Life Lesson from Detroit

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The news seemed to come out of nowhere.

During a morning exercise routine in my neighborhood, my stepmother calls me. It was early my time—let’s say about 6:45 am PST—but she’s in Detroit, where the time zone is Eastern (three hours ahead), so it wasn’t as early for her. It was a few days after Christmas, and because I hadn’t spoken to her that day, I assumed she was circling back to wish me a belated Merry Christmas. I could not have been more off base.

She called to tell me that my father had just died.

It caught all of us off guard. Although he had several physical ailments, everything suggested that he was on the mend. He was 80 years old. 

After a great deal of mourning and talking to several family and friends, I made bereavement plans with my employer, and off to Detroit I went with my middle son and nephew, who flew in with his wife from North Carolina. 

A few days before the actual funeral festivities, I made time to meet with my stepmother. It was important to me to connect with her one on one to see what she needed and support her. She shared with me that he died in her arms; while it was tragic, she felt it was extraordinary that he took his last breaths, collapsing in her arms. Although she represented his fifth marriage, they were married 26 years.

Then the conversation got interesting.

My stepmother shared, “Your dad was good to me—we had 26 wonderful years together. Never an issue at all. Well, except once.” 

Then I asked, “Once? Please share.” 

She began to talk about a situation where it was apparent that my father was, at minimum, “entertaining” another woman. She confronted the problem, worked it out, and the rest is history. That said, she admitted that she nearly left my father because of that scenario. After sharing that story, she could tell by my body disposition (we had our masks on) that I was a bit moved by the story, and she asked me if I were OK. Then I responded honestly, “You know, those stories were all too common when I was a kid. It doesn’t surprise me at all.” I began to share how difficult it was growing up with my father. He left my mother, his first wife, constantly cheated with my stepmom (wife #2), and was unreliable in me and my siblings’ eyes. My stepmother was utterly unaware of these stories.

We talked a great deal about my childhood pain influenced by my dad’s absence and other factors that could arguably be characterized as immaturity (he was in his mid-20s when I was born, and I was his fourth child). And to be honest, I harbored that trauma throughout my childhood and well into adulthood. As an adult, I chose to suppress my childhood trauma associated with my father to manufacture some semblance of an everyday father/son relationship and interaction. To everyone there appeared to be a classic father/son relationship; while inside, I navigated my childhood disappointment and pain while parenting, evolving as a man, and even in my courtship encounters. 

That said, I was moved when my stepmother said, “I am so sorry to hear all of this. But you must know, your father became a VERY different person.” And it was true—the community turnout for his funeral was overwhelming. Although very little of anyone from his side of the family attended aside from me, my son, and nephew, the outpouring of love for him was heartwarming.

Here’s the lesson I learned while in Detroit.

Even though I was unaware of my father’s transformation, he did transform, and one might argue that he should “atone” in some way for the pain he caused my mom, his former wives, and my siblings. Maybe. 

But here’s where forgiveness comes in. 

We need to move on from the pain inflicted by others because if we don’t, that pain and trauma will motivate and influence future relationships.

It’s unfortunately common for us—whether it’s a family relationship or a romantic one that flames out for whatever reason (especially if the relationship ended due to some indiscretion or broken trust), that we will cement people at that moment when they were not at their best self. And the things we will do to make sure that they don’t forget the pain they caused are done in various ways. Whether a mother teaches her daughter never to trust men, or women never giving interested guys a realistic opportunity at their heart, or even how men have been hurt, they make up in their mind to never trust any woman and run through them as a playboy/philanderer. When the truth is, while you may be anchoring that unflattering episode from years ago in your soul, that person has now turned a new leaf and has embraced a new way of engaging life and people.

My soul is now at peace. Even though I never received a direct apology from him regarding my childhood, it’s clear he demonstrated that he could be a good dude in the final third of his life.

I would encourage you to let go of your painful past—not for their sake, but yours. If you don’t, it’s going to disrupt any chance you think you might have of having a healthy relationship. And if you are the one who has created pain for someone, let them know that you are sorry. Ask for forgiveness. You’d be surprised by simply acknowledging your role in the situation how therapeutic that can be.

Let’s all do away with our painful pasts and be forgiving in 2022 and beyond. That’s what I’m doing.


Picture Courtesy of @blacklovecouples

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  • Jennifer

    Learning how to “do away” with your painful past is the key. How does one forget? The mind goes where it goes ..often to the very place it shouldn’t. For me, this is where consciousness comes in… If we stay present, stop living in the past or living for the future, we are happier beings.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for sharing your powerful story

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