Fathers and Sons, Parents and Children, Forgiveness

I recently found my first gratitude journal tucked away between two books, The Soul of Rumi, by Coleman Barks, and Stanislaw Lem’s, The Further Adventures of Ion Tichy (my tastes are eclectic to say the least) while packing books to replace some bookcases. My first entry from May 14, 2007, when I was three weeks sober included gratitude for being sober today, gratitude for feeling like I could stay sober, gratitude that I had people, friends and family that cared about me, followed by a question, could I ever forgive myself.

My son, Matt B, saw me hit two bottoms from dependency on alcohol. One as a child (preteen – teen) and one as an adult. I too saw my dad struggle with alcohol and gambling dependency for all of his life, stopping drinking and gambling for a time, always to relapse again and again. Sometimes when things were good. Sometimes when things were bad. He was often angry and sometimes violent drunk or not. My mom bore the brunt and I bore witness. Sometimes, I was collateral damage. Each of us a causality.

When I watched my son leave me for his mom, my former spouse, at 13, I hated myself and my life. I hated that in some way, I became worse than my dad. Sober, my son and I began to reconnect, repair and restore a relationship that I often feared beyond repair. We shared honesty and we shared love. I am grateful daily for a relationship beyond any I imagined. I’m grateful to watch my son grow as a person, spouse, son, brother and now a dad. He is also 2+ years sober himself. He encouraged me to write poetry by sharing some of his own. He shared his poem, Forgiveness 2007, with me some time ago.

Al Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics have helped me gain perspective on my childhood and the wounds I carry still. Resentment, I sometimes wield like a cudgel when I feel threatened. I’ve return time and time again, to my son’s gift to me for hope and a path to forgiving my dad, one of his grandfathers. I don’t often title my poems, but Forgiveness 2007 and Forgiveness 2019, seems appropriate here.

Forgiveness (2007) Matt B

Mistakes without responsibility are just excuses.
Take pride in the way you’ve owned yours,
Learned, grown.
This is me forgiving you.

Leaving you was the hardest thing I’ve had to do,
But this is me forgiving you.

There were so many times that I needed you,
And sat with tears instead.
I hurt myself so badly,
Because no one else showed me what to do,
But this is me forgiving you.

It took me so long to learn self-respect,
I hated love, life and self,
Bleeding was my only way to truth,
But this is me forgiving you.

I know why you had to do what you did;
Life is scary,
Brilliance is a burden.
I came to know that even heroes have demons,
So, this is me forgiving you.

I think in both our minds,
As soon as the drinking was done,
Things with us would go right back to how they used to be,
But I didn’t know that time took longer than that,
I was just a kid.
Still the gift of time remains,
So, this is me forgiving you.

The scariest day was the one I no longer saw myself you in your stare.
I wanted so much to learn from you,
To touch whatever lit that flame in your eyes.
I needed you there to teach me how to be a man,
But I’ve realized that you still can,
So, this is me forgiving you.

The only reason I left was to save the father I adored.
I never meant to hurt you,
Though I know I must have,
I was so confused,
So, this is me forgiving you.

Now more than ever
I realize how childhood is a shadow over life.
I know you never had it easy.
I don’t blame you or your pain anymore
Your mind was trapped and allowed no growth.
So, this is me forgiving you.

I thought I could do this alone,
I learned to relish the way that hurt,
Glimmered like a badge of honor above my heart,
But no one is as strong as mania is convincing.
So, this is me forgiving you.


I love you Dad.
I see more of you in the mirror every day.
We’ve conquered so much,
Learned even more;
Making me wish it was possible before.
We planted a new beginning that we’ll water to the end,
And now I have more than a father,
I’ve gained a best friend.
The chances that life offers to start over are few,
But I love you Dad,
So, this is me,
I’ve forgiven you.

Forgiveness (2019) Robert B

I wonder why you did what you did
Why you were who you were
I try not to remember the anger
The pain of blows behind doors
These I try try try to forget
Hoping that by forgetting
That I can finally forgive
But I remember and I cry
Did you die without regret
Or was it just buried beneath
Your own pain from blows behind walls
I wish that I could conjure your smile
Soften my heart without fear
But try as I might I cannot

So here I sit on a cloudy day
Searching for answers
I know are quite out of reach
But yet I grasp
And still I cling
Desperate to know why
When why is the wrong question
To ask of a dead man
My fear is that I’ll see you
In my own mirror
Becoming the worst
Parts of you in spite
Of promises I made to myself
Here I am here you are here are we

Eighty seven you would have been I think
Now nine years gone and I wonder
What would you say if you could
Maybe you said all you needed
And I just could not hear
I still try to figure you out in quiet moments
Touching the parts of you in me
I hold you gently in my thoughts
A young boy of six or maybe seven
I try to imagine him behind the faded photos
I keep in a box and I cannot
Maybe it’s hard for sons to remember
That their fathers were once sons
With scarred wounds we’ll never see

About the Author

Robert B. is a sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive. 

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