Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Guest Post: The Courage to Forgive

This is a guest post from Jeff Allanach, a newspaper editor in Maryland. Jeff is a married father of two children, and writes about fatherhood in his weekly column. You can follow Jeff on his Facebook page, Adventures in Fatherhood.

I expected “Courageous” to give me a renewed sense of dedication to living the life of a great father and setting the right example for my children. After all, the movie emphasizes the need for fathers to play an active role in the lives of their children, which I already do.

But I felt a greater sense of a need for deep reflection as I looked inward and saw a character I did not expect to see: Nathan Hayes.

Nathan is the newest deputy in the sheriff’s office that is pivotal in the movie. He is a loving husband, and the dedicated father of three children, so much so that risks his life to save his
infant daughter.

He also grew up fatherless, and could have turned out to be another statistic were it not for the efforts of a mentor who kept him straight and introduced him to a life of faith.

I felt connected to Nathan because I, too, grew up fatherless. Nathan explained it to David Thomson, a young deputy who just finished his rookie year on the force, after David asked him if he really felt he had a messed up childhood because he did not have a dad.

“More than you know,” Nathan responds. He goes on to tell him about the scars he still lives with even though he is a loving and involved father in his children’s lives.

Men usually shrug at having grown up fatherless, unwilling to confront the raw feelings of abandonment that inevitably comes with it.

Yet regardless of the reasons for a father’s absence, the results are the same. A boy who has no father has no role model, and will search for one wherever he can find it. Some find a false one in gangs. The lucky ones find one in church, other reputable organizations, or a mixture of influential people in their lives.

Some never find one, and are at greater risk of poverty, drug use, and even jail.

I admit that some days I shrug less than others at my father’s absence, but the scars are always with me.

No one taught me how to catch a baseball, and I can still feel the ridicule of other kids after letting the ball fly past me in right field. If I search deeply enough, I can feel the envy of other Boy Scouts whose dads taught them how to tie a knot or build a campfire. And I still have a scar to remind me that my father wasn’t around to teach me not to drag a razor horizontally across my upper lip.

Nathan’s scars may have been different, but they were scars nonetheless. Yet he also did something I aspire to do someday. He forgave his father. With all of his heart and soul, Nathan forgave his father for abandoning him as a child.

But here is a key difference between Nathan and me. Nathan’s father is dead. He has no way of knowing if his father regretted abandoning him or not, yet Nathan forgave him anyway in a touching graveside scene.

Nathan showed his courage by risking his life to save his infant daughter, but it takes infinitely more courage to forgive the man who so blatantly wronged him.

My father is alive, but has expressed no remorse for leaving his wife and four children 35 years ago. How does someone forgive another who has not asked for it?

Nathan did, and I wonder if I have the same courage inside of me.

So, is “Courageous” a movie about fatherlessness and the need for men to play an active role in the lives of their children? Or is it a movie about forgiveness, and a father letting go of the scars he feels having grown up fatherless?

It’s both. I just need to decide which one speaks more loudly to me.


  1. Forgiveness is for you. By forgiving, you are saying, "I trust you, God, to deal with my father." Forgiving does not let others off the hook, it lets you off!

  2. As sad as it is to have lived through your situation, I think it is equally sad if not more so the number of kids who have their dads living in the same home but who are so self absorbed that their kids might as well be fatherless.

  3. I was very touched by the movie, and it has helped give me an even deeper understanding of how God expects fathers to raise their children, but it has also put a fire in my heart to help other fathers and men, man up to the responsibility of being there for their children. I think it is very important for you to forgive your father just as Christ has forgiven each and everyone of our sins, we dont deserve the love of Christ but he gives it to us anyway. Your father may or may not even care, I don't know. I am sure of one thing and that our heavenly father does care, and by forgiving your father you will be taking a huge burden off of your sholders and demonstrating the great gift of grace to your children.

  4. Hi, Jeff,

    To answer your question: “How does someone forgive another who has not asked for it?” – Just do it. I did (and I do repeatedly), so I’m speaking from experience.

    I am writing with the assumption that you are a believer in Jesus Christ because He is the best example I have.

    My father was extremely abusive (to me, my siblings and my mother), so much so that I begged my mother to divorce him. She didn’t, but he spent most of my adolescent to teen years in prison. My mother died while he was in prison – still in love with her husband. When he was released from prison, I decided that for the sake of my mother I would forgive him. In my mind at the time, I was offering Mom a posthumous gift of love. I didn’t have love to freely offer to my dad directly, but I had so much overflowing from my mom and since she wasn’t here to receive it, I needed someplace to put it.

    I called my dad and told him in so many words what I wrote above. Not because of him...not because of me…but because of a pure love I had experienced in my lifetime, I was able to offer him forgiveness… and love also. Looking back, I can see that God worked with the references I was familiar with in my life. To me, my mom represented God’s pure love and mercy and Christ’s sacrifice.

    I can’t tell you I have had a happy ending with my father. He wanted to be part of my life but he had no idea how to be. He didn’t serve, he didn’t protect and he didn’t love. He didn’t know how not to hurt those he claimed to “love.” For six years I continually reached out trying to build a relationship with him. When I grew tired and stopped reaching out, I finally saw that he had never reached back. He was open to whatever I had to offer, but was not willing to reciprocate. That, of course, hurt me too.

    The last three years of his life we did not communicate at all. He died of lung cancer last December without ever reaching out to me or inviting me into his life. That knowledge also hurt, but certainly not as much as it would have had I not taken the opportunity to just forgive him – regardless of his understanding, appreciation or reception of the free gift I offered.

    There’s a saying that we should forgive for our own sake. I disagree. We NEED to forgive for the sake of Love. Only love gives us the power to undertake such a courageous act. God is love.

    You can tell your father that you are not forgiving him for his sake or even your own sake, but for the sake of the pure love you have for your own children in the hope that should you ever falter and disappoint them in any way they will also rely on the love you share with them and forgive you just as freely.

    Share your blessings,


  5. In God's eyes,,sin is sin. It's all the same disgusting act of rebellion to him. In short my sin is no less than my neighbor's, my parent's or the guy on death row's sin. The Bible says "whosoever" believeth in him shall not perish and that God desires that no Not One but All should be saved so if thats true, then Christ died for not just me or you but for all and that includes the people who hurt me, my neighbor, the guy on death row and it also includes your father. I was hit with the reality,,that I was no less a sinner than the parents I had not forgiven of their sins toward me a few years ago and what it did for me is what I hope it will do for you. It showed me,,that I needed grace, mercy and forgiveness from my Heavenly Father for my own sins and if I needed and wanted all that, how could I even dare ask for it, if I myself was withholding those very things from anyone esle? Basically I had to bring myself down to the same level of the people I was trying to forgive because thats exaxtly where I belonged. Right where we all belong because the Bible says "all" have sinned and feel short of the glory of God. God gave me alot of insight and understanding into the reasons things happened to me. How hurting people had hurt me and how I then in return put alot of those same hurts on other people. The very fact that I withheld forgiveness from someone,turned me into the unforgiven. He showed me there is a big difference between excuses and explanations. Excuses are what we get or give when the other person or we ourselves have not accepted the responsibility for the sins committed. Explanations come after responsibility has been acknowledged , and those explanations can lead to understanding, and understanding can help lead us to the forgiveness of the responsible party even when that person we need to understand and forgive is ourselves. The Bible says to forgive all the people who tresspass against or hurt us. Lets all be honest here arent we all sometimes our own worst enemy and dont we bring hardship and pain into our lives all on our own by the wrong choices we make? So we need to forgive ourselves too in order to gain spiritual healing and that spiritual healing is what we each have needed, do need or will need. I will never know the reasons why some people hurt me simply because they passed away before I could pose that question to them, and God has taken away that need to know and replaced it with the peace that comes with forgiving those that hurt us. Our forgiveness of those that hurt us does not hinge on understanding the whys behind it and it does not hinge on them asking us for it. It hinges on our own decision to just do it. We do what we can do and then we let God do what we cant do.You can change the way you think about forgiveness but you cant change the way you actually "feel" about it. You can decide to forgive and God can make you feel that forgiveness in your heart one day. He did it for me and I know he can do it for you and anyone esle reading these blogs that is in need of giving or getting forgiveness. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding." We dont always need to understand everything. All we need to do is trust in the Lord! He knows the whys behind the whats and really isnt He the only one who needs to know it all,,and isnt knowing that He does know it all, enough?

  6. I stood at a fork in the road ~ and I chose the road less traveled....I chose forgiveness. That decision cost me dearly. By forgiving my father I literally was removed from my sister's life. Opening my heart to forgive my father slammed the door on any love my sister held for me. I was finally a daughter ~ but no longer a little sister, a favorite aunt or a sister-in-law.

    Was it easy? No. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes ~ a thousand times yes......

    How does that song go? "God is good but some times life ain't fair."

    Daughter of Courage ~


  7. Forgiving is liberating! It's putting down the burden on hostile feelings. From there on, walking is easier and flying possible. Enlightment can only come after forgiving. The sooner, the healthier, the better.

    Being a great father is the only way to be. No less.

    I salute you,


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