By Randy Kosloski
Kevin’s father was a paranoid schizophrenic. He was violent and unpredictable. Once after being charged for contempt of court, it took six police officers to subdue him. When I met Kevin, his father had just been arrested.
I don’t know a lot about paranoid schizophrenia. However, I do know that people with this unfortunate illness are typically dramatic, self-absorbed and often emotionally harmful to those close to them. To the casual observer they may appear humorous. Apparently, Kevin’s dad would frequent his neighbors’ garages in the middle of the night and work on their cars without invitation. To make matters worse, his father had absolutely no knowledge of cars! Can you imagine waking up to find your neighbor “fixing” your car without your approval, without any expertise, when your car doesn’t even have a problem? That was one of few humorous highlights to Kevin’s otherwise difficult story.
When I first spoke with Kevin, he wanted a way to officially separate from his emotionally toxic father. However, I believed that the biggest obstacle Kevin had to overcome was his inability to forgive his father. Many times I would lie awake at night with thoughts of the possibly hostile interactions between this father and his only son. It’s difficult enough for a young man to forgive something his father has done to him, but how does one forgive his father for the person he simply is? Kevin’s father was mentally disturbed, aloof and absolutely incapable of giving his son a sense of worth or the confidence necessary to become a man of integrity.
The 18th Century English poet, Alexander Pope, wrote, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Forgiveness would not be divine if it was easy. A relative of mine once explained that the hardest thing she ever had to do was to forgive her two-year-old daughter for suddenly deciding that she did not need her mother anymore. This mother would have rather given herself kidney surgery! Eventually she understood that this typical two-year-old behavior and she was able to get past the pain.
God created the human race and then had to forgive His creation as they turned their backs on Him. What He did was much worse than performing one’s own kidney surgery. He sacrificed His only Son to torment, torture and death at the hands of those He chose to forgive. Fortunately for us, God continues to forgive us even though we often spurn His son.
I did not abandon him in his decision to completely detach from his father, but as I walked along side of him, I tried to highlight the strong feelings he had for his father by first addressing his feelings of anger, and then discussing the warmer ones. I wanted him to understand that the only way to forgive someone is by loving them. I can’t say I fully understand this concept, but I know it’s true. For there is no other way that God could have sacrificed so much to forgive those He created, unless He loved the them beyond all measure.
Kevin would not be convinced that he needed to forgive his father in order to find the freedom he sought in his life. I really believed that he could never move toward further development until he accepted exactly who his father was, and what he was incapable of doing. Only then could he look elsewhere for the two things he needed most, which are only found in our heavenly Father: confidence and sense of value.
Kevin did seem to connect with some of the warmer feelings that he had toward his father. He also began to understand that the mixture of hate and love is what made his relationship with his father so difficult. He loved his father, and because of that love, he had expectations for him which could not be met. He hoped that his father would reciprocate his love, but this didn’t seem possible. This was a continual insult from which Kevin just wanted relief.
However, to move on without first forgiving is to flee, and fleeing is cowardice.
In the Confessions of St. Augustine, he prays, “Truly the sinners flee so they do not have to see You seeing them. They run because they are blind and they are afraid they might stumble against You in the dark.” Courage is almost as important as love in forgiveness. It takes courage to admit that we can be hurt by others, and yet continue to love them anyway.
We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness doesn’t depend on the magnitude of the infraction, nor the origination of it. If we truly forgive from the heart, we can be free of injurious past events or people.
Kevin finally cut all ties with his father. From his description of their last conversation, it was a fairly calm scene. Although he walked away from his father, I suspect that he will not be free from the grip of his father’s toxicity—not until he forgives him for it.