Forgiving My Dad


Dear Dad,

It’s Father’s Day.

It’s been almost half a year since I last saw you or even talked on the phone.

I don’t know what happened. 

For almost 15 years, I saw you on a monthly basis after you and mom divorced.

I stifled my anxiety and bitterness to have lunch with you every month and chat awkwardly about our lives – how’s health, how’s job, how’s life?

Same every time.

I still have bad dreams about you.

A mentor told me that our parents – no matter how broken or toxic – did the best they could within their capacity to love us; trying in some way to do better than their own parents.

You were a conflicted man who grew up without a father and was raised by an absent mother who worked night and day to raise her children as a single mother in rural korea. Then you migrated to the USA with just a quarter to your name and worked difficult jobs burdened by racism and classism to survive; sweating and shacking up with other broken and lost men.

So you developed this deep anger. You were/are an angry and insecure person who quail in the face of a stronger adversary and who assuage his futility, instability, and vulnerability by asserting dominance over us – we, your wife and only daughter, who depended on you as the stalwart backbone of our small family.

Over the years that eruptive and boiling rage cooled to a simmering anger that no longer threaten us but still elicit our residual anxiety.

Even now, whenever you appear in my dreams, your presence is always threatening and I wake up infuriated and ready to fight.

Even if we somewhat mended our relationship, I still have a subconscious desire to fight you – to use my martial arts training to take you down.

I have forgiven many people. But when I reflect on what forgiveness really means and what it encompasses, I draw a blank and where the answer should be, painful memories of you play in reverse.

I ask you, dad: what is forgiveness? 

Is it you buying me expensive dinners, ignoring that you used to flip over the dining table in the middle of meals and furiously let loose diatribes upon us as mom and I picked the broken dishes off the floor? 

Is it my acceptance of the new wedding ring on your finger, when you used to take the old one off whenever you went out on Friday nights?

Is it when we joke about the bickers between you and your new wife, without me having to worry about her safety?

You broke us.

Here we are still, picking up the pieces of ourselves. 

I inherited your explosive fury and I terrify people – like how you did to us – with my psychotic bursts of anger and hate.

I was diagnosed with BPD, Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and even a fucking eating disorder, because of you, dad. 

I still flinch when I hear a door slamming. When men raise their voice, I still get gripped with programmed fear. It took a decade of medication, therapy, and support from mentors to reconcile my fragmentation and I’m still not 100% there. I wonder if I’ll ever get there.

But I know you are trying.

You always did. In between the anger there were bright glimpses of a man who wants to be good, to be loving, caring, protective, and providing. You made sure that we have everything we ever need or want. I grew up doing everything I wanted to do with all the toys a girl could ever ask for.

One time, a week after you left home, you called me and said you’re sorry.

You cried.

You recognized that you abandoned and broke us and that you hate being that way.

I stifled my sobs and said yes, yes, thank you dad, as my heart churned in pain.

So the real you is there, hidden under all the trauma.

If I wade through your complications and look at your true eyes, we can truly build a healthy relationship.

But why is the onus always on me to make things right?

I can’t right now. I’m still in the miasma of pain, trauma, and a dark anger and only recently, I’m starting to see the light.

Someday, I’ll be strong enough to reconcile with you.

To forgive you.

I hope I will be able to.

I guess I’ll pick up the phone and call you soon.

To check on you.

To see that you’re okay.

To tell you that I’m okay.

To say I love you.

Happy father’s day.