Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: a book review

The most important human relationship is that of parents to their children. To know the love of your mother and father, will set you up to be able to love well and live well. Unfortunately our parents also have the greatest capacity to wound us. Neglect, rejection, abuse destroys a child. Bitterness against parents for past wrongs, poisons adulthood.

Leslie Leyland Fields tells the story of her own estranged relationship with her father, a man who showed little interest in relating to her and who had abused her sister. As an adult, she sees her father after a ten-year absence and is still hurt by his disinterest and distance. It is when he is in his eighties and in ill-health that she renews her relationship with him. Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers unpacks her story and others who have walked the difficult journey of needing to forgive their parents. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions and reflections from psychologist Jill Hubbard.

Two biblical images frame Fields story. Jonah is a prophet who is called to go to the people of Nineveh. The inhabitants of this city were Assyrians who had terrorized the people of Israel. Hurt and angry, Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh and flees. When God intervenes and Jonah finds himself going to that city, he can find no pity in his heart for those people. He waits for God to destroy them and is angry when he does not. This is a poignant metaphor for the bitterness childhood victims face. Fields shares stories of women in their seventies who are still bitter towards their father and unable to forgive. But bitterness poisons the well and thriving in life comes only when we learn to forgive.The other biblical image is Joseph. He also was forced to go where he didn’t want to go and carried profound wounds from childhood. And yet he was free to forgive and grow into the opportunities that God gave him and even forgive his brothers!

All people hurt, and all people wound. Those of us who grew up in a loving, supportive home were also hurt by our parents in some way. I’ve carried my own wounds into adulthood (which I won’t recount here). Fields and Hubbard offer a powerful reminder of the need to forgive. Fields own story of forgiveness and reconciliation is not perfect. Her father doesn’t change, or at least not much and he dies leaving behind six children who did not really know their dad. But she found away to process the past and not let it control her or determine her destiny.

I recommend this book to anyone who has difficulty in their relationship with their parents and who needs help processing the pain. Fields story makes this an easy to read book and Hubbard draws out implications. I give this book four stars: ★★★★.

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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