I wore my hair down and natural for the first time in public in eleven years this past November. With this event, I realized, with the Lord’s help, that I had more fully forgiven the people from my past who caused me to keep my hair up for so many years.
I grew up in a strict Catholic home with an extremely mentally and physically abusive father. I do not blame the Lord for this. It’s just my story. Everyone has a story. My siblings and I had a rough childhood. We did not do the typical “normal” kid things. We weren’t allowed to go to or have sleepovers. We weren’t allowed to go or have birthday parties. We did not go out to eat as a family or with other families. We did not take a yearly summer family vacation. We did not do any of that. Once again, I do not blame the Lord for this and I do not believe the Lord put us in this to test us, or because He thought we could take it this is just where we ended up.
I sometimes felt as if my father treated us as slaves and believed he “owned” us. My mother included. He seemed to believe that he had the right to because of being Caucasian and my mother African American, which made us completely African American to him. He chose to ignore our Caucasian side. I admit, I do find it quite hilarious that he married a black woman despite being an unapologetic racist (which we were constantly reminded of). We were all mentally abused daily. I had a physical altercation with my father at least once a week for small things like cooking and accidentally letting the butter cook too long or breaking a glass or dish by accident. He really disliked the smell of burnt food and broken objects (both of which he did regularly – how ironic). I’d also get beaten for trying to protect my mother or one of my siblings. I thought I was strong enough to take it because it got to the point that I wouldn’t feel the blows on my face, the skinny branches on my back and arms or the belts on my bottom and legs any longer. I did not see trying to protect my mother or siblings as a choice, what would you do if you saw your father sitting on top of your mother squeezing her neck so hard that you saw her face become purple and her hands start to lose strength trying to pull his hands off her neck that were restricting her breathing? I believe I would even do this for someone I did not know, I was unwilling to sit by and watch as he did these things without attempting to fight back. I remember getting on my knees daily and praying to the Lord that He would help us or in actuality, help my father overcome these evils that surrounded him daily. On the face of it, some would think He did not answer my prayers, but to me, He did answer.
My mother did our hair regularly to teach us how to control it and to teach us the tricks of the trade. (I give her major props for being able to deal with four hormonal girls with long unruly hair hahaha so a round of applause for you Mama!). We all have this beautiful fun curly hair that is somedays extremely wild and unmanageable and on other days is coily soft “angel” hair as my mother would put it. She always told us that we were in control of our hair and that we were very lucky to have hair that would “stay in place” for any style we wanted. She was right. The Lord blessed us with beautiful hair that others did not have or could not grow or had lost to sickness and disease as did many of my friends. I thanked the Lord for this gift daily too. But it was very hard to shake off the negative comments from my father about our hair. He called it “N***** hair” daily. Once, my father was coming to beat me and I was so scared that I ran out of the house, down the street, to our neighbor George because he was an extremely kind man and I thought he would be able to protect me. After being brought back home (George walked me back), my father cut off all of my hair because at that time, I really really loved my hair and it was my prized possession. It was a really low moment in my life.
For some reason, whenever I would get into a physical altercation with him, he would grab and pull my hair with such strength that I sometimes thought my scalp would rip from my head. I have a nice size bald spot in the middle of my hair from an altercation where he actually succeeded in pulling out a large chunk of the hair he hated so much. As the years went by, I started keeping my hair up and in a tight bun style just to make it harder for my father to be able to grab since it was easier to pull when I had it fully down. I grew to hate my hair as I became older and happily let my mother destroy the beautiful texture of it with chemical hair relaxers. (Blackhair.com defines a chemical hair relaxer as “a chemical treatment designed to permanently alter hair’s natural texture. Relaxers straighten curly hair by breaking the bonds in the hair shaft.”) My father seemed to enjoy our hair straightened better so this became a weekly process because he seemed to not pull my hair when it was straightened. This hair regimen became a norm for me. I left my home at the age of 18 and continued the habit of straightening my hair thinking that that was the definition of beauty because my father liked and accepted me that way. But even with moving out, and having distance from my father, I was unable to accept my natural hair. I also entered into a relationship and marriage which mirrored much of what I had experienced with my father. Without getting into the details here, this relationship also consisted of mental and physical abuse. And again, my natural hair was hated, wrenched, and seemed to be part of the cause of conflict and pain.
Taking care of my hair is a daily task. And so even after I escaped both abusive relationships, I was given reminders every day, as I would care for my hair, and feel the short hair/bald spot where my father ripped it out and this would bring back the memories and the pain. But, I have found that carrying hate and a desire for revenge is completely mentally and physically exhausting and also not what the Lord wants from or for us. The Lord teaches us to forgive. His beautiful words in the Sermon on the Mount, have helped me to practice forgiveness over the years: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Over the years, I have learned for myself that holding on to the hate and desire for revenge, ends up putting me through hell. It is almost as if my father and ex-husband can attack me again, and again through these feelings that wish to rise up. Looking for revenge and a way to cause others pain is exhausting and wrong. Evils will try to jump in your head sometimes because they feed on the pleasures of hatred and revenge. Reverend Lawson Smith said it perfectly in his sermon, “Love Your Enemies” when he stated that: “The hurt comes from the hells, using that other person’s actions as an occasion and opportunity to rush into our minds and hearts with anger and sadness. The more earnestly we pray for someone who is using us spitefully and persecuting us, the less susceptible we will be to hating him, and we will gradually be released from all the physical, mental and spiritual harm that comes to us when we are angry and resentful and wish for revenge.” All humans have inclinations towards evils. The only way to beat these evils is to pray that we do not get wrapped up in hurt and revenge like hellish spirits. The Lord’s words about loving our neighbors and enemies can help us with this. Forgiveness is a key part of loving one another. Even in the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to pray for forgiveness of our debts as we forgive our debtors. We can learn from the Lord. The Lord does not hold us responsible for our sins as He showed while on the cross with saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). So if we cannot forgive others for the hurtful and small sad things they do to us, in a way we are refusing to receive the Lord’s forgiveness.
I sometimes sit and think or discuss with my husband, Anders, about picturing our daughter going through some of the hurt and pain I endured growing up but tears swell in my eyes just with the thought of causing her any sort of pain or hurt on purpose. I admit, I’m very thankful for my experiences today because they have helped me realize what kind of parent I want to be for my daughter and any future children we may have. I am a better mother and wife because of my experiences. They were learning experiences. Others go through similar or far, far worse experiences than I and can end up dead or lost without the Lord in their lives, which is even worse. But me, I believe in the Lord and His words and He has protected me through the hardest times in my life. The least I can do is forgive the people who have caused me such hurt and pain. I am surely blessed and very much willing to forgive others as they learn to figure out their lives and what kind of person they want to be. Without the Lord’s help, I would not have been able to visit my father in Florida this past December with my husband so they could finally meet each other. I thought it would be nice to visit him due to his declining health with stage 4 colon cancer. He was still quite the same but we had a beautiful talk out on his porch and at one point he got emotional in the face and hinted that he made a lot of mistakes in his past, with my mother and siblings and I. He could not quite say he was sorry for the things he had done, or entirely admit that he was at fault, but I could tell he was. That was enough for me to know that he was genuinely sorry.
Everyone makes mistakes. As a parent, I’ve made hundreds of mistakes in the past nine years of my daughter’s life and will probably continue to as she gets older. I hope that she will continue to forgive me for my mistakes because the Lord would want that. Although I cannot excuse my father’s actions, even though my father beat me hundreds of times, called me lots of unpleasant names, threatened to kill me and my family, ripped out a chunk of my hair to leave a daily reminder of his abuse, he is still my father and I forgive him. The Lord is so powerful and loving that He has helped me to forgive this man, my father and He continues to help me forgive daily.
As my daughter and I were riding our bicycles together the other day she looked over at me and said, “I really like your hair curly Mama! Papa Ders (what she calls my husband, her step-father) really loves your curly hair too! You should wear it like that every day!” I turned to her, smiled and replied, “Thank you very much. I really like my hair curly too. Just so you know, you have beautiful curly hair also.” She giggled, was silent for a few seconds and then said, “I’m happy that the Lord gave us this curly hair to blow in the wind.” I couldn’t agree more.