I was working full time as a cashier and stocker at a liquor store. It was the first time in four years that I had held a job for more than a few months. I was getting ready to quit my second attempt at college after having accumulated a shameful amount of debt. And, having just turned 25, I was now father to a second kid, Magdalene Thérèse.
As is often the case with males from neighborhoods like mine (i.e., tha hood), there were no good male role models to help raise and guide me. Even after becoming a Christian and meeting godly men, with the exception of one man, there were none who offered to disciple or mentor me. The one who did dropped me like a hot potato after the first time I “backslid” (I smoked a joint, in case you’re wondering). So I had to learn how to be a man by myself.
Learning to be a man by myself meant that there was never a year of Magdalene’s life where I was the best father. She was born the daughter of a man who grew into fatherhood only through much trial and error. During this time I took for granted that she was always going to be there; that she was going to outlive me and bury me, and that she would look back on her childhood as an adult and understand better why I fathered her the way that I did; that she would understand better why I was hard and showed little affection, often tired and worked so many hours, sometimes out of state. But instead, I am the one who is looking back, and regret is a constant temptation.
“Remember when you failed to do this for Maggie?” “Remember when you failed to do that for her?” “You made her cry!” “Where were you when Maggie needed you?” “You cared more about studying the Bible and being a ‘witness’ than being Maggie’s father!” “You were playing pick-up basketball instead at home playing dolls with Maggie!” “What about all those times Maggie begged you to have family night and you told her no because you were ‘too tired’?”
But as I look back on Magdalene’s life, I see something else as well. I’m not looking back on an almost-11 year life of a young girl who was learning by trial and error to be a good daughter. Instead I see a child who constantly exercised an extra-ordinary degree of forgiveness towards a very imperfect father. I know there are people, including Christians, who do not like to talk about children forgiving their parents. But I would be a hypocrite and disingenuous if I didn’t say that I would not be the man I am today without my daughter’s forgiveness throughout her earthy life.
As I deal with the constant temptation to regret and to be crushed by the guilt that comes with this, I find that Magdalene is still that quiet and constant source of supernatural forgiveness that I need to help grow me into the best man and father that I can be. Only her heart is now perfectly conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Maggie, ever-forgiving, pray for us.