I sat across a gentleman on a green school plastic bench and what brought us to our destinations was my child and his who were practicing for an upcoming hockey match. A tall man with a pair of glasses to aid his vision, he introduced himself to me using his surname and where he came from, I introduced myself as Mrs….we compared notes on the schedules that the kids grind us through and he immediately clarified that he was the grandfather and not the father. Though we were apart in age we had common understanding of how the world worked then and how it works now, how the school systems were and how it was now, how the parents’ involvement was in their children’s lives and how it is now. He went to a boarding school, left home in January and came back after the mid-term exams, no letter, no telegram unless he was sick or disappeared, he narrated his school life to me. He had no contact with home and home trusted that the train that took him away from them got him to the school and will return him when the school is finished and his parents never came to his school for anything he added. I understood that to mean he was a good student, he did seem like a calm grandfather, laughing at the right places and having eye contact occasionally. “I never went to boarding school and my parents never got to come to any my school activities”, I added thinking to myself that it might be because I had none. “However these ones”, I pointed to the field of kids in front of us, “gets sick if you didn’t come to their practice or their play”. We both laughed and somehow got to his three successful boys and the daughter who is the mother of the child that brought him across my table. “I was so angry when she got pregnant, but now this grandchild of mine is the love of my life”, he said. “I have six grand kids but she is the one that stays with us and her face I carry around with my keys everywhere”, he continued.
I asked if the grandchild asks for the father and though he tried to conceal his feelings, I could see he was getting uncomfortable, “I think the child ask the mother” he responded. “This child is the only one that doesn’t have a father, all my grandchildren are raised by both parents under the same roof and we help this one and the mother as they stay with us”. “The father came once and said he will come and pay damages but that never surfaced and I don’t want to even see his face”, he let off the steam. “He never paid a cent towards this child and I can see that single parenting is hard for my daughter”. What will you do when the child asks for the father”, I asked him. He didn’t like the question nor have the answer to it. It seems like it did cross his mind though. “The child knows where the father’s home is, he never did anything for this child”, he reiterated. “Are you going to allow the child to see the father when the time comes and the child asks for him”, I added to my initial question. “I didn’t grow up with my father”, I chided in before he answered “and I understand that every person is looking for a belonging that only their parents can give. The question is going to come up sooner or later and you are going to have to face the issue of the father and you have to decide whether you are going to punish your grandchild for the teenage father’s deeds. Both your daughter and the father were young when they had this child”, I pointed to the field “and unfortunately the baggage was yours to carry, however you have to separate the two issues” I advised. He nodded his head trying to take in all the information I spilled out within a minute. The ball was in his court and he had to decide what to do with it.
“You have to first forgive this boy and then by the time your grandchild need him you will be okay” I said. “How can one forgive though”, he emphatically and apologetically asked. The questions caught me off guard, excited me and saddened me at the same time. I realized how easy it was to throw out the word forgiveness, how easy it was to expect one to forgive because I know it’s important. However in front of me was a pensioner asking me a question that was raw and real. “Mandela forgave” was all I could say. He silently laughed and realized what I was saying, I threw a lifeline that he didnt know whether he needed or not, a possibility of letting someone get off the hook without paying the price. It seems like something he never thought of, “forgiving the boy that brought shame to his family, the boy that changed her daughter’s destiny”. I saw the pain that he carried for years, the conversations he had with himself for years if he could see this boy, the sacrifices his daughter make with the child each day. I also saw that he never the thought of forgiving his grandchild’s wayward father.
I told him of the struggle I went through to connect with my father and his family, the struggle some of my family members went through to locate their own fathers and families. I told him of the destruction that the absent father can bring in a child’s life. I also told him of stories of children who outlived the absent father syndrome and positively lived their lives without them. In my experience however I needed to know who my father and his family were, I added to my story. I needed to belong in both my mother and father’s families. I found my belonging when I found my dad ‘side, other people I walked with through the journey of finding their fathers found themselves when they found their father’s people. For the first time I could find someone who laughed like I did, someone with my skin tone, someone who loved me because I exist.
The grandfather listened attentively to me, as he matched my story with his grand child ‘story. He held to the hope of one day, one day when he wouldn’t have to deal with the pain or maybe one day when he will have to face it.
One day each one of us have to face our story, our life story, whether it be of an absent father or raising a grandchild whose father abandoned. Our story is going to be in front of a Father who was never absent, but always forgiving. Our story is going to be in front of a Father who will not accuse nor condemn. He will just ask this question, “how was my Son Jesus Christ part of your life story”? The answer we are going to give is the one we live out each day.
As you live out your life story, is Jesus part of it or the center of it? Are you living your life through Jesus’ resurrected life or is Jesus Christ, the Son of God living His life through yours?
I encouraged the attentive grandfather to ask God to heal him from the pain that the arrival of his grandchild brought. I encouraged him to ask God to teach him how to forgive as the field was emptying and hockey practice wrapping up.