What does forgiveness mean? Can we forgive when the person who caused the pain refuses any responsibility or any balanced discussion?
We can’t change the past. Brooding on the past is unhealthy however a certain dispassionate understanding of it can help us move forward. It’s fair to say that I have done my fair share of brooding.
I think what I found difficult was that the need for a relationship with my father meant that the obvious option of cutting off contact was not properly considered. It was my father who ended up cutting off contact with me however I wish that I had made that decision myself. I nearly did on more than one occasion.
I had group therapy for three years between 1990 and 1993. I don’t think that I found this useful because in my case, I ended up figuring out my problems on my own. We mostly sat in a circle with two facilitators, staring at each other.
I had a lot of anger towards my father and was very introverted even as a young man. I had poor social skills and found making friends difficult. I seemed to irritate people when I spent a lot of time with them and I found this upsetting. I found studying for my PhD stressful and I vacillated too much. My work suffered. The constant interference by my step-mother in my personal affairs upset me. When I stayed with my father and step-mother, I could overhear them discussing me in their bedroom as the room I used shared a bathroom.
By the time I was twenty-six, I still had not been in a relationship. I came out as gay in 1993 and told my father and step-mother first. Though I found her suffocating at times, I respected my step-mother and overlooked or ignored her overbearing side. We were having supper after I had been taken to the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and I told them then. My father was reading the paper and he pretended that he hadn’t heard. My step-mother said ‘Alan, did you hear what your son said’. She said this so loudly that the whole restaurant heard. We sat up late (me and her, not my father who was clearly unimpressed) discussing it. I would have said at the time that she was happy for me. I wrote a letter to my brother Jack in South Africa. He later told me that it was the best letter he had ever received.
I asked my step-mother not to tell her sons until I had had the chance to do so. She broke this promise and told her eldest who called me at home in Oxford. He was genuinely happy for me and we had a long conversation. I thought that she was supportive.
A little while later, I forget exactly how long, my father was sitting at the table in the kitchen and he said to me,’Old chap,’ as he liked to say, ‘please refrain from sexual relations with your step-brothers.’ Well, I was gob-smacked and insulted. I went ballistic. ‘Please don’t get upset old chap!’ he pleaded. Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do. He had just suggested that because I am gay, I’m going to start shagging my step-brothers who were at that time twenty and twenty-two years old. It was clear to me now what the mutterings of my step-mother and father had been behind their bedroom door.
With this family, you are always an outsider and treated like crap if you let them. My eldest step-brother Nick used to leave Post-it notes on the kitchen notice board telling my dad to mow the lawn that weekend because his friends were coming down and wanted to play croquet. He was treated like a servant.