Forgiveness: Moving from hate to loveGeoffrey Woods remembers the day he made the decision to hate his father. A young man in his late teens, he had had enough. His father’s mistress had begun calling the Woods’ home and harassing the family.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Geoffrey Woods remembers the day he made the decision to hate his father.
A young man in his late teens, he had had enough. His father’s mistress had begun calling the Woods’ home and harassing the family.
“I asked him to tell her to stop calling the house,” he recalls. “She was poisoning our family.”
His father refused, claiming he should be able to do as he pleased, his health was poor and he “deserved to be happy.”
“I thought, ‘I am his own blood, and he won’t stand up for us,’” he said. “He wouldn’t protect his own flesh and blood from a person he’d known for two years. He wouldn’t at least try to put a stop to it.”
Twenty years later, when Woods’ feelings became “more distant,” he said, he began a personal journey that would change his life in ways he never thought possible.
The experience eventually led him to write “The Case for Wisdom,” in which he describes how his relationship with his father turned from loving to hateful, and how — through the act of forgiving — it was restored.
“I was starting to search for something. Nothing made sense — the lies about the affair. If I confronted him, he would yell at me and shut me out. Something was wrong. He shut me out so many times.”
Woods began to think, “maybe I’m wrong,” he said because his perspective did not match his father’s statements.
‘Hate would protect me’
“I thought that my commitment to hate him would protect me. I had done a lot of things, but I hadn’t confronted him head on.”
A pivotal moment came when Woods heard Jesse Peterson, a guest on a radio talk show, describe how he hated his mother and father.
“He told how he went to his parents and said, ‘Please forgive me for hating you for the way you treated me.’ I had never heard that before.
“What he said really resonated with me. He took full and complete responsibility for what he allowed into himself.” (Rev. Peterson is now leader of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND) which aims to help troubled youth in Los Angeles.)
Woods realized something.
“I had allowed hate to enter me” he said.
He decided to reach out to his father and apologize for hating him, and to ask for encouragement to live in a better, wiser way. But before meeting with his father, he sensed an inner urging to do more.
“I felt God wanted me to ask my father a certain question — a hard question — and that if he answered it, it would set him free.”
The question was “Why did you hate us?” It couldn’t have been more intense and direct, he said.
“I felt this was God-given. It was not my instinct. It was the furthest thing (from what) I wanted to do.”
He also felt he should “keep the course, come back to that question, no matter how he reacts.”
When confronted, his father rambled, struggled and turned pale, Woods said. But the son persisted and eventually the father relented.
“He said, ‘I always felt you kids were more your mom’s kids than mine.’ He knew (the affair) was wrong. He said, ‘it was the biggest mistake of my life.’
“He was speaking the truth,” Woods said. “It really freed him.”
He told his father that how he chose to handle it was up to him.
“It was a miracle,” he said.
That conversation birthed a process of healing and ended “25 years of my hating him,” Woods said. For the next six years, they enjoyed a positive relationship, until his father’s death.
‘So much peace’
When his father died six years ago, Woods spoke at the funeral.
“I talked about our relationship and how it moved from hate to love,” he said.
Before he died, his father wrote a letter of apology to Woods’ mother, from whom he had long since been divorced. (His affair had fizzled after four years.) From that point on, “he never spoke negatively about her.”
After father and son reconciled, whenever Woods contemplated the prospect of his father’s passing, “I remember running towards him. The whole process gave me strength to do that.
“I had been running away from his death.”
The fact that his father survived more than 30 years after a diagnosis of stomach cancer, undergoing surgery but no chemotherapy, was “a miracle in itself,” Woods said.
For him and his dad, “I’m so grateful it worked out. On his death, I had so much peace. Nothing important was left unsaid.”
The parent-child relationship “is so complicated,” Woods said, made more so by the changing culture and values.
“Parents are good at different stages, but not all of them,” he said. “I think about the pressure on my mom — she had no job, four kids and the possibility that (her husband) might die. It must have been very difficult for them, what with the stress.”
If parents don’t have a common vision about children and what the family should be, “that adds more confusion and breakdown.”
While the act of forgiving another person “is very difficult,” Woods said, it’s helpful to consider what next steps are needed to move forward.
For those who harbor guilt — and perhaps cannot accept forgiveness because they cannot forgive themselves — the question becomes, “How do I move forward out of this guilt?”
“(My father) was stuck within it. It wasn’t moving him to reconcile.”
For Woods’ part, “I had made a commitment to hate him,” he said. “I knew it was wrong and I did things to cover up, so people couldn’t see it, to show that it didn’t exist within me. But it did.”
When there is un-forgiveness, “I don’t think you can hide it,” he said. “When you get around people, there’s going to be negative actions and words. It’s destructive to love relationships. There’s not a lot of hope.”
Withholding forgiveness “is a big burden, a weight to carry around day after day,” he said.
When he forgave his father, “a huge weight was lifted. Your eyes are open to what’s possible. It wasn’t just about me; I wanted to do it for him as well.”
Forgiveness must be requested with sincerity, he said. “I simply say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and don’t offer excuses, like ‘I was in a bad mood.’
“If they don’t accept it, it’s on them,” he said. “If the apology is sincere and if the words match past actions, that’s all you can do. At least you’ve spoken the truth.”
Woods does maintain that some things are unforgivable, such as the murder of innocent children “because there is no way you can bring them back.
“Does the person still need to work through their anger, so it doesn’t control them? Yes, (otherwise) it can affect everyone else around them and destroy any living relationships.”
The book that emerged from his experience was titled “A Case for Wisdom,” Woods said, “because it was wisdom that led me to reconcile.”
It’s about “finding concepts that make sense to me,” he said. “Whatever I searched for had to make sense to me.”
One of the most important, he said, involves personal responsibility.
“I believe each of us is responsible for what you allow to enter yourself. I hope that readers get that, and that when you reach out in hope and do something you never thought you’d do, you never know what will come back,” he said.
He hopes his book “gives readers hope and a vision of what’s possible — the good things, the great things that can happen.”
Knudson covers Health and Family for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.