My father and I were friends when I was young, but we became enemies when I got into my twenties. I was a hippie and embraced the counter culture, even had a poster of Che Guevera on our living room wall—the one where he is holding a rifle and the words from a Doors song are at the bottom, “We want the world, and we want it now!” My father and I would go for long periods without speaking which wasn’t difficult as we were living fifteen hundred miles apart, us in Los Angeles, and he and my mother in Corpus Christi, Texas. We didn’t stay completely out of touch because he came to L.A. for the birth of my son, John, in 1974, and for the birth of Keith in 1979. Mom came with him to kind of mediate, but things were always tense around us. I admit I made things worse a couple of times when he was trying, in his way, to reconcile. Now, he never told me he loved me, and we never hugged, but even though I didn’t ask for it, he sent $500 a month to us the whole four years we lived in Boston because we had so little money. He specified that his money was to be spent on his grandsons which was fine with me. One day he sent me a letter saying he wanted to see his grandsons and would pay for a week at DisneyWorld in Orlando, Florida, if I would drive the family down there. Couldn’t turn that down, and the kids and Karen had one of the best times ever. I was still in seminary and had to spend much of the time studying. As it happened, Dad had a birthday while we were there, and, knowing that he hated having a fuss made over him, I arranged for the staff at the Disney restaurant to come to the table with a cake, singing “Happy Birthday” and he stormed out of the restaurant and didn’t speak to me for the rest of the trip. I later realized that much of our mutual alienation was my fault and wrote him a long letter apologizing and asking his forgiveness. I remember telling Karen that it didn’t matter if he never replied, but it was very important for me to do it and make sure he got it. Mom let me know that he got it and read it, but, in fact, he never replied. We stayed in a kind of detente for several more years, but when he had about two weeks to live (dying of leukemia at the age of 89), I was with him for the whole time. He was only bedfast for the last five days of his life—he never wanted to be in a hospital or dependent on others, so this was a good thing, especially as those last five days were at his home. The last day before he had to be put in the bed, we were both up late. He told me to stay in the den while he went into the kitchen. There was a service hole between the two rooms, and he stood where I couldn’t see him but could hear him. He asked if I could indeed hear him. I told him I could. Then, in one of the last times we spoke, he said three words to me, “Sorry, forgive me.” He immediately went to bed and got so sick the next day we never really spoke again. Those were the most important three words he had ever said to me. Eight years after I had written and asked his forgiveness, he finally asked mine--five days before his death. A man named Gordon B. Hinckley said it better than I could and summed up beautifully what my father and I had finally learned:
“The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologize and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of spirit and soul to do either -- or both -- when needed?”
If there is someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness, don’t wait. I am eternally grateful and blessed that my father and I finally forgave each other, but it was a close thing. My life would never have been as full as it has been since that night. Three words changed our relationship, my memories, and filled me with the strength to move to Africa. I’ll never know, but I really don’t know if I could have done it without that final resolution. It doesn’t matter if forgiveness is granted by the one from whom you ask it, but it will matter eternally if you don’t ask. Please, in the name of our Lord Jesus, ask forgiveness from those here on this earth who need to hear you ask it. Your life will change, forever, for the better.