Editor’s note: The Forward has been solving reader dilemmas since 1906 in A Bintel Brief, Yiddish for a bundle of letters. This letter about Yom Kippur was originally published Sept. 27, 2020. With the 2023 High Holidays upon us, we’re republishing it. Let us know your thoughts: [email protected].
My father is a Trump supporter and I am so mad about it. Do I need to tell him that he’s hurt me by supporting so many immoral political initiatives? I think he already knows. Do I have to forgive him before Yom Kippur? I don’t think he deserves forgiveness.
I hear so much pain in your letter. Even the sign-off — abandoned child! — cuts to the quick.
You don’t need to forgive your father if you think he is unworthy of it, and you especially don’t need to offer your forgiveness before he has even asked for it. To be honest, I’m not sure forgiveness is even the right question here. If you believe your father’s political positions have caused harm to others (and it sounds like you do), then you do not have the power to forgive him for that harm. We can forgive people for the hurt they caused us, but we cannot forgive people for the harm they caused others.
Instead, I would suggest two things:
First, if you really are craving a Yom Kippur heart-to-heart, try to engage your father in a conversation about how his actions have hurt you directly. Does he dismiss your political views, make snide comments about issues that are important to you or refuse to engage in conversations that clearly matter to you? Try to pinpoint the ways in which his actions have made you feel abandoned. Be honest, but try to be empathetic and oriented towards problem solving. If you want to have an ongoing relationship, you need to identify the actions that disrupt that possibility.
You can also propose ways to have more productive conversations going forward. One thing I like to suggest is that children and parents find an article they think accurately captures their political position — something well-reasoned, thought out, full of evidence — and then read it together, line by line, the way a pair of students might read a page of Talmud.
The idea is to read through each line and then ask one another if you agree with the sentiment, if the claim seems sufficiently supported by the evidence provided and so on. Consider together all the possible ways of interpretation. In traditional Jewish learning, this is known as learning b’chevrutah, and it is a method meant to ground abstract conversations in tangible claims and facts. No straw men here.
The second option is to reconsider the amount of emotional energy you are giving your father.
Sometimes, we channel all our worry and anxiety and fear about a particular moment into anger with the people around us who just don’t get it.
Is there a chance you are so focused on your father because you want to be able to do something — anything — and you are looking for ways to enact change?
In that case, think about increasing your volunteer time with initiatives that are important to you, or doing more to fight for the causes you believe in. Maybe you are already very invested in that work — amazing! — but your anger might be a wake-up call to take more action. If you redirect your energy to more productive causes, you may find your relationship with your father becomes easier; not because the disagreements hurt any less, but because they’ll loom less large if you feel you are doing something about them.
It can be incredibly painful when the people we love take up positions we find to be morally unjustifiable (duh). But it is not your responsibility to change your father, nor are you obligated to forgive him, particularly if he hasn’t asked. You can disagree with him, you can point out moments in a conversation where you think he is wrong, you can continue to show up, but you are also not obligated to persist in conversations that bear no fruit.
Yom Kippur doesn’t offer a magical reset button where forgiveness can be granted and harm removed; you are really hurt and angry, and any shift in your relationship with your father will require tons of time and energy.
Whatever you do, do not reach out to him with the false lure of a Yom Kippur conversation if all you want is for him to renounce the views you already know he will not renounce. Either try to engage him where he is at, bringing love and openness to the interaction, or spend your political energy elsewhere.
Do you have an opinion about this Bintel, or a question of your own? We’d love to hear from you. Email [email protected].