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How I learned that forgiveness is not forever

STEFANO MORRI/The Globe and Mail

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I recently introduced my newborn daughter to her grandfather. He was sitting in the rocking chair as I slowly lifted her, supporting her limp neck, into his arms for a full embrace.

It was a moment I won't forget. It stirred in me more anger than I would have ever imagined.

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Through this experience, I came to learn that forgiveness requires renewal, rather than being a one-time affair.

I was eight years old when I moved out of my parents' home. My younger sister and I followed the social worker out of the front door and into the cold winter air.

We each carried a small box containing some clothes and toys as we walked down the long driveway and climbed into the back seat of her grey car.

I didn't know then that the social worker was taking us to a foster home. And I didn't know that it was the last day I would ever live with my mother, father, older sister and brother. We four kids were split into two foster homes.

Our parents were embroiled in an ugly divorce, each with the goal of making the other look totally unfit as a parent. They both succeeded, and we kids lost.

My father was cut out of the picture by the courts, and I would not see him again for 20 years. At nine years old, my relationship with my mom and my two other siblings was reduced to bi-monthly visits. I savoured each one.

I yearned for my family. Trying to hang on, I slept with my souvenirs at my side; flat tennis balls from my dad, a picture of my lost brother and sister, and an empty box from my mom's Easter chocolates.

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Through the years, my younger sister and I changed schools and bounced around from one foster home to the next, to the next, and finally ended in a home with a gregarious French-speaking couple with whom we would stay.

They were my fourth set of foster parents, and I accepted them as best as I knew how. Despite their generosity and love, however, I never called them mom and dad.

When I was a young adult, my foster parents encouraged me to reconnect with my father. It wouldn't be hard to find him. He was listed in the phone book and we lived about 20 minutes apart. Yet reconnecting didn't feel right.

In my mid-20s, I married my high-school sweetheart and, on my wedding day, without my father present (again), I resentfully reaffirmed in my mind that "I've come this far and don't need him in my life now."

Still, something remained unsettled. Who was my dad? Why was I looking for him in the crowd? Why did I yearn for his encouragement? These questions gnawed at me.

Eventually, it felt that to ignore the nagging in my heart was no longer the best course of action. I decided to face my father and try to forgive him. After three months of drafting letters, which was more an exercise of soul-searching than of grammar and punctuation, I sent off a simple handwritten note.

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I opened: "I've long felt it would be a shame if life passed me by and I never knew my father," and signed the letter: "A lost boy."

To my surprise, he e-mailed immediately. We spoke on the phone, and on a bitter December day I went over to his house to meet him in person for the first time in nearly two decades.

He had remarried, and has another son. Without belabouring the many conversations we've had since that day five years ago, I genuinely felt that I had buried the hatchet with him and looked forward to the best father-son relationship possible, given the circumstances. I thought I had forgiven him.

However, when I placed my daughter in his arms I felt overwhelmed with a wave of sadness for the boy inside me who grew up without his father. A rush of anger overcame me.

As a new father, I was awash with a budding understanding of the gravity and yet the sheer simplicity of fathering: Be there, love unconditionally and provide. He'd failed.

Pandora's Box reopened. Why, I asked myself, was I letting him back into my life and allowing him the privilege of holding my child, barely 20 days old?

Grandparenting, some say, is the reward for parenting. Why give him the honour of being called Grandpa?

I was tormented by the same question that I faced before reconnecting with him: Am I going to confront my dad with the things that upset me as a child? What do I expect him to say this time around?

I've come to realize a past/present dichotomy in my father. I'm angry with the father of my childhood who wasn't there. But the father of my adulthood is a gentle, older man.

I don't want this anger to stir. Forgiveness is as much for me as it is for him. I want to let go of hoping for a better past and to focus on the future.

For the sake of my daughter, Grace, I want to forgive the father of my childhood and embrace the father of my adulthood. But forgiveness comes in time, and with renewal.

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