Part 4/5: How I Learned Acceptance, Forgiveness, and Compassion
After my first side consulting job ended in mid-March, I had a trip back home to Texas planned over Easter for a wedding and to visit my family. I was excited to bring Jason (bf<3) with me to show him around my hometown, Killeen, and why Austin’s all the rage. But what I really looked forward to was getting to relax, eating good food, and then coming back to New York and giving my notice at work. April 9th was the date I set for myself to inform my workplace.
When we arrived in Texas, I expected it to be like any normal trip back home. A typical visit included eating a ton of BBQ (yes, we went to Franklin’s!), Tex-Mex, and tacos, lounging and sleeping in. My intention was to just take in being on vacation without a hard-set agenda. I fought through a tough three months of inner-work, trying out a new job, and changing my lifestyle, so I felt like I deserved a peaceful getaway.
In my previous posts, I revealed a little about my relationship with my dad. We haven’t had the best of a father-daughter relationship, and we’ve grown quite distant over the years. There has also been a generational barrier between us (he’s 81, y’all), so that also brought additional layers of complexity on an already-strained relationship. The reason why my dad is making another appearance is because there was an incident that happened involving him while I was in Texas that made me a huge impact me.
A very important note:
Before I spill the tea, I’ll preface by mentioning that I love my dad, and he is perfect as he is. I put it on the record now that I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Also, I eant to call out that what I’m sharing here is in no way an attempt to defame my family. Nothing that I outline is out of the ordinary in any typical family or relationship dynamic. I am simply giving the situational context in order to explain my personal experience.
And now back to the story…
As I mentioned, I expected this trip to be simple, low-key, and no drama. My life in New York had been dramatic and exhausting enough. But of course, when there is a lesson to be learned, there’s no planning for it. It just happens on a Divine schedule that we have no control over. What happened within the first few days of my trip was definitely all God and His way of having me test out these fancy new skills I acquired called awareness and being present.
Jason and I arrived and started our trip off on the right foot by sleeping in, eating tacos, and admiring my really cute baby photos 😁. Everything was going well throughout the day, and I didn’t notice any odd tension coming from my family members or Jason. There was a part of me that was a little nervous just because it was Jason’s first time in Texas for an extended period of time in our home. I kept my antennas up in case something felt off, but it was pretty normal. I went to bed that night without any red flags.
At 4:00 in the morning, I was awakened by my dad speaking in a loud, tense tone in the living room. He was furiously upset about something. As I was trying to make sense of what was happening behind closed doors, I immediately had flashbacks of my childhood when I would hear my parents arguing. I felt the adrenaline pumping through my veins and my heart racing to the point I could feel it in my throat the same way it did when I was a kid. Back then, I always wanted to be brave enough to get in the middle of it and tell them stop, but I was just too afraid. This time, I actually felt that I had no choice but to stop them because Jason was with us. I didn’t want him to see this.
I courageously went out into the living room, trembling from the fear of having to stand up to my parents in a matter that didn’t involve me. I witnessed my dad’s fury in his facial expression and body language. He was angry and frustrated, and it was clear he had no plans to let go of it anytime soon. Simultaneously, I saw the same level of fury in my mom, but she was holding it back because we had a guest in the house. His tone was stern and cold, and I strongly disagreed with his delivery. I disagreed with his timing, too. Like, couldn’t he have picked another day when Jason and I weren’t at home?
I sat on the couch adjacent to the one my mom was sitting on. I was still trembling as my dad purged his wrath. Within minutes, the downpour of tears began to fall down my face. I felt so infuriated and enraged that my dad would outburst like this on my vacation without any consideration of having a visitor who was important to me. I felt disappointed, embarrassed, and ashamed that he would be so selfish and insensitive. In my mind, I started to cast blame on him for all the so-called “not-good” things that happened in my life. There came that voice of negativity again telling me that I was “damaged,” but this time, because of my dad.
My downpour of tears became uncontrollable. I knew I had to get my act together if I was really going to stand up to this non-sense, so I quietly retreated into a breathing technique I learned to reduce stress and anxiety. I’m proud that I was able to observe the thoughts that were running through my head in the moment, and I kept from acting upon them. Had I not been fully present, I probably would’ve lashed out, flipped a table, and thrown a vase at the wall or something (not joking).
Once I calmed down as my dad was still talking (he was a preacher after all), I was finally able to step in and put a pause to the scene. It wasn’t as simple as, “Hey, let’s just all calm the fck down,” but my persistence paid off.
When I woke up a few hours later, I couldn’t help but replay what happened. But the replay had a different spin versus what I was noticed at 4:00am. As I was reflecting, I felt deep empathy for my dad, and I actually saw myself in him. I felt like I understood what he was feeling and imagined that he had to have felt incredibly lonely. As a minister and also the first-born son of his family, I knew he always set himself to insurmountable standards. So, although he was always indirectly hard on me and my sisters by way of not giving us much validation and praise, he was definitely much harder on himself. And that realization, in and of itself, was one really great reason as to why I needed to learn to let go of the hostility I felt toward my dad. He was human like everyone else, yet I clung to the story that he wasn’t a good-enough dad because he wasn’t around for me.
Fact: I have a some really great memories with him as a child. It was when I got older that I started seeing him less. Think it was a church thing that got in the way. See how I got hold of that “story” and held onto it for dear life?
In that replay of the scenario at 4:00AM, my dad becoming a mirror reflection of all the characteristics I disliked about myself. Exhibiting anger, rage, and selfishness – these are all things that I struggle with, too. He emotionally triggered me which is why I had such a visceral reaction. On the surface level, I placed the blame on him for emotionally tormenting me that morning. But as I looked more deeply, that blame was just a smoke signal pointing to the real issues of needing to learn acceptance and forgiveness. I saw that my thoughts were extremely judgmental, and I flashbacked to how I always judged myself so negatively.
So, who did I need to accept and forgive? If you know me personally, you’d describe me as a type A personality with perfectionist qualities, high moral standards, and a strong drive to succeed. I hold myself to a standard that is nearly impossible to meet, like my dad. When I don’t meet them, I am extremely critical. In fact, I have journal entries that date all the way back to 2012 where I actually wrote out paragraphs about how disappointed I was in myself for not meeting a goal. It’s safe to assume that my dad is probably just as self-critical. As I saw myself in my dad, I empathized with him and identified that we were cut from the same cloth. My heart went out to him, and the judgment dissipated. That morning, I finally accepted him for being the best dad he knew how to be and forgave him for not being as available as I wished he would’ve been. And because we were the same and I learned to accept and forgive him, I was able to do the same for myself and also gave myself permission to simply be human, perfectly imperfect.
I’m happy that those ill-feelings I held onto about my dad are no longer in me, and I see my dad as a real blessing in my life. I won’t know for sure, but I’ve been thinking that maybe my dad and I have come together in this lifetime so that he could serve as my mirror reflection and take a part in teaching me this lesson of self-acceptance and forgiveness. This experience put me on the road to releasing what no longer served me – self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-sabotage – and bringing me to loving myself and seeing others with compassion. These are all elements that I needed to work through to find the courage to leave my 9-5, allow myself to move on without a plan, and to truly be independent and responsible for my life. I’m not saying that I don’t have moments when I fall back to my old habits of self-deprecating or that people just don’t annoy me anymore. They’re just less frequent now, and I can identify when they arise so that I can look inwardly again.
Since I came back from my trip to Texas, I gave my notice on April 9th as planned and life resumed with little surprises here and there. I’ll share about what exactly went down in my finale post tomorrow!
P.S. My story might be unique and you may not identify with it, but I'd pose the question which I think is relatable for all: Is there anyone you have not accepted and/or forgiven? Is there anyone who triggers you? Could be a friend, family member, old roommate, yourself, anyone. What are the stories you’ve created and have held onto? When you're ready, I encourage you to think about what is holding you back from investigating it and why. And consider what value it would bring if you got to the root of it and finally let go of those harbored emotions. It might not be fun diving in to it, but the reward of freedom will be on the other side, once you take responsibility for these feelings.