The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Redemption

I've been thinking about redemption alot lately.

Not so much because I feel I'm in immediate need, just that while I honestly believe that everyone is entitled to start anew, to leave behind past mistakes and to work towards being a better person, I've been wondering about what that means pragmatically.

Are there rules about redemption? Are there transgressions so heinous that people, having committed them, should never seek redemption? Do certain guidelines, or rules, apply? How does this work? And I'm asking in a completely secular sense here.

At least, that's what I've been pondering. The logistics.

I suppose it's predominantly because I look back at the type of father my ex has been to my children. Hard not to when we're dealing with all the drama we've been dealt as of late. While they were growing up, he always worked to provide for them. I did, as well. Together, we kept a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. But, does that make you a good parent? Better than some, I'd imagine.

Sitting up with sick kids, taking them to doctors, getting up early to get them ready for school, going to parent/teacher conferences, picking them up from daycare, planning parties and getting presents, buying clothes and making sure homework was done and lunches were packed...my jobs. Playing with the kids...his job.

My kids feel he didn't hold up his end. That (because of this and so much more) he failed them (and me) and that there are years and years he lost with them (mostly because of the drug use) that none of them can ever get back.

While I'm not entirely convinced of the data (he has a tendency to avoid the truth), I believe he's probably been able to kick his drug habit. Without any professional help in fact, which was something I had (given the history of the situation) thought would be impossible. And now, he's ready to be the dad I always knew he could be. A great shame that it took me leaving to figure that out. But, I suppose that's not in any way a singular example of how people learn those things.

What remains, however, is him finding his way with his children. Building relationships with children who have seen those failings and have the want for him to do better, but not necessarily the responsibility to mold him. His redemption. But what is the right way there? And is there only one right way?

A very, very wise man told me, some time ago, that your happiness ends where another persons unhappiness begins. Basically, that you cannot buy your own joy at the expense of someone else's. Making someone else miserable (or even inconvenienced) in order to gain self-satisfaction is something that should be avoided. And that strikes me not only as reasonable, but as very sound advice. Accordingly, I have to believe that redemption must certainly incorporate that notion.

And while I don't subscribe to all of the teachings of the traditional 12-Step Programs, there is some wisdom in the philosophy that you must make a list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Certainly, I'd expect a father to make amends to a child he has wronged. Drawing the line at injury is an appropriately wise codicil.

Learning from our mistakes and moving forward is something that parents teach children starting at a fairly early age. And it's good advice. But when the mistakes are far reaching and the wounds from them are deep, how do you know the best course to heal them?

I've been told that abandoning the option of trying to go back in time and fix errors, is far more likely to succeed than attempting to turn back the clock. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to "wake up" after having been forced to look back over your life at the detritus you've created and try to figure out how to put all the pieces back. It must, indeed, be far less daunting to move to a new piece of ground.

But the awakening is yours alone. The rest of the world didn't experience a "Sleeping Beauty" effect, drifting off to sleep when you did. People all around you have gone on with their lives. Especially the children, growing and changing, while you slept through it all. And, with children, the time is so much more precious, because forging relationships with them as adults, when there is damage in their childhoods, is going to require a great deal of patience and skill. Even then, I don't know that the odds are good.

I'm often accused of standing in the way of my ex's redemption. While that's entirely a subjective thing, I don't believe it's true. What I have tried to do (actively, in fact), is encourage him to make new traditions and to take their feelings into consideration as he moves forward on this already rutted path. To move slowly as they learn to forgive. And I've encouraged them to give him a chance, another chance, and to remember that he loves them and that he is trying.

Whether any of this is the "right" way to redemption, I don't know for sure. As I said previously, it's not unlikely that there is more than one right way, anyway.

Making new mistakes is an almost unavoidable situation, as one tries to find their way in a new place. It's how one handles correcting the new mistakes, making evident that changes have been incorporated, that will make the difference in perception and acceptance. I don't see how very much progress can be expected to be made otherwise.

I'm no psychologist, and I'm certainly not in a position to tell anyone else how to live their lives (and wouldn't propose to try), but, I am a student of humankind. And I try to think about how my actions affect others. That doesn't mean that I don't falter, or that I haven't hurt others. And I'll admit to being fiercely protective and loyal to my children...which I don't believe (again, that's subjective) is a fault.

Perhaps, there is no way to buy redemption without purchasing it with the souls of others. Perhaps, I am foolish to believe you can. Perhaps, it's all a myth anyway. Perhaps, the pain never goes away and you can never get back any of what you lost. But if redemption is real. If it is attainable. I wish someone would publish some guidelines. Because it seems to me that a great many people are getting trampled while those seeking redemption are trying to find the best way.

And some of those people are people I love more than life itself.

5 Comments:

Anonymous L.C. said...

I think when people try for redemption, they are trying to redeem themselves for themselves, not so much for other people. It makes us all feel better if we can say we're sorry and do a better job after we've really f-ed up something. But to gain our redemption, we need forgiveness from the people we hurt, and we can't force that.

The idea of "Hey, I'm doing better now, I'm really trying" is great, and everyone should shoot for it in life. But I saw a show once, I think it was Dr. Phil, where he talked about the messes people make, and what comes after. I think it was husbands who cheated on their wives, and they wanted to know how long it would take to redeem themselves, like there was a magic formula. Dr. Phil said something like, "You made this mess. It will take as long as it takes. You might never completely make up for it." The idea that our messes might never be totally cleaned up sucks, but I think the way people hurt each other sucks a bit more. But, I guess we just all have to start somewhere, try as hard as we can, and hope for the best.

5/17/2006 1:16 PM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

(A meandering, frequently off-topic piece follows. I don't have the time to try to edit it into something pithy and on the beam. I apologize in advance for ultimately taking things so far off-topic.)

It's a difficult matter, and one I've found myself coming back to repeatedly.

In the end, we have to be open to allowing ourselves and others to reinvent themselves. It doesn't mean we have to like it, that we have to forgive anyone their transgressions and allow them in our lives in this new capacity, but in the end it's a pragmatic matter. While there's life there's the capacity for transformation.

Deciding in whose eyes one's seeking redemption is the first thing, I suppose.

Seeking redemption in the eyes of ones' relatives and loved ones is probably the most difficult if the transgressions are deep. The effort and sacrifice there will have to be steep, and even then there's no guarantee. It's not up to just one person -- it's all or nothing.

Redemption in the eyes of God, well, that's between you and the voices in your head.

Redemption in the eyes of the law is the closest we get to a cut-and-dried matter, and even there we have elements in society who will not not allow marks to be erased. Those states where one's right to vote will never be reinstated. People who want a scarlet letter emblazoned on a person for life. There's never going to be a simple answer to that, as to remove it from some is only to invite the same transgression anew, yet to leave it in place is to leave someone permanently crippled.

Ultimately, though, if one gives up on himself it's a form of suicide. Deciding that one's a completely irredeemable wreck generally means the next step is to snuff it one way or another, either slowly by drowning in a series of bottles or something more immediate.

Redemption at least implies some price paid, and the size and nature of that price will depend (again) upon whose eyes one's seeking to be redeemed in.

If we take away that notion of payment then it can become something else. It becomes the fabled "fresh start", where one hits a Reset button by packing up from one's personal Ground Zero and moving someplace else. By, in most practical senses, becoming someone else. That could be a valid path to personal redemption in their own eyes, and perhaps that will be enough for some.

All of this is in the abstract, of course.

You're under no obligation to accept any actions your ex does in the present as being payment or balance for the excesses and absences of the past. Then again, your relationship with him is largely vestigial - an artifact - in place almost solely because of the children and the accompanying legal issues.

Your children will have to make up their own minds and hearts on the matter, and if they're growing as reasonable, thoughtful people, that perspective is going to change - softening or hardening - based both on what he does now and in the future and what they experience in their own lives as they take on the responsibilities of the hearts and wellbeing of others.

The loss of a marriage, the loss of a shared history, the loss of years and opportunity, and the effort to learn from these and become someone better -- all of those could be seen as a price paid for redemption. As with anything, there's no universal price guide and no scale for measuring absolute merit. We're beings with finite, material lives. What's been done cannot be undone. What's been lost in time cannot be regained.

Moving forward and existing in each moment is the only thing we can do. While we cannot forget the past, we have to use it to guide us and ultimately enrich our present and future. If we dwell in the past in ways that darken our present we could be seen to be wasting time all over again. Perpectuating the worst. Allowing yesterday's mistakes - ours or someone else's - to steal today, too.

We cannot have everything. We cannot do everything. We certainly can't try to have and do it all in the same instant. In the end it becomes a matter of values. What do you value? What do you value above all else? Are you striving for the greatest happiness for you and loved ones, or is some notion of justice more important? Is the past something so important and indispensible that it must threaten to drag us down with its weight?

Yeah, redemption's a matter of perspective. It could be that your ex will find redemption in his own eyes but not in those of your children. That's between them.

I've read that Winston Churchill took an active roll in shaping his own life and sense of legacy, and he did that in part by creating layers of fantasy accomplishments for his father. This is meant mostly just to emphasize that in many important respects, history is what we believe it is. Memory is an unreliable echo of people who in some very real ways no longer exist. In some important ways you are not truly who you were 20, 30 years or more ago.

Jumping back (last thoughts on this for now -- I promise) to a wider matter to consider:

If Hitler had survived the bunker and remade himself in some foreign land as a humanitarian who helped and came to be beloved by millions of others, would you still cry out for punishment even though this would, in turn, not only stop him doing good works but would cause new anguish among those millions who loved him?

Would you pursue under a banner of Truth, even if that was an evasion, something that's effectively saying that the truth of the horror he was responsible for is somehow a greater truth than the good he's done since? Do we grant Evil that much more power and respect than Good? Would you claim Justice, even if what one is doing will not undo the earlier horror and will be causing new despair?

Certainly, allowing the survivors of the war a sense of -- well, let's be honest, it's not justice but really vengeance, will make them feel better, and it will serve humanity in the sense people will see that actions have dire consequences... but, if one had the power to make such a decision, would you still bring him to trial or would you find the greater good served by allowing him to continue to do what he's doing, and to allow the rest of the world to take a lesson from an end met in diseased delusion, with poison, bullets and fire in a refuge-turned tomb?

This is an overly broad, personal question for comtemplation, of course, not necessarily one with an absolute and unswerving answer. If that's not the case for someone, then I'd suggest he's on as potentially as wrong, absolute and destructive a path as anyone he'd malign.

5/19/2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

LC -

I fear the point you mention "it's your mess and it'll take as long as it takes to clean it up" is going to be entirely too close to the reality here.

He has made it abundantly clear, not only in action, but in word, that he is doing what he is doing for himself. And while I don't discount that that is an important place to start, when your actions have so affected others, you may need to think about putting yourself out to help heal those wounds. I hope he figures it out soon.

Mike -

I deeply appreciate your (always) thoughtful insight. And, while this reply is going to come off wrong, I want you to know that.

While I'd be kidding no one to say that I don't believe my ex owes me something in the way of redemption (which could be why he's more comfortable telling lies to me than trying to be nice to me when he sees me so happy with someone else...I might have a hard time with that if I'd been in his place), I want to say that I'm not looking for retribution. I long, long ago, gave up any hope of him recognizing what he put me through, and trying to make any amends. And, honestly, where I am now, I don't NEED that from him. I'm happy with where I am. I wouldn't mind doing a little more work on myself, but I'm not looking to him to make me feel better about what went down between us.

That all said, I feel entirely differently about the kids. And while he may be looking at it, just as you say, with price tags on the missed opportunities and lost history and lost marriage, those are things that he can't (or maybe it's shouldn't) consider payment for his debt to them. He owes them a father. He owes them a father who will be patient and loving and trusting and responsible and with whom they feel safe and happy and loved. And that's not what they have. And whatever he has to do to provide what they deserve...well, I'm sorry, but I think he needs to give it to them.

He's told me, more than once, that he's happy with who he's become since the divorce. Great. I wish him happiness. I really do. Because ESPECIALLY as long as my kids are spending time there, it works MUCH better when he is happy. But that's not all of it.

It's not just the divorce either. Things were tenuous and he had to push it. Had to push it when I explained to him the very obvious consequences of his actions and he completely dismissed me as if I had never met those kids. Getting his advice from people who truly hadn't. Feeling, I suppose, that I had some secret agenda, some plan to take his children from him.

I love them. I want to spend every day with them. I know he does, too. And I know that as we're not together anymore, neither of us is gonna get what we want. But I wouldn't have signed on to the agreement without a fight in the first place if I hadn't felt that it had at least a chance of working. I felt that he and I could work together at raising them, even if we couldn't be together.

Once Highlander moved here, my ex completely ignored anything I told him about the girls. Believing instead that I'd begun lying to him, or that I'd lost any sense of good judgment that I may have had previously. He (more than once) told me that I was a wonderful mother. It's not me that's doing things differently now. I haven't changed how I parent my children.

The decisions he has made, in an effort to spite me have opened chasms he may never be able to patch or heal. And as I continue to tell him this and continue to try to guide him on what his daughters need from him, he continues to tell me that he is going to do what he is going to do. That he is happy with who he's become.

I don't like thinking it's a lost cause. I don't like thinking that my girls are losing a relationship with their father that could have been one of the best of their lives. I don't like thinking that I've tried and failed here. I don't like thinking that they are not more important to him than his own happiness. It makes me sad. They deserve better of him. They're good kids. And, honestly, when he works at it, he can be a good man.

I'm lobbying to see him horsewhipped on a public street, I'd just like to see him make some concessions (therapy to deal with his issues, learning better techniques to communicate with his daughters - there is constant miscommunications there that never happen here, giving them what they need from him emotionally to rebuild trust and security), no matter the price, until those relationships are at least back on course. He has already grown impatient with their "attitudes" and called me today trying to figure out why they are still angry. I got the signed custody agreement back on Monday.

As I told him months ago when he opted for the method he did, it make take months or years, if EVER, to mend these fences. And if he refuses to show them anything conciliatory, the strain remains. They look at it like, "well, he doesn't give a damn, and we don't matter to him.". It's not completely true, and he certainly will TELL them otherwise, but he doesn't know how to show it. And, right now, anyway, they need the actions that are gonna have to speak louder than the words. He's always had a very difficult time being sensitive to the women in his world.

And, I'm ranting again. My apologies. It's hard to move past this stuff when it keeps flaring up like some untreated ulcer. I badly, badly want to, though.

And thanks, to all, for your support.

5/19/2006 9:28 PM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

No offense taken.

It was actually fairly rude of me to jump in with such a broad, generic ramble when you're dealing with a set of very specific, personal issues. Once one gets into specific situations with specific people, objectivity - if not thrown out the window - has to bend to subjectivity as one prioritizes whose welfare trumps whose.

Good luck to you all.

5/20/2006 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Supergirlfriend said...

Mike -

I didn't consider it rude at all. In fact I considered it a very rare case of you caring enough to NOT be broad and generic and the message came through loud and clear.

I also couldn't agree more with all of your points on the longer version of the above comment that I got in my email. The emotional validation is a good thing.

You are a very good friend and I don't forget that that's the case above all else.

I'll try to catch up on the email I ALREADY owe you sometime this weekend. Cross my heart.

5/20/2006 6:09 PM  

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