Happy Thanksgiving: Sorry I Told You To [email protected]#k Off

By  | 

The morning of the day my mother arrived from Winnipeg to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving was the day that my father-in-law apologized for telling me to f*ck off. Or did he say actually say f*ck you? I still can’t recall.

In any event, the apology wasn’t delivered with the same dramatic energy he had used to spew the unfortunate invective. Instead, he casually looked up from the stove where he was sautéing onions to produce what sounded like a practiced monologue of pat platitudes including such gems as life is too short, and our time here together isn’t very long, yada-yada-yada. Most disappointing, however, was the fact that it took over six weeks for the apology to arrive.

Now, as an imperfect human being who sometimes sucks at forgiveness, I will tell you that in my view, the apology rang hollow. Yes, I accepted it because quite frankly there’s no satisfaction in prolonging the hurt, nor is there any reward in being a total bitch, or hanging onto stale bread – he’s Boomer-crusty, so the analogy is appropriate – but much like the child who continues to lick her wounds well after the princess Band Aid has been applied, the ouchie remains.

Having lived through this emotional mindf*ck with my FIL and now feeling calm enough to recant the torrid tale – I’ll spare you the gory details – I’m reminded of the many times my girls have gotten into disagreements with one another and the coping mechanisms my husband and I have used as a means to resolve their differences.

As loving caregivers and flawed mediators – we’re human, we don’t always get it right – we’ve taught our girls that when someone does you wrong, or when you do wrong by someone, it’s best to immediately make amends and move on. We’ve told them that looking someone directly in the eye and saying, “I’m sorry,” followed by a quick session of hugging it out, usually works wonders.

Certainly, the latter tempers any lingering emotional pain, which can easily morph into physical pain if not quickly remedied. And then we underscore all of this by telling them that accidents happen, that people sometimes do things or say things that they don’t really mean – either because it’s self-directed or a projection of their own insecurities – but it’s always best to forgive, move forward and try not to hold onto bad feelings for too long.

It used to be that the explanation and summation of this tidy little Life Lesson worked seemingly well until my 6-year-old started to shout back, “It’s NOT okay!” She would say it with such wilful intensity that it became necessary to re-examine the issue that sparked the fierce rejection of the apology. It really could be anything – a stepped on foot, a joke told at her expense – but her reaction prompted us to see that she needed more time to feel better. On her terms. We discovered that if we’re able to do that then we’d be more apt to appreciate her reaction as normal and justified, and less inclined to insist that she hurry up and stop feeling bad. We’ve learned to give her the space to feel what she’s feeling. And if you think that this sounds indulgent it isn’t. It’s called compassion and empathy.

Apologies, acceptance and forgiveness are virtues that many of us take for granted. When someone causes us pain, the tendency is for others to say, “Oh, you just need to get over it.” But the truth is that many of us can’t. Certainly the healing process takes time and overcoming psychological pain can be a moment-to-moment event. I think it’s imperative that we re-examine our response to proffered apologies and learn to respect the rights of victims. At the very least, we need to honor their process rather than assuming that immediate forgiveness is a given. When they’re good and ready, that victim will hopefully one day become a survivor.

At the end of the day my emotional response to my FIL’s apology remains guarded. I’m convinced that the apology came because my mother was visiting and he felt awkward and guilty – or perhaps both. And, yeah, part of me is still wounded. I’ll get over it in time, but that’s up to me now, isn’t it?

What about you? How do you handle the hurt?