who forgives. As long as I can't forgive my parents for how they have treated me, they will always have some kind of control over my life. Even now, when I talk to them once every several months, I still have a major chip on my shoulder about them. Not a day goes by where I don't feel upset about the way they are reacting to my choices. Not a week goes by without me fantasizing about what life would be like if my parents would be supportive and happy for me and my decisions.

But how ridiculous is that? I'm barely talking to them, and they still manage to cast this huge shadow over my life. I need to somehow figure out a way to forgive them, to be at peace, to not be spending so much energy thinking about my parents. Part of me wants to go to therapy for a bit to figure this stuff out, although I kinda hate going to therapy cause then it just makes me dwell on bad things more so than I would otherwise. Part of me wants to just call my mom up and say "I forgive you" and see what happens. Part of me thinks that if I truly did forgive them, I wouldn't even feel the need to tell them about it, so clearly I don't forgive them.

Who really knows anymore.

Meanwhile, I don't think I ever told my parents I was going to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Oh did I mention that? B's parents are flying me (and B) out to Chicago to meet the entire extended family of B who all meet up outside of Chicago every year for Thanksgiving. I think it might be fun, and I'm hoping that his family will be cool, since our future kids probably won't be having too much contact with my family.

But meanwhile, I don't think I ever told my parents, and they never asked what I was doing for I guess it's good that I made these other plans, since it seems I'm not invited home anymore. This will be the first time in my life that I won't be at my parent's house for Thanksgiving (Since they don't celebrate Christmas, and since I won't go to my parents house for Jewish holidays, Thanksgiving was really the only holiday my family was ever all home for).

I'm not sure if that's going to be weird or depressing or this point I'm more excited about taking a mini-vacation with B (Our first plane ride together! The first time in a while that I get to go on vacation!) and meeting all of B's family (who soon will also be my family!)


  1. I think you're on the right track. Although my father never "set me on fire" he certainly did some damage. I held on to that for years and years and finally realized I had to forgive him, if only for myself. AB, I feel liberated. I was able to forgive him by telling myself that he's human and we all make mistakes. I also took the stance that although his actions hurt me, I still learned a valuable lesson from his bad parenting. I learned how I want to be treated and how I want to treat my own children someday. Nothing is as valuable as a lesson like that. I am thankful to him for showing me that - in his own way. Even if he didn't mean to. He's still my father. We dont speak today, but the pain is not so intense. I dont think about it often. Except maybe Fathers Day.
    I hope that you are able to have a wonderful Thanksgiving with B and family. Remember - sometimes our family is not the one we were born with, its the people who come along in our lives and love us unconditionally like family should. You're going to be just fine:)

  2. One idea you might want to carry over from your Jewish heritage is that you're not required to forgive anyone who does not want or ask for your forgiveness (see, for example, Hilchot Teshuvah in the Mishneh Torah).

    But therapy might help you surface the feelings so they don't impede you.

  3. I don't think you're ready to forgive your parents yet. I think I said before - I don't think they're done hurting you, so forgiving them now would mean you'll need to forgive them the next time they hurt you, and the next. Since they ARE going to hurt you again by not attending your wedding, why not wait until that's over before you forgive them? BTW - I think if you call them and say 'I forgive you for what you did to me,' you are going to shock the shit out of them, because I think they think you're the one who owes them an apology for the way you've lived your life.

  4. I have huge issues with this forgiveness thing. I can't figure it out. In fact, I was just thinking about this very same subject about a half an hour ago. Sometimes I really dislike myself for being so non-forgiving to a parent but as much as I try, there is a wall I cannot jump to get to the forgiveness side.
    Perhaps if the parent in question ever asked my forgiveness or ever apologized for the damage done- I could do it.
    I don't know.
    If you figure this out, let us know.
    In the meantime, have a wonderful time with B and his family.

  5. Im really surprised by the posts advocating non-forgiveness. AB, This isn't about your parents, it's about you. Once you let go of your expectations of them, you will feel much better. (I could say the same for your parents) Holding a gruge will cause you great sickness. It will not only affect you but your relationship with B and your potential children. I promise you it will. Even if you arent able to justify what they're doing (like I can't with my own father) to love them unconditionally, like they should love you is truly a gift. Soften your heart. It's not good for your spirit to be so hard.

  6. I know they're not done hurting me...but on the other hand, it's almost 6 months till my wedding, do I want to just be pissed off and angry at them that whole time? I'd rather try to forgive them and not have to think about it anymore. Forgiving them won't mean I will have to talk to them, or try to continue a relationship with them.

  7. @ 1st Anonymous:

    Are you so shallow-minded that you need a Jewish edict to guide your every action?

  8. Good post. I think it's often these tiny moments in our lives, such as this one line in a TV show, that have the biggest impact on how we live.

  9. I have similar very hurtful issues in my life, like you, with my sister and my father. Both are now and have been wrong and hurt me and my family a great deal. Well my father it took me 40 years to actually come to terms with how things really sister (and noone was as close as we were..NOONE) has caused me excrutiating hurt these last..8 years. For everyday that I breathe I will feel that but I am at a place that I forgive her..I can't judge her so much, she has her own way of seeing things..I realize that now..she thinks one way, i think another..the two will never agree..similar to you and your what do we do??? We live our lives the way they were dealt us eden, and that does not happen overnight. You will have ups and downs ready for that. Indifference does not come easy to some and it comes very easy to others. Just keep in mind that their feelings are as strong to them as yours are to you. Always keep a door open if you can with them. Life has many twists and turns.. Learn from it..know how you will NEVER be to your children..thats what my father also taught me..he taught me unbeknownst to him, that he is the epitome of what type of person NEVER TO BE..A cold heartless uncaring piece of garbage. Yeah i have anger but no longer dwell on it. I doubt i would ever let him in again because his way hurts too much. Look..this is the journey we are are lucky you have love and a nice new big family to look forward to. I won't say its your parents loss..its everyones loss but NEVER SAY NEVER. If you need to vent to someone, that can very much help to put things in perspective.
    Good luck to you and I am so happy for you and B!

  10. AB, I was clicking around in blgsville this morning, and read this post that I think you'd like to read. I was actually thinking you could email it to your parents. Without saying a word about it and see what happens? Check out and go to the entry titled "An alternative anser to a wicked son". Let me know what you think about the idea!

  11. anonny

    Not a matter of "needing a Jewish edict" - whatever that means,
    but of drawing wisdom from a meaningful tradition.

    If that's what's called shallow, I'll live with it.

  12. Ok, if you forgive them now, just do it silently, don't call them or email them and tell them you forgive them, that will only lead to more anguish. Just do it in your heart, if it will lift the pain.

  13. "drawing wisdom from a meaningful tradition."

    Again, use your own brain.

  14. I wish I could advise you, but I can't. I haven't figured this out in terms of my own life, my relationship with my parents.
    I have to go visit them soon, for a family event, and I'm really nervous. I know that every single second I am there, I remind them that I'm living my life "wrong", and I'm hurting them.
    That's what hurts me the most. They make me into this big bad guy who is out to hurt them, when all I want to do is live my life, respect theirs without negating mine, and keep a loving relationship with them. They can't let me live mine, though. They can't allow me that space.
    Sorry I'm no help with forgiveness.

  15. what does forgiving them entail? i think to forgive them you would have to try and put yourself in their shoes, or understand where they are coming from. once you can see it from their perspective, then you wont be as angry with them because youll view their actions as being less about you and more about them. that in turn will allow you to eventually let go of the pain and forgive them.
    i think that if you go thru that process, you wont need to make the decision to forgive them or not, it will come naturally. forgiveness means nothing without the process. maybe you should just start the process and see where it takes you..

  16. Hey - AB, thanks for the link on your site:)

  17. Hey if you ever want to go somewhere for a Jewish holiday (or even a Thanksgiving), I'll usually be able to help you out.

  18. I think it is more about facing reality and taking it as it is.

    For a long time, I wanted to explain my parents why I chose to live the way I live, I wanted them to understand. And it was quite liberating to give up on it. They live their lives, I live mine, and I am allowed to do it, even if they do not like it. This is part of growing up.

    In the Torah, by the way, there are enough examples of Zadikim who left their parents or family: take Avraham Avinu, take, Yaakov and Lavan, Yaakov and Esav: They saw they were incompatible, so they stopped trying.


Anonymous comments are enabled for now