Q: I left the family home when I was 15 years old and I have not looked back since.
My father was a raging alcoholic who often resorted to screaming and shouting and at times physical abuse to my mother and me when he was intoxicated. (Somehow my older sister managed to miss out on the violence.)
I have done reasonably well since leaving home. Student loans put me through university and into the start of a successful career in financing where I was to later meet a wonderful woman.
I have recently got word that my father, whom I have not seen since leaving home, is terminally ill and is not expected to live much more than a few weeks.
Apparently he has been asking to see me. My wife thinks that I should forgive and forget and try to reconcile with him before he dies, but I don’t know. I have spent a lot of time in personal counselling and in the loving and caring arms of my wife trying to defuse some of the emotional wrath I was carrying around after I left home.
I do not want to jeopardize the progress that I have made. I am afraid that seeing my father will stir up too many old memories.
But I am open to thinking about it and am particularly interested in what you might have to say about it.
A: You are carrying around a huge grudge against your father, aren’t you? I think that most of us can understand that, and certainly no one is blaming you, but maybe your wife is right. Maybe it is time to put aside those old memories and open yourself to more compassionate and caring thoughts.
A grudge is a defence mechanism. When I am holding a grudge against someone it reminds me that somewhere along the way that person in some way hurt me and that I would be better off either avoiding that person or at least protecting myself when I am in his or her company.
The problem is that grudges take energy. I have to always be on the lookout when I am anywhere near where that person might be hanging out and I have to keep in my mind what I am going to say or do if that person slips through the cracks and pops up in my line of contention.
Dropping a grudge is an option. The more successful I am at dropping my grudges, the more psychological energy I will have to enjoy the spontaneity of my grandchildren’s laughter. That is why you might want to work on letting go of your grudge against your father.
The truth is that it is time to let it go. When you were a little boy and your father was screaming and shouting at you, sometimes even hitting and abusing you, you had no resources to protect yourself. You could not challenge him directly; he was too big. You could not run away; there was no where to go. If you tried to get someone else to help you, your father would chase you down and the beatings would be even more severe.
However, you are not a little boy anymore. You are grown up, obviously healthier than he is at the moment, and getting a ton of support from your wife and various counsellors. Your father cannot hurt you now. You do not need that grudge protecting you from him.
Just think of all that energy and freedom you’ll find at your beckoning once you blow away those childhood memories that capture the grudge. It will free you up to watch that morning robin, chirping through a dew bent lawn at the start of another wonderful day.