I'm sorry.

Dear Liam,

Last week, I was reading a book on the couch while you sat in my lap and watched cartoons. Without turning your gaze from the TV, you picked up my hand and placed it on your cheek. Once my hand was touching your face, you rested the full weight of your head in my palm. There was no fanfare, not even an acknowledgement of what you were doing. By all accounts, it seemed to be an instinctual action - some part of your being just needed to be cradled by your dad. A warmness rushed over me, and I quickly kissed the top of your head without interrupting your attention on Daniel Tiger. In that moment, I felt so glad I had the privilege of being your father. Yet lurking behind that gladness was a tinge of sadness.

I used to tell myself that your mother and I's divorce would have little effect on you since you were so young at the time. After all, I highly doubt you will ever have any memories of us all living under the same roof. Without any memories, there could be no trauma, and without any trauma, I would be able to convince myself we had caused you no harm. With these bullshit excuses, I could let myself off the hook - there would be no need to apologize to you. Yet as you put your head on my hand while watching cartoons, I was confronted with reality: you need your dad.

There were times when you were younger when you needed my hand to rest your head in, but my hands were not there. Long before your mom and I divorced, I was withdrawn from you. Even when you were a baby, I withheld my affection from you. I had not yet dealt with my own pain and brokenness, and my denial prevented me from being fully present with you. Memory of it or not, that is trauma, and trauma I caused. Children require comfort, security, and loving touch from their parents. They're as essential as food and shelter, and to deny those basic needs to a kid is traumatic. By not being there for you every day, by denying you those basic needs, I caused you harm, and I'm sorry. There are no caveats, no excuses, and no justifications. I am sorry for not providing for your needs, and want to confess I was wrong.

As you grow and learn about mankind, you'll undoubtedly find out about the darkest chapters of human history. One such abysmal chapter happened in South Africa, known as apartheid. Its horrors were shockingly cruel and tragic, and while there is much healing left to be done from such a deep and pervasive trauma, one major force for change for good was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the TRC held at its core the concept of "Ubuntu." Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu phrase meaning "I am because we are." Archbishop Tutu further explains the term by saying: "My humanity is inexplicably bound up in yours." I interpret that as believing I can't be fully human, I can't be the man I was created to be, without also acknowledging the pain you've endured. In order to live wholeheartedly, I must have the humility to recognize my own brokenness, the compassion to see the hurts you and all other people have endured, and the courage to confess my role in causing pain. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr proclaimed this same concept, while confined in a Birmingham jail, when he wrote: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

A few months ago, I wrote down a list of people to whom I owed apologies. On the list was the name of a woman who I had treated poorly when we were both in high school. I desperately wanted to apologize and make amends with her. Yet one of the rules of making amends is you shouldn't do it if it could actually cause the person more harm. Rachel wisely pointed out how since I hadn't spoken with this person since high school, and considering how she was now married with a family and lived many states away, reaching out to her out of the blue may not meet the "do no harm" standard. I agreed, and settled for living amends - making sure I never subjected another person to the hurtful way I had treated her. Then, a mere few weeks later, the unthinkable happened: she showed up on my doorstep (kinda).

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed late on a Sunday evening, I was met with shock and awe: she and her husband had traveled hundreds of miles and "checked-in" at a pub literally one block from our building. They had randomly decided to vacation in my backyard, and my jaw dropped in disbelief. I publicly commented on their post, and in the most non-confrontational, non-obligatory, chill way I could think of, signaled how I'd like to see them while they were in town. Much to my delight, they accepted my circuitous invitation. The next night, all 4 of us had dinner together, and the initial moment of awkwardness broke through into an evening filled with laughter, craft beer, honest sharing, the best cheeseburgers in Atlanta, and of course, my apologies. She graciously and mercifully forgave me. The entire experience was the pure incarnation of Ubuntu. As she and her husband walked away from our condo that night, I sobbed with tears of joy.

I'll admit my relationship with the Divine is complicated, and my doubts are many, but that night I believed. Not only was the evening a beautiful and mystical experience, but the event that set it all in motion, their check-in at a local pub, was itself quite supernatural. They had checked in to the very same bar where in September 2016, I sat across the table from my birth mother and stepfather as they told me they wished my suicide attempt had been successful. In that exact location, the man who abused me for over a decade told me I was better off dead, and the woman who gave birth to me nodded in silent agreement. When my old friend checked in there, it was as if God was telling me: "You know that place where you experienced so much pain? You remember that booth where you burst into tears that lasted for 4 days? I'm going to redeem it. Healing, grace, and beauty are going to emanate from the very ground that once displayed an epitaph of your suffering."

There are many people who have hurt me and owe me an apology, but have chosen not to give me one. I used to yearn for them to tell me they were sorry; I used to think it'd make me feel better, and maybe give me some solace. Yet experiencing the beautiful and unequivocal forgiveness of my old high school friend completely changed my perspective. Sure, I still want them to apologize, but it's no longer for me. Confessing my wrongs to my old friend made me feel truly alive. The act of it illustrated my connection to all of humanity, and it made me hunger and thirst for righteousness. I no longer only care about justice for me, but justice for everyone. Justice for me is inseparable from justice for my enemies, for the poor, for the disenfranchised, for the imprisoned, for Philando Castile, for abused children, for everyone everywhere who is living in fear. I have experienced Ubuntu, in all its glory and healing, and want everyone to feel its beauty. That begins with you.

In this life, others will hurt you, and you will hurt others. I can't guarantee they will apologize to you when they've wronged you, nor can I force you to make amends for your transgressions. Yet I can set an example for you, and I can give you a glimpse of Ubuntu. I will own my shit, and I will be quick to apologize to you for the ways I've failed you. I'm sorry, son.

I love you, God loves you, and you've got what it takes.

Love,
Dad

Enjoying a cupcake while celebrating the birthdays of 2 of your friends!




Comments

  1. Brother, this is so beautifully written that it touched the core of my soul. Thank you. Thank you for being an example of redeeming grace and the expense of forgiveness. Way to own your shit!

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  2. This is the stuff of journeying together with God. Seeing him expressed through circumstance, people and timing like this is miraculous and beautiful. He is the God of reconciliation! Thanks for being one to open yourself to this possibility, and challenging me to do the same. You are committed to the hard stuff of growth and that is so rare.

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