When I gave birth to my daughter Taylor at the age of 20, I knew that there would be some challenges. She was born with severe hearing loss, and displayed global developmental delay almost instantly. Her father’s lack of involvement compounded with her special needs created a sense of resentment and anger.
However, after 16 years I was finally able to forgive my daughter’s father for his absence. The following five points describe why I made the choice to forgive.
I forgave myself.
It takes two people to create a child. Though I was 19 when I became pregnant, I was well aware of what would happen if I did not practice safe sex. I was not a victim. As a sophomore in undergrad, I was thankful for my family and friends who supported me while I worked hard to finish school. Owning my choices allowed me to replay the details of our relationship without casting blame. I made plenty of mistakes in my desire to have a father for my daughter. Part of starting the healing process involved owning my choices; the good ones and the bad ones.
I moved on.
Once I realized that my daughter’s father would not be involved to the extent that I needed, I moved on. First emotionally and then physically. I moved thousands of miles away and started a new life. I pursued my dreams and passions to the fullest without regret. The decision to move on was not difficult once I faced the reality of what his involvement would be. My success was never contingent upon his involvement. I had freedom. Engaging my freedom meant embracing the limitless choices that life brought my way. I dated, traveled, completed school, married, and eventually built a life for myself. My husband is a loving dad and provider for my daughter. Moving on helped tremendously with the forgiveness process.
I saw the good.
Another step towards forgiveness involved me extracting the good from the situation. A good aspect of the situation besides my awesome daughter was an additional family. Her father’s family displayed remarkable kindness and acceptance from the very beginning. They always made it clear that they loved Taylor. Their involvement helped balance the rejection that I felt at the beginning. The other piece of good that I recognized early on was the level of freedom that I had to make major decisions regarding my daughter’s well-being.
Since she was born deaf and diagnosed with autism at the age of five, there were many decisions that I had to make on my own. Though some would view this as a limitation, I saw it as a good thing. Because of his lack of involvement, along with the consultation of doctors, I had full agency to make decisions regarding her progress. One decision included a surgery that helped restore hearing through the implantation of a cochlear implant. I also had the freedom to move out of state and pursue graduate school. Absence is not always a bad thing. There is freedom in limited involvement.
She lacked nothing.
Despite my daughter’s limited understanding of her father’s lack of involvement, she was afforded the best of everything that I was able to give. Though I often overcompensated in certain instances, especially during holidays and birthdays, I was grateful that she had everything she needed. Thankfully, over the last 16 years, we were able to create a village of people that were affirming and loving toward us. She attended schools and programs that met her needs, while gaining exposure to new experiences. I even found an amazing skiing program for special needs children in Maine, and she traveled with me to at least three university campuses during my time in graduate school.
Last year, I heard a sermon by Touré Roberts that helped free me from the last bit of hurt. In the sermon, Pastor Roberts describes three kinds of fathers. When he mentioned the father that was never involved, but still loves his child, it helped me release the last bit of hurt. Over the last few years, though I had completed the above steps, I felt obligated to hold on to a little anger since she is not able to express it herself. Somehow I was filled with a peaceful resolve that he loved her, despite his choices.
My spiritual beliefs helped me to understand the power of love. It always wins. Over time, I was able to realize that the same love that I feel daily from God is the same love that would help me to forgive her father. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you become best friends with the person, but it releases the level of hurt and anger that keeps you tied to them emotionally. When you forgive, everyone wins.
Eraina Ferguson is a writer currently penning a memoir about raising a daughter with special needs. You can learn more about her at: www.erainaferguson.com.