Can baby boomers forgive those who have harmed us?

When a baby boomer opens up, it’s often about long-ago life-changing experiences. Leslie Jordan Clary of Doyle, California, has written a very frank piece for us that is both moving and troubling. But the lesson is clear and obvious: Learn to forgive those who have harmed us.

Many of us boomers grew up with parents who practiced “spare the rod spoil the child.” The way children were disciplined was considered something to be addressed within the family, and things like molestation and sexual abuse were too horrible to even acknowledge. While most of us probably grew up just fine, some families crossed the line into abuse that has left a lifetime of scarring.

When I remember my childhood, I hear splintering glass.

Leslie Jordan Clary's father … a big man with a temper.

Leslie Jordan Clary’s father … a big man with a temper.

I grew up with an angry father. His temper could explode at the smallest provocation or sometimes none at all. He would find insult in words where none was meant and react with shouting and dishes shattered against the wall.

Every day seemed to follow the same pattern. As soon as his car pulled into the driveway, my beagle, Gretel, would run to the door wagging her tail. My father would then kick her across the room, sending her yelping under the couch. Then he would mix a drink and disappear into himself. I never understood why that dog seemed so happy to see him day after day.

Leslie Jordan Clary

Leslie Jordan Clary

Many of us may have thought we dealt with our dysfunctional families long ago, only to find buried memories rising up fifty or more years later, making us feel like it all happened yesterday. Some of us might have sought out therapy, read books about the problem, or joined support groups. Maybe we were better parents than our own were, or maybe we repeated patterns of abuse that we’re now watching our own adult children struggle with.

Whatever was done to us in our past or whatever mistakes we’ve made ourselves, I am convinced of two things. One, we can’t really move on until we learn to forgive, and two, it’s never too late to change.

After I left home, I gradually began to make peace with my father. I believe he loved me, but I always felt he was slightly disappointed that I wasn’t a boy. He was an outdoorsman who loved nothing more than to hunt and fish. I didn’t. Worms on hooks made me squirm. When he tried to teach me to shoot, the kick knocked me on my ass, terrifying me. My one redeeming quality seemed to be that I was good with boats and many of my best childhood memories are of navigating first a rowboat, and then later a kayak through the green channels of the lake where we lived in Ohio.

Around the water in Ohio.

Around the water in Ohio.

My father seemed invincible. He survived two major heart attacks, and then was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As I watched him diminish, I began to understand that he was just another wounded man who had probably never come to grips with his own violent father. Who knows what dreams he had let go over the years. There are still things I wish I had told him. Things he should have known. But our last words together were of love and forgiveness. And I’m grateful for that.

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  1. I reaaly liked your article and I too was struck with a couple similarites. Life during my youth was much simpler but could often have episodes that left me wondering what I had done wrong. As I grew I learned that it was easier to avoid confrontation period.

    I also liked your realization that a Father is sometimes molded by his Father and could have felt trapped.

    Thanks for the insight,

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sandy. One of the things that strikes me about our generation is how many of us grew up feeling like there was something wrong with us because a lot of things just weren’t talked about.

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