Forgiveness and Ogres

“Ogres are like onions. They have layers.”

Donkey tried so hard to find something more pleasant with layers that Shrek could use as an analogy. But parfaits don’t do the trick. Not for ogres.

And my dad, for sure, was an ogre.

He wasn’t giant and green, but he was tough and difficult and slippery. I was often careless of his feelings, and even occasionally cruel – casually so, which made it all the more cruel. And as many times as I tell myself that I learned these things at his hands, it doesn’t make mine clean. A biting remark, a quick comeback, those were valued in my household, growing up. It was a sign of intelligence. There was the time that a friend of the family had a sick baby who had lost a lot of weight. An overweight kid, I said, stupidly, “Was he even skinnier than me?” And my father answered, “Yes, just skin and blubber.” He laughed at his cleverness. Then there was the time, years later, after my mother had died, that I told him to quit his whining when he wanted to know when we would come out to visit him again.

There were so many of these times. And chronically, just the fact that I always came last in the list of priorities. Work was first, alcohol and related activities second, Mom third, and me last. Not surprising, then, that when he was dying, I focused all of my attention on the baby, moving, and classes. It seems pathetic and corny, but the lyrics to “Cat in the Cradle” pretty much summed up my relationship with my dad. He was too busy for me, and then I was too busy for him. Like, somehow I got even with him. I got my revenge. Very clever of me, eh? So, why don’t I feel better?

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about forgiveness. I think it’s a lot easier to talk about than to do. And I don’t know if it’s all that beneficial, frankly. I mean, if I can’t forgive him, I can’t forgive him. I can’t force myself to ignore the pain and anger and resentment that riddle my relationship with him. I need to work through all of that, or at least acknowledge it, before I can do anything else. One of the meditations I learned at healing school includes the line, “Don’t be too quick to make peace.”

I’m also learning that it’s not a one-time, quick-fix kind of event. I’m thinking now of a line from Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees. After Lily finds out the truth about her mother leaving her, and her own role in her mother’s death, she has a long period of mourning. She says that some days are better than others, but that sometimes, she has to start all over again and forgive them both–herself and her mother.

So I guess that’s where I am, now. I feel like one day I’ll be really close to feeling forgiveness, to understanding my dad’s limitations and my own. And the next day, I’ll be knee deep in the muck again. It’s a process, I guess, of slowly peeling away the dried up layers of bitterness and old grudges to get to the sweet middle of the onion. Not everybody likes onions, Donkey would say. And frankly, I’m not that fond of them, either. They sting my tongue and make me cry. But with ogres, there just can’t be any other way.

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