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A Father, His Son, And Forgiveness

Strained relationships between fathers and sons are nothing new. But when it comes to forgiveness, it’s never too late…

By Jumol Royes
Photo by Kaysha via Unsplash

If you were to ask me what virtue I value most in myself and other people, my answer would be: compassion.

I consider myself to be an HSP, or “highly sensitive person.” From as early on as I can remember, I have always felt more strongly than other people tend to, and have been deeply affected by other people’s emotional states and energetic vibrations. Any time I encounter a person in pain, I feel compelled to do something to help alleviate their suffering. Compassion is my calling card and my modus operandi.

When I was about four years old, I fell off my bicycle while learning how to ride – a common rite of passage for most kids. I was out riding with my dad and my sister on a path just behind the condo building where I grew up. It was my first time riding my bike without the training wheels on, and I fell hard and hurt myself (all these years later, I still have a faint hint of a scar on my knee to show for it). Writhing on the ground in pain, I cried out for help. As I lay there on the pavement with tears streaming down my face, my dad – who was usually very stern and harsh in his parenting approach – yelled at me to get up and get back on the bike. When I didn’t respond the way he wanted me to, he swooped me up in one arm, took the bike in the other and carried us both back home, where my mom dressed the wound and calmed me down.

My dad reminded me of this seemingly insignificant episode one day last sumer while we were out running errands, and he followed it up with a story from his own childhood.

My dad had been born in Jamaica, and he spent the early part of his life living with my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my grand-aunt, my uncle and some of my cousins. Jamaicans live by the motto: “It takes a village to raise a child.” One day, when he was around six or seven years old, my dad went out to play with some kids in the neighbourhood, and he stayed out until well past dinnertime without checking in or letting anyone at home know where he was.

They searched for him everywhere, but couldn’t find him. When he finally decided to make his way back home, he hid in the small crawlspace beneath the house because he was afraid of getting in trouble with my uncle, who was his eldest brother and a strict disciplinarian. When my uncle returned home from work that evening and found out my dad was missing, he was furious and determined to unleash his own form of punishment on him. Thankfully for my dad, my grandmother intervened and told my uncle and everyone else in the house to go about their business; she would take care of the situation herself.

She instinctively knew that my dad was hiding underneath the house, so she went outside and called for him to come in, wash up and eat dinner. He did as he was told and no one bothered him that night, not even my uncle. My grandmother spared him that day by showing him compassion…and he was grateful.

The experience obviously had a big impact on my dad, because he still remembers it to this day and, on that day last summer, he was able to recount it to me in vivid detail. In all my thirty-something years of life, it was the most complete recollection of his upbringing he’d ever shared with me.

After he finished telling me his story, my dad apologized and asked for my forgiveness for not leading with compassion as his first reaction when I fell off my bike all those years ago, and for all the moments thereafter when he had reacted with anger instead of empathy. He understands now what a mistake that was, and is able to see that compassion is what I’ve always needed most, especially from him.

To say I was flabbergasted by this revelation would be an understatement: it was the first time my dad had ever offered up such a sincere apology or sought my forgiveness, and I was completely caught off guard. It took a moment to let it all sink in.

When I finally spoke, I told him that I accepted and appreciated his apology. He’s my dad and I love him, faults and all. I also reassured him that as parents, and people, we do the very best we can with the tools we have in our toolbox until we know better…and then, hopefully, we do better.

I’m not exactly sure what prompted my dad to be so vulnerable with me that day, something that was completely out of character for him (if I’m being brutally honest, I have to admit vulnerability is often a struggle for me too, so I guess that particular apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). Perhaps he had time to think during the months spent in COVID lockdown, or maybe my mom nudged him to make more of an effort to connect with me. I’m guessing it was a mixture of the two.

Whatever the reason, it was an intimate moment between the two of us that cracked open the door to creating a positive shift in our relationship. It also made me pause and reflect on how compassionate I am in my reactions to him today as an adult son. I’ve always wished that my dad would acknowledge how tough he was on me when I was growing up, and yearned for him to show me that he was capable of a little kindness and tenderness. I had pretty much given up hope of that ever happening. After all, people are who they are, right?

It took my dad being vulnerable with me one day last summer to remind me that people can grow, evolve and change, and that when it comes to forgiveness, it’s never too late.

JUMOL ROYES is a Toronto-area storyteller, communications strategist and glass-half-full kinda guy. He writes about compassion, community, identity and belonging. His guilty pleasure is watching the Real Housewives. Follow him on Twitter @Jumol and on Instagram @jumolroyes.

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