My father abandoned our family when I was 6 years old. I am now grown, in college, and he has come around now that the pressure is off. He wants to establish a relationship with me, but I do not even know him. Does it seem kind of phony to now go ahead with this?
It is never too late to forgive. You see your father’s mistakes. I think that he sees them, too. You surely have a right to your anger. At the same time, you could give your father a huge gift of mercy and aid your own emotional healing if you have mercy on him and forgive. It will take a strong will and courage for you to do this. You will know if and when you are ready.
In my culture, filial piety is very important. This is a strong loyalty toward parents. I am emotionally unsettled because of how my father treated me in the past. Yet, I do not want to reconcile with my father. Do you recommend that I forgive if I can’t reconcile?
You can forgive without reconciling. Because of the importance of filial piety, your emotions may become more settled if you forgive and then, because of the past treatment, you do not have to approach your father, unless you are ready to do so.
A colleague said to me that it is child abuse to impose the education of forgiveness on unsuspecting students. How would you answer such a charge?
Good philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Good education is the same. Part of being wise is to know how to control one’s anger, to reduce resentment, and to forge healthy relationships in the home and in the community. Forgiveness, seen in scientific studies, is one effective way of reducing resentment and fostering better behavior and relationships. If we then deprive a child of this part of wisdom, are we somehow aiding that child’s development or stifling it? Teaching about forgiveness is far from child abuse. Deliberately withholding knowledge of forgiveness is educational deprivation, which should happen to no child.
I am trying my best to forgive a family member who has some sustained anger, not temper tantrums, but a kind of simmering anger that comes out frequently. I now am wondering if it is harder to forgive someone for this than other issues.
I do think it may be more difficult to forgive someone who has what you call sustained “simmering anger.” You may have to forgive on a daily basis if you are in regular contact with a person who is continuously angry. After you have forgiven to a deep enough level so that you can approach, in a civil way, this person, then it may be time to gently ask for justice. Part of justice is to ask this person, if you feel safe with this, to begin working on the anger so that you are not hurt by it.
If a person continuously forgives an insensitive partner, does this enable the partner’s bad behavior?
No, forgiving does not enable bad behavior. A lack of justice-seeking can enable that behavior. As a person forgives, it is important to bring justice alongside the forgiveness and ask for fairness. In this way, the partner has the opportunity to examine and change the behavior that is causing the problem.