Forgive, but Don’t Be a Fool

by Janelle Harris

Last year, the father I’ve never met checked into the hospital for minor surgery. There’s no guarantee that whoever goes under the cloak of anesthesia will come out safely, minor surgery or not, so I imagine it raised the concerns of the people who actually know and love him. In an effort to rally the legions of children he’s left his genetic footprint on, my oldest half-sister—bless her heart—sent me a Facebook message asking me if I would come to see him during his brief stay, either before or following his procedure.

She and I have never met face-to-face, but have been in contact via inbox conversations, so she took the opportunity to try a little sisterly persuasion by tugging ever-so-gently at my heartstrings. She peddled quotable comments about the past being beyond our control but the future being ours to dictate and design. Then she pulled out the big guns: Biblical scripture. God wanted me to forgive. It was right there in the Word. And my refusal to get on board with this impromptu Brady Bunch moment was throwing a monkey wrench in the Master’s master plan.

Somehow, somewhere, someone got forgiveness and foolishness all tangled and intertwined together. Forgiveness, on its own, is mentally and emotionally letting go of any grievance, any hard feelings, any smoldering resentments you have against a person, even a situation. But expectations from forgiveness can be stretched way too far. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you want to be bothered with them. It doesn’t mean you want them to bring a covered dish to your bridal shower or text you a bunch of flimsy well wishes on your birthday. It is very possible to let go of the feelings that are keeping you in personal bondage and still not want to smile all in their face. Sometimes it’s just enough to forgive. That is the healing in and of itself.

I say this because sometimes, depending on the circles you run in and the people you associate with, folks might try to make you feel guilty about not brandishing your newfound forgiveness in some flashy show of solidarity.

You forgave him, right? Give him a hug. OK, one more.

You forgave her, right? Why don’t you invite her over?

You forgave them, right? Can’t wait to see them at your housewarming!

A willingness to forgive shouldn’t be confused with or assumed to be a willingness to interact. It’s not a mandatory part of the forgiveness twelve-step program.

Folks like to test me with that what-would-Jesus-do? mindset, particularly as it pertains to my nonexistent relationship with my nonexistent father, who I mentally exonerated years ago for being a big ol’ dud. At a discussion sponsored by the young adult ministry at my church a few months ago, the topic of forgiveness came up and I offered that just because I’m a Christian does not mean I’m availing myself to be hurt and disappointed again and again and again by the same people, circumstances and distorted values that inflicted the pain in the first place.

One dude hopped up to challenge me, suggesting that it was his duty as a man of God to put himself out there as a show of love, even at the risk of being continually mistreated. Kind of like the slap my face, turn the other cheek thing in Matthew 5:38-40, I guess. He cited a strained relationship with his father as an example of how he can take a lickin’ and keep on handing out fresh forgiveness. Bless you sir, wherever you are. I matched him, deadbeat daddy for deadbeat daddy and declared not I, said Janelle.

I think, on every level, you have to give people the flexibility to be human and make mistakes and forgive them for it, particularly if they’re remorseful and ready to move on. Even if they’re not, you have to do it for yourself and your own peace of mind as you do for them. And, at some point, you’re going to need forgiveness for something or another your doggone self, so you have to give it to get it. But that does not obligate you to subject yourself to their presence or maintain regular contact with them. I believe the expression is forgive them, then love them from afar.

Needless to say, my long-lost sister was disappointed that I decided not to show up at my father’s bedside and pat and congratulate him for… I’m not quite sure what. My presence would’ve done nothing to help along his recovery, that’s for sure. Double that for my smart alecky comments and ever-present sarcasm. He’s forgiven as far as I’m concerned. But if he wants his pardon accessorized with a hug and a meaningful smile, he’ll be waiting.

  • Dreaming

    Yes, I definitely agree with you here. I also enjoyed reading this.

    For me, I can forgive, not voluntarily, but because eventually the feelings go away, but not completely. The ability for me to forget grievances is nonexistent.

  • A Diva State of Mind

    I agree 100% with this!

  • Liahness

    Yes, I agree as well. People often believe that once they have been forgiven for their wrong doings towards another, all is well! However, they fail to realize that forgiving someone doesn’t mean I have forgotten, nor does it mean I now have to fraternize.

    Another thing, why would someone continue to do the thing that they had been forgiven for numerous times before. Like the old saying goes: Kick me once, shame on you, kick my twice, shame on me, kick me three times and your foot is coming off!


    this is very me and very my life. i don’t know why my father’s side of the family thinks me and my siblings have to come towards them in all white, moaning a spiritual and begging to come into their inner circle when the only thing we’re guilty of is being his children. we’ve already forgiven them and him, at least i have, but because i am more than content with living my life and living it without a thought of that side of the family i’ve been accused of not really forgiving.

  • OSHH

    Forgiveness does not mean you still have to deal with folk.
    Sometimes it is best to forgive and keep it moving.
    Other times you may not want to sever ties but work on the relationship going forward, because you want that person to be apart of your life. Sometimes this possible, sometimes it is not.

  • A.

    wholeheartedly….i agree with this.

  • No

    Great article.

  • Bosslady


  • ceecee

    I kept nodding my head in agreement as I read every paragraph. This is THE article. There is nothing else to add

  • Nigerian sista

    Hhhmm… took the words out of my mouth. Just recently had my divorce finalised and I know I’m gradually learning to forgive. I always avoid speaking to my ex on the phone in case I explode with anger at him over what he did. But the last time i spoke with him, the anger was no longer there and I could speak with him calmly. I believe that is a sign that I am finally learning to let go of the unforgiveness. But , it doesn’t mean that I will ever go back to him. iIbelieve forgiveness enables closer and allows oneself to move forward.

  • Seriously?


  • Nigerian sista

    I meant closure


    good for you, i’m glad you’re finding peace.

  • chinaza

    Excellent article! This is the truth that people need to hear.

  • Colored Girl Confidential

    I love this and I think this mindset can be extended to encompass any complicated relationship where there is one or more damaged parties.

    In the book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist, (one of my favorite books of all times!), Joan Morgan compares this mentality to a social worker or therapist who works with folks struggling with drug addiction. Yes you can help and support their journey but do you invite them into your sacred spaces? Your home? Your bedroom? Your inner circle of friends and confidantes?

    No – you have to maintain some boundaries. The same goes when you are trying to forgive someone. You can accept them and wish them all the best but that doesn’t mean compromising your emotional health unnecessarily!

  • Alexandra

    This article spoke to me a lot. I’ve forgiven many people, but some people can’t just understand why I want nothing to do with that person afterwards; it takes time. You can’t just invite someone into your life again, when you only got through the first step. Forgiveness isn’t just about forgetting. It just means you want to try to move on and the only way to do so is letting go one step at a time. You do it for yourself, not for the person.Thank you for sharing your story.

  • elle

    Why the hmmmm? Just curious.

  • Dee

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I forgive but I never forget…similar situation w my father and I’m not ready to just say EFF IT let’s act like everything is fine. I’m good where I’m at and he can do as he pleases. My motto “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…nope, there won’t be a second time.” I personally don’t need for someone to keep giving me their ass to kiss for me to keep it moving. The world will still go round’ #thatsall

  • Wendy Webb

    This article was sent to me by a friend who is in a very similar situation. While I am the last person to advocate handing out second, third, and fourth chances like they are cookies, there is something to be said about refusing those who are trying to make amends. In the aforementioned scenario, it was not the father that was truly reaching out at all; so in my opinion, the decision not to participate was easy. In other cases where the parent does reach out and expresses an interest in making amends, I believe that actions speak louder than words. It is one thing to say all is forgiven, but if there are no actions behind those words, even in a simple response to someone reaching out, is it really true forgiveness?

  • Lya Wesley

    There is nothing easy about forgiveness and by continually interacting with someone you need to forgive only makes it more difficult.. I just heard that as long as you are keeping score, you have not truly forgiven. Human nature would inevitably have you keeping score regarding the children he did raise and the child he didn’t raise when put in the situation you described. Martyrdom does not make you a better person, it only exhausts you. He may be a changed person, but so are you, and you have the right to to surround yourself with people that uplift you, not remind you of pain that you have resolved. Bless him and release him to the Holy Spirit. Give that situation to God, and leave it with God. You need to keep on keeping on towards the life that God has prepared for you.

  • Lirazel

    Thank you for this. It’s interesting that when someone does a horrible thing financially, like embezzeling from a church, we forgive them but we don’t make them church treasurer again — yet when it comes to personal relationships, forgiveness is supposed to mean welcome home, here’s your place in my heart.

    What’s missing in these demands to forgive and let people back into one’s life is any sign of repentance from the offending party. It’s all, “I’m sorry if you feel bad that I abandoned you — if you forgive me, you’ll treat me just as if I was a loving and supportive father all your life.” The blame is then on the abandoned one for not being forgiving. What a difference this would make: “I’m sorry I abandoned you and your mother, that I never saw you, never supported you, never even tried to be present in your life. Anything you give me — simple forgiveness, or even a small place in your life now — is more than I deserve, and I am deeply grateful.” And followed by actions that show repentence is deeper than words.

    Trusting someone who’s hurt you is not the same as forgiving them.

  • forgottenone

    This article hits close to home…in 38 years, I’ve never, technically, met my father. Through the years, I’ve had various contacts with one of my aunts and several cousins and just recently have been in contact with my half-brother (initially through Facebook). Our father may not even know that my brother & I have met. Recently, my father was injured, seriously, in a car wreck. Everyone, including my mom, wanted me to go to see him….like the past 38 years of complete absence on his part is a figment of my imagination. My most vivid memories of contact w/ he & his family have left a very lasting scar of rejection on my “childhood” self. I went to his mother’s funeral two years ago and stood at that casket letting go of my anger, regrets, etc…not even once after that did he make an attempt to do other than what he has done. The decision not to rush to his hospital bed was not easy…the accident crystallized something I’ve always thought of in the abstract…any day can be the last day on this Earth for either of us. If he should ever wish to meet me, I would not refuse but it certainly wouldn’t be with a hug, a smile and a “welcome into my life” sign strewn from neck. I have forgiven, but I have not forgotten the sting of abandonment, non-acknowledgement, rejection…and those memories protect me from being foolish with access to my heart where he is concerned.

  • sw

    I APPLAUD you for a very mature and well-reasoned decision NOT to visit your estranged father in the hospital. I also commend you for REFUSING to allow your half-sibling and the “church” man to use biblical texts to guilt you. Instead, maybe EACH one of these two folks OUGHT to ENCOURAGE your biological father to reach out to you and ask 1) forgiveness for his irresponsible and neglectful behavior to you over the years and also ask 2) you for reconciliation. Too often in the AA community when we see an aged man who has health issues and we KNOW that for decades he has been an absentee parent we overlook their past behaviors. Many individuals, especially women who attend church, want the estranged children to overlook their parent’s shortcomings during the illness and reach out to him when the parent was NOT part of the child’s life. What about the pain that the absentee parent has caused the child/children that he created? It is not unusual that these SAME folks who are ill have caused their children pain? I suggest that those of us who are approached by someone in a similar situation consider the author’s approach. I also would like for those who are FORMALLY trained in ministry to STOP placing even MORE anxiety on estranged children [mainly adult women], to “do the right thing,” repeating clichés such as “what would Jesus do,?” Instead, my suggestion is for individuals formally trained in ministry as well as others also to consider the approach that the author uses. She admits that she forgave her biological father. Those individuals, who volunteer to be go-betweens for estranged relationships or offer their advice such as the author’s half-sister and the “church” man, OUGHT to direct their Gospel to the absentee parent. They need to be talking to HIM about Jesus-like qualities such as HUMILITY, PRIDE, EGO, and encouraging the absentee/estranged father to ASK his daughter for forgiveness. Remember, Janelle is NOT, and NEVER will be the parent to her father. It is HIS responsibility to be the FATHER to her and one of the ways that he can demonstrate this role is to reach out to her and ask for forgiveness. His oldest daughter OUGHT to be directing her energy into nudging the mature [in age] adult father to do the right thing instead of PRESSURING the more mature [in intellect] daughter to compensate for her father’s shortcomings [and her sister’s limited insight.]

  • Dreaming

    I may never understand why parents who have hurt (abused, neglected, abandoned…) their children think it is the child’s responsibility to initiate the reconciliation of the relationship.

  • Gloria McCoy

    I don’t blame this young lady. Children need to know both parents, need to be loved and when a parent (usually the father) chooses not to be in a child’s life, he doesn’t know what that does to a child. Look at the prisons today, full of black men of which I’m quite certain that most didn’t have fathers in their lives to guide and love them. My two children’s father was in their lives for about 10 years but he refused the court order to pay child support. His rationality was no one was going to tell him when and how much to give for their support, he gave when and how much he wanted, many times nothing and finally 0. I hate to use the word hate, but my kids said they hated him. They saw how hard I had to work to give them a good life. I don’t think they really hated him, I think they were just so hurt. No matter how hard I tried to be both mother and father to them, I just couldn’t take the place of a father. My daughter was so full of anger to the point that in the 12th grade, she went and had her last name legally changed. My son began to act up, all his friends had fathers in their lives except for him. When he turned 13 and began to act up I made his father (who lived in another state) take him, but by then it was too late, he resented his father and was returned to me less that 6 months later, only continue to act even worse. My daughter moved to Europe after college and is now married, living in Germany with 3 beautiful children who have a wonderful father. She refuses to tell her children about her father and told her husband he died in the mid 90s, when in fact he died in 2004 of a massive heart attact, he died a hermit, never knowing the fate of his two children and never knew he had grandkids. My son has never overcome that man not being in his life for so long, and he has very serious problems today. He told me he would never abandon his two sons, but to my disappointment, he did just that, just as his father did, last Dec. he walked out on his two sons, ages 8 and 14 and their mother for a younger woman. It devastated them, but I am in the kids’ lives and I hope they know I love them and would never abandon them, but they need their dad. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, unfortanately. In the young woman’s case, I don’t blame her. Even if the father couldn’t contribute money to her support, kids don’t think about that, they just want a dad. She never knew him, it’s like going to visit a total stranger in the hospital. He does not deserve her, he is a heartless loser, just spreading his seeds around and not caring about the result of that..leaving it to the female, and probably saying she should have used protection. Lastly I think of the Shaq, his father walked out and his mother remarried to a military man and Shaq said as far as he is concerned, that is his father, the man who married his mother, supported them and became his father. That is the man who Shaq loves, not the man who contributed a night of fun (for him) and his sperm. And he let that man know that when he tried to look him up knowing Shaq was very wealthy. Making a baby does not make one a parent, you have to earn that right. Forgiveness? Why should she forgive a stranger who never attempted to look her up for all those years? I wish this beautiful young lady the best of luck and a blessed life. You did the right thing.

  • pt821

    Regarding your father – he’s the sperm donor.

    Did he teach you to ride a bike? Stay with you when you were sick? Did he make the child support payments? on-time? I am assuming that you went to college. Did he help with tuition? Did he help you move in the dorm/first apartment?

    He was the sperm donor.

    You have a job. You probably have not done time in the criminal justice system. You can think for yourself. You’ve accomplished quite a bit. The better question is why couldn’t he “man up” and contact you? Why did he have to have his surrogate reach out to you? I wonder if he even knows that his other daughter reached out to you?

    He was the sperm donor. And it appears that you have done well with out any additional influence from him.

    A former college roommate once said – you don’t forgive and forget. You forgive and adjust. You forgave and you adjusted. You went on with your life. If he wants to be a part of it – he has to make the move.

    P. S. Your father also taught you something. I suspect that if there is a man in your life, abandoning his sperm is not on his bucket list.

  • Shelly

    I grew up with my dad… but my dad didn’t grow up with his father. He’s in his 50s now but the anger and the resentment he had toward his dad who never even tried to contact him even once during his childhood still lingers. It hurts me to see him that angry because I think his father really missed out on meeting a great person, but my dad says, the lesson he learned from the anger and the loneliness from his childhood is to become a good father. He could never desert his child the way his father deserted him. So when people are lecturing you about your dad, Janelle, and quote the bible and say do onto others as you would have them do onto you, you can say that you will. “I’ll be a better parent to my child than my father was to me.” That’s a way to move past the anger and turn it into something positive.

  • Kat

    Excellent article. I completely agree. We have some messed up family relationships, and it applies equally well. They are “forgiven” as I know they can’t help being what they are, but that doesn’t mean that I have any intention of ever being around these people or letting my kids into their messed up lives.

  • Priscilla

    I went thru the same thing as well, and also handled it the same as this young lady. However the only difference is “the sperm donor” is suffering from Liver disease, and he’s an alcoholic; so needless to say he say he is always in the hospital. Bottom line as I told my half brother & brother (we are all here as result of his donation) – they both tried to get me forgive him & go see him also – I told them I forgive the donor along time ago. However I was not going to go out of my way and go see him – I told them both, if he wanted to see me, then he needed MAN UP, ask me for my forgiveness. Let’s just say – he still a little boy. No love loss, I was fortunate enough to have positive male role models. My grandfather, my uncle & my step-father. That’s enough for me. I wish the young lady all the best.

  • Amaka

    Somehow, somewhere, someone got forgiveness and foolishness all tangled and intertwined together. Forgiveness, on its own, is mentally and emotionally letting go of any grievance, any hard feelings, any smoldering resentments you have against a person, even a situation. But expectations from forgiveness can be stretched way too far. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you want to be bothered with them. It doesn’t mean you want them to bring a covered dish to your bridal shower or text you a bunch of flimsy well wishes on your birthday. It is very possible to let go of the feelings that are keeping you in personal bondage and still not want to smile all in their face. Sometimes it’s just enough to forgive. That is the healing in and of itself.

    And best article I’ve read on here in a while

  • dee

    I am 100% in total agreement with you. I too have a deadbeat daddy who was forgivin not once, not twice, but three times and after each disappearance and re-emergence I extended the olive branch, forgave him and invited him back into my life. However the third time, he got a hearty “you are forgiven” and I moved on deciding that at this point in my life I am a grown woman and I get to determine who I want in my life and who I dont. He just happend to end up on the “DONT” list.

    I also have siblings from his other relationships and I am fine with them talking about their “daddy” and loving on him. However that is not my story. They have to understand that although they love their dad and think he is amazing, I am not keen on mine, and unfortunatel we just happen to have the same father. My stories and feelings about him are drastically different from theirs and just as valid and I expect them to respect that fact. Dont invite me to his birthday parties, hospital homecomings or retirement anything. I am cool.

    I am happy with the way things are, it’s the people around me who keep saying, you have to talk to him and call him and see if he’s okay and just say hi. UMMMM….no…all I have to do is pay taxes and die…that’s it. No hard feelings but this time I get to decide what I want and I only want genuine loving relationships in my life so why does that make me a bad person? Honestly if my forgiveness is about empowering me and allowing me to move on then why is it expected that as a result of my forgiveness i now have to invite you back into my life? That is foolish.

  • Sky

    I found this article when I put some words into Google. I wish I’d seen it years and years ago.

    As a young single woman, my boyfriend did things that I knew were wrong, but people told me to forgive. So I did. I ended up married to him, and caught him in lies. People said I should forgive, so I did. He lied again. He lied about money, work, where he was, and who he was sleeping with. He spread lies about me. And when it was all over with, I was more angry at myself and at people who kept pushing me to forgive him for those first lies, than I was at him.

    Now, a friend of many years has done the same thing. Betrayed, been forgiven, betrayed again, been forgiven again. Today I said, “enough.” Then the little nagging, “But you should be forgiving,” voices started in my head again.

    Your post confirmed that saying “enough” was the right thing to do. Looking back, I gained a heck of a lot more pain and hurt out of the friendship than I ever did joy.

  • http://Clutch Mandy

    This article blessed me.. Thanks so much sister ! Whoo, relief. Tired of these over the top believers pushing their forgiveness ” point of view ” on folks, and yes using that turn the other cheek scripture, and God forgave us, so we have to forgive others. Then go in about their painful story and top it off with, ” and yet I forgave him / her ” ! Ok good for you. And if you felt comfy sitting down with them the next day, drinking lattes, telling jokes. That’s all dandy, and fine FOR YOUUU.. But not over here brethren, that is not REQUIRED in the act of forgiveness. This is not a Tyler Perry movie. It would be better to let God work with me on that situation, and pray for them from AFAR. Then to be next to them acting stank, and feeling disgusted the whole time, in my head making all kinds of scenarios as to what I could say 10 different ways to that person, and having to hold back inside from chuckling ! I don’t think God would appreciate that lol.. So thank you. God bless <3

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