Neither one comes easy to me. Without a doubt, though, it's easier for me to say "you're forgiven" than "will you forgive me". In an earlier part of this chapter, I discussed why it's so important for fathers to forgive their children when they make mistakes. My guess is most fathers understood that and will be able to me more intentional about forgiving their children if that's something they're not already doing. If you're like me, though, the next piece of teaching our kids about forgiveness might not come so easy.
Recently, I was working in a small office I have in our house. It's the perfect work area when the rest of the house is quiet. But when it's not, getting anything done becomes impossible. On this particular day I was trying to meet a work deadline. It was the end of the day and the pressure to finish the assignment was growing. At the same time, our two boys were wrestling nearby in the living room. I recognized all the wrestling noises: laughter, bodies and furniture hitting the hardwood floor, the pounding footsteps of escapes and pursuits. They are the sounds of our boys in which I often delight - if not contribute to - that is, when they aren't interfering with my work.
Then I heard another familiar sound. The cry of my youngest son, Ian. It wasn't the cry of a trip or a fall or a 5 year old trapped beneath a tumbling bookshelf, it was the all too familiar response I hear after he's been in some manner attacked by his older brother, Elliott.
I bolted from my office and ran into the living room, neglecting any form of an investigation, I began barking at Elliott. He immediately started crying, and in between sobs tried to sell me on his innocence. I'd heard that sales pitch before and wanted none of it. I sent him to his room and told him to forget about coming out until my work was done. For his benefit only, I projected that would take me at least a month - if not years.
After I nested him in his cell, I returned to the living room to check on Ian's health. Yes, I know, a sane father would have thought more carefully about which son they tended to first in that event, but sanity was something I clearly lacked in that moment. And I was about to learn just how disadvantaged I was by that state of mind.
I asked Ian if he was OK. He told me he was. I asked him what Elliott did to him. He said nothing. I asked him why he was crying. He said it was part of the game they were playing. The cry was fake, he said.
How could that be a fake cry, that was clearly the your big brother just clobbered you cry.
No, really, it was the fake cry.
With one misdiagnosed cry life went from insane to Mr. Insanity owes someone an apology. Not only did Elliott need to be released well before he'd spent a year or a month or even five minutes in his room, I needed to tell him I shouldn't have put him there in the first place. I also needed to tell him I was sorry, and ask him to forgive me.
I could have just opened the door to his room and announced you're free to go - no questions asked. That was certainly my first and easiest choice. The pretend nothing ever happened approach. After all, kids love to avoid conflict as much as adults. No way would Elliott demand an explanation for my bizarre behavior.
I also knew this, though. With no explanation from me, he would have been left to come up with his own justification for my unfounded outburst. I'm guessing he'd have landed somewhere between my dad's mean and my dad's crazy. And although he'd have been at least partially right using either to describe my behavior that afternoon, it wasn't in my best interest that he settled on either as absolute truth.
There's an old saying: forgive and forget. To me, forgiveness is a chance to ask people to forget opinions they've formed about us based on things they've seen us do that we know contradict what we stand for and who we are. Apologizing to Elliott was my chance to say - even though you've just been exposed to a crazed maniac who lives too close to outburst city for your comfort, that is not who I am. It's not who I want to be.
Apologies say I wish I hadn't done that. Asking forgiveness says it's important to me personally you don't believe my mistakes reflect who I really am.
I did apologize to Elliott that day. And I did ask for his forgiveness. But of all the things I've written so far in this book, and likely of all the things to come, this is the hardest area for me to practice what I preach. Asking forgiveness is a question accompanied by a declaration: I. Was. Wrong.
And I hate to be wrong.
I will keep working on it, though, because I've come to believe this about life. For someone who wants to follow the right path, and I do, there are two avoidable obstacles that trip up a lot of people. I know they do me. One, is getting diverted to a path along the way that over-processes the wrongs I perceive others have thrust upon me. This is an obstacle kicked aside through forgiveness. The other, continuing down a path I know is wrong simply because I don't want to admit it's the wrong one. An obstacle hurdled on the way to asking forgiveness.
My dream as a father is that our boys will one day say I put them on the right path. Teaching them forgiveness is a giant step in that direction. A step they'll take each time I forgive their mistakes and they witness me forgive those of others. And it's a step they'll take each time I ask them to forgive me.