1. The Forgiveness of Robert and Me

1. The Forgiveness of Robert and Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Forgiveness of Robert and Me

We cannot destroy kindred: our chains stretch a little sometimes, but they never break.

~Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné

My mom was only a high school senior when she met my biological father Robert Anthony Anderson, who was eight years her senior. Although their relationship was short-lived (less than a year), Robert was already out of her life by the time I was born. Don’t get me wrong, I had a father. His name was Sterling Bowman. This was the man that I would call Dad until the day he passed away ten years ago. He married my mother while I was just a baby.

My dad raised me, protected me and comforted me when Robert would break his promises to me. I remember one time being a young kid waiting excitedly for Robert to come by my house. I was excited because it was my birthday and Robert had promised me a new bike. That day had come and gone, but no Robert. I had opened gifts from my entire family but still waited for one last gift to open. I would race to the front of the house every time I heard a car drive by, thinking that it was Robert. Robert never came. Later that evening my father took my hand and walked me to the garage, opened it, and to my surprise there it was, a brand new bike that my dad had bought me because he knew Robert was going to be a no-show. After all, this wasn’t the first time Robert had disappointed me.

Even though my mother was married to my dad, she always maintained a friendly relationship with Robert in hopes that he would have a relationship with me. For some reason Robert’s relationship with my mother never extended to me. I remember when I was eleven or so, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother Elsie’s house. She was Robert’s mother. I was dropped off there for three Saturdays in a row hoping that Robert would come by to visit with me. I would be there all day and well into the evening, sitting in a house full of strangers, waiting. That visit never came. My mother would pick me up and ask, “Did he show up?” and my answer was always “No!” During my last visit, my mother saw the hurt and disappointment on my face and said, “You don’t have to go back if you don’t want to.” I never went back.

I never felt that there was a void that needed to be filled. After all, I had my mom, dad, brothers and sister, so I really didn’t need or want Robert in my life. I can honestly say that I never harbored any ill will or resentment toward Robert, mainly because I didn’t know him. Then one day I really needed some help. I was late on a car payment and my car was repossessed. My dad was giving me some “tough love” and teaching me a lesson in responsibility, so I couldn’t ask him for the money needed to get my car out of impound. That left only Robert to call. I had never asked him for anything in life so I was sure that he would help me. By this time I was in my early twenties and Robert had been expressing that he wanted to be a part of my life.

I called and explained in detail what had happened. I had enough money to cover the late payment and repossession but I did not have enough to cover what the impound charges would be at the end of the week when I got paid. I was also gainfully employed but in between paychecks, that’s why I needed his help. The impound fees totaled close to $300. I wasn’t asking for a handout, I was asking for a loan that would’ve been paid back in full within the next five days. His reply was, “Sorry. I can’t help you.” He never gave a reason as to why he couldn’t help me, so I said no problem, hung up the phone and had no plans to ever speak to Robert again.

That moment never sat right with me, and years later worsened when I started working as an actor. All of a sudden I was HIS son! He now wanted to have a relationship with me after being absent for the first twenty-five years of my life. Bragging about me to his friends and strangers alike. I often wondered how a man that never held me as an infant, never wiped away a tear or spent time with me could make such a bold claim.

My mother had a recurring joke with Robert about that long ago bicycle promise to me. She said to him, “Why don’t you just buy him a bike?” For some reason, Robert couldn’t bring himself to do it, but he bought a bike for my son, which was ironic because he had no relationship with my then eight-year-old son. Had he only listened to my mother I would’ve opened the door to have a conversation with him about “How do we start a relationship and where do we go from here?”

Over the years Robert would call and we would talk about superficial stuff because that’s all he knew about me. He never once tried to get to know me nor did I try to get to know him until one day my mother called and said that Robert was sick and he wanted to see me. I just assumed it was the flu; after all it was flu season. But two days later my mom called again and said that Robert had liver cancer and wanted to talk. I rushed over to finally talk to the father that I never had. I believe I did so because I had lost my dad just the year before.

We talked for more than three hours! We talked about everything, but most of all we talked about having a relationship. We both agreed that it was finally time to bury the hatchet and move forward as father and son. He finally said five little words that I had been waiting a lifetime to hear: “I’m sorry, I love you.” It moved me to tears. I repeated those words to him. We hugged and called it a night. I saw the joy in his eyes. I told him I would see him on Saturday.

This was Thursday evening. On the ride home my mother shared the news with me that Robert was terminally ill and had a hospice nurse coming to see him the following day. That’s why we would be seeing each other on Saturday. I thought to myself this couldn’t be happening! I had so many questions that needed to be answered. There were so many questions that I’m sure he had for me, too.

When I returned to my father’s home on Saturday, he looked as if he had aged fifteen years in those two days I hadn’t seen him. He was hooked up to an oxygen machine and had a morphine drip. He was not responsive and his pupils were dilated. I sat with him all day and night, just talking to him about my life, my wife and children. I let him know that my children were there but they didn’t want to disturb him right now, so we would be back in the morning. I leaned over, kissed his forehead and whispered in his ear that I loved him, and it sent a shockwave through his body. He managed to mumble words for the first time that day. Although those words were garbled and hushed I still heard them loud and clear! “I LOVE YOU SON!” I left with my family, only to get a call at midnight that my father had passed away.

Our relationship was the last wrong that my father needed to right before passing on. I believe he held on just long enough to do so. That night I forgave him and he forgave me. We had wiped our slate clean and I was ready to start anew, but unfortunately we were out of time.

I sleep peacefully at night knowing that I was able to release my father from a burden of guilt as well as Robert releasing me from the burden of anger I had towards him. He accepted and forgave me for my faults as I did the same for him. I learned a great deal from that experience. I learned that life is fleeting so we need to LIVE and LOVE in the moment! And that is how I live my life. I no longer hold onto negativity and pain. I tell my loved ones and friends how I feel. I send the flowers for them to smell and enjoy above ground.

The advice I would give to anyone is: You can always take the first step. You can always extend the olive branch whether you feel it’s your duty or not. And you can always be the forgiven as you’re forgiving!

~Anthony Anderson

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