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Fathers and Sons

My attitude to my son changed when I asked my own father for forgiveness.

I am now 80. I was 17 when I answered a knock at the door one evening to find a tall police inspector standing there. Having satisfied himself as to my identity he asked if he could come in.

I had had a row with my father the night before and had thrown a collar stud at him prior to picking up a knife. The inspector spoke some stern words to me for about an hour and ended by telling me to promise my father that I would always honour, love and obey him. If I didn't do so, he added, nothing would prevent my being arraigned before the magistrates. He would be back in a fortnight to check.

As a law apprentice I was well aware that the police officer had been kind to me - and the knowledge that my father had gone to the police didn't exactly endear him to me. My dislike of him had been one of the reasons I had chosen to go for the law as a career rather than for the church as a vocation.

The idea of making the promise stipulated by the policeman was nothing less than anathema to me. However I had little option and I wrote it out, with the proviso that 'I will never love you'. The policeman did not return.

During the war, I served in India as an ordnance officer. My job was to ensure that all the units going to the Burma front had their required allocation of small arms and machine guns. Meanwhile a revolution in my thinking and way of life was taking place, after the chaplain of our garrison introduced me to what was then called Moral Re-Armament.

On my return to the UK at the end of the war I apologized to my father for my previous attitude and actions. It wasn't easy and I knew I hadn't achieved any feeling of love for him. 'I don't hate him,' I acknowledged to a friend who encouraged me to take the step in the faith that God would give me love for him. However, when you make an oath that you will never love someone, God takes that seriously too and he wasn't going to make it so easy for me.

My apology to my father improved our relationship, but it was still difficult, and I really didn't know what more I could do to improve things. He still seemed to enjoy trying to get my dander up, and even though I no longer rose to them, his remarks hurt. He died 11 years after the end of the war.

Five years later I suffered a duodenal ulcer which I silently and unfairly blamed on a colleague, with whom I had worked for the previous year. I was stunned when a good friend suggested to me that the cause of my ulcer was my relationship with my father. I was even more stunned when, after a row with a different colleague, another good friend suggested that my relationship with my father was the cause of that as well.

I was not surprised that I had strong reactions to a friend who seemed to constantly criticize the work I was doing. But I began to realize that my reactions were way out of all proportion to his sin, if sin it was. In the privacy of my room I went down on my knees and asked God why I was like this. Immediately the thought came, 'It is your relationship with your father.'

But I had already apologized to my father, I appealed to God. What more could I do? 'Yes, you apologized but you never asked his forgiveness.' Even then, long after my father's death, that further step was a challenge. I decided that if by some miracle my father were to appear at the door I would say, 'Dad, will you forgive me?' It was like a stone rolled from my heart. I felt free.

It meant a new relationship with my son who it seemed to me always wanted my attention when I was wanting to do something else. From that moment I never found his requests irritating and always had time for him. Now in my old age it is he who generously has time for me!

by Finlay Moir

Article language

English

Article type
Feature type
Article year
2003