My dad and I had a loving but difficult relationship. There were of course also a lot of things he did right, and ways that he was a way better dad than a lot of other kids had.
Even as a child, I had a sense that he was doing his best. I knew he hadn’t had a father-figure to emulate because his own father had died when he was only 8 years old. I also knew he’d had a lot of bad experiences, including being drafted into the US Army and sent to the war in Vietnam and having a difficult parting of the ways with his family because he married my non-Jewish mother.
In short, as difficult as it often was, I knew I should cut my dad some slack, although I must confess that by the time I was a teenager the grace I was willing to extend to him had begun to decline, for all the reasons that relationships between fathers and sons nearly always come under strain during those years.
The years went by and my father got sick. I had just moved to Israel and I didn’t have money to go home to see him, but we spoke on the phone several times as he got progressively worse. The last call, which both of us knew would probably be the last, lasted an hour. We talked about a lot of things and just, in general, hung out together one last time. A few days later my sister emailed me to tell me he’d died in his sleep the previous evening.
I never explicitly forgave my dad for all the things he’s done that had caused me pain because. Frankly I didn’t think it was such a big deal and I was pretty sure he felt the same way. So if I tried to forgive him, it might not go over so well for either one of us. So I just put all that stuff in a box, put the box in a shelf in the back of my mental closet and did my best to forget about it.
Many more years went by and my own son was born, quite unexpectedly. Being a father to him and his little brother, who came along a few years later, has been one of the great joys of my life, but it’s also carried with it a large number of irritations, difficulties, sacrifices and other stuff that wasn’t much fun.
My reactions to those times when one of my boys has been uncooperative or otherwise misbehaved has often reminded me, in a bad way, of how my father reacted to me when I did similar things as a child. I realized, even as I was doing it, that it was wrong and that it might temporarily solve one problem but would probably lead to other behavioral problems down the road.
Finally, I realized that I was making the same mistakes with my sons that my father had made with me, and I had to stop and think and pray about it.
What I believe God was teaching me through these experiences was this.
All men want to be like their father, but that isn’t always a good thing, because our biological fathers are all human and thus, imperfect. There are also many reasons, some perfectly understandable, why one’s biological father might have had some difficult personal habits.
It’s much better to try and emulate our Heavenly Father, who governs His children with grace and love, while firmly expecting us to behave righteously and punishing us in righteousness, but never being unfair, when we are disobedient.
The other thing this has taught me is that I have a choice. I can either carry around the bitterness I have towards my biological father for his shortcomings while (ironically) emulating many of those same shortcomings with my own sons, or I can forgive my dad and make a conscience effort to emulate the good things he did while refraining from doing the bad things.
But just ignoring the bitterness and not dealing with it isn’t an option, because it’ll manifest itself without my making any conscience effort to tap into it and my sons will suffer because of it.
Some generational curses can only be broken by prayer, fasting and the laying on of hands by elders in the church. But some are simply bad attitudes or habits that are passed on from one generation to the next, usually without anyone realizing it. This kind also needs to be prayed and fasted about, but they can also be broken off by one individual simply acknowledging that he or she inherited bad habits and attitudes from his or her parents and forgiving them while making a decision not to pass these bad habits and attitudes on to his or her own children.
That’s what I’m trying to do now, and I hope and pray that by reading this, someone out there has been inspired to do the same.