Forgiving our Fathers

I ran across what some of the younger kids might consider an “old” movie this weekend. Smoke Signals came out in 1998 and tells the coming-of-age story of two Coeur d’Alene Indians, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds A Fire. This is an excellent film, and I highly recommend seeing it. Its unexpected ending hit me, hard, and I’m still wrestling with what it might mean for me in my own life.

To avoid spoilers, I won’t give you too much else, except an excerpt of a poem it features from Brooklyn, New York, author, poet, and editor Dick Lourie, entitled Forgiving Our Fathers:

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 in their deaths

saying it to them or not saying it?


If we forgive our Fathers what is left?


The entirety of this poem is printed in a collection called Ghost Radio that Lourie put out that same year. I have a “like new” copy on order and en route as I write this. It strikes me that it is perhaps a universal truth that men, all men, begrudge something in their fathers. At least imperfection of character, action, paradigm, or personality is too much to bear. If every father has failed us in some way, does that truth demand that we, as sons, have also universally failed them?

Perhaps I need to find a way to forgive my fathers, probably even in their lifetime, if I’m ever to hope for the same from the next generation. Maybe forgiving my fathers is the first step to forgiving myself.

If, like me, you feel gratitude to Dick Lourie for his thought-provoking work, you can find him at Hanging Loose Press. The independent publisher of collections and poetry can always use subscribers and donors.

Be safe out there.


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