Forgiving Our Parents. Again. Imperfectly.

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

—Dick Laurie, amended by Sherman Alexie

There have been many who have been responsible for our care over the years. Sometimes, they did not understand their power, or their duties. Sometimes, they were not capable, they were broken, they had too many children to see each. Sometimes, they were even aware of their incapability, but had no resources of their own to rise to action.

We make ourselves as best we can. We do the work, we follow our best abilities and push ourselves to make them better than that. But if the ground is not prepared, the seed will not take. And the ground has been tended by those who came before. If they do not understand its character, or if they deplete it for their own gain, or if they do not match the soil to the seed, even the best young plant cannot thrive.

We talk too easily about mentoring, thinking that it encompasses almost any contact with the young. But no, it is more specific, and thus more urgent. The work of the mentor, like the work of the parent, is to sponsor our membership in a body that will welcome us. To groom us to understand the local language, to speak the dialect, to belong. And to groom the community to be excited for our participation, to look forward to our membership. To speak, and to work, on our behalf. To prepare us to successfully leave home.

If we are responsible for our young, it is not acceptable to hope that they can “hit the ground running.” It is not acceptable to be too busy to see them. It is not acceptable to create highly trained performers and not coach them into collective power. It is not acceptable to watch them founder, and say “better luck next time.” It is not acceptable to abdicate their growth to HR or Career Services. It is not acceptable to cast their work onto the blind, cold marketplace and move on to next year’s model.

How do we forgive our fathers? Or should we?