How Do We Forgive Our Fathers? by Dick Lourie*

How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?

If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

* This poem is read during the last scene in Smoke Signals. It was
originally published in a longer version titled “Forgiving Our
Fathers” in a book of poems titled Ghost Radio published by Hanging
Loose Press in 1998

From one of my all-time favorite films.  The film is about the experience of being Native American in this country, but I believe the theme is universal, particularly for those of us from the “wonder years.”  Please do see it.  You can Netflix it!  And do scroll down for the nice video of the actual scene that a kind reader posted here for us.

38 thoughts on “How Do We Forgive Our Fathers? by Dick Lourie*

  1. Carolbetty

    My father recently passed away. This poem gives me so much comfort. You can also find this film sequence on YouTube at the link below. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I stand here on the Grand Mother Earth, not even ghost in your Mother’s memory….The Great Mystery of LIfe lives in you my daughters…and the Gifts of Thanks Giving in Sun Dance. Dancing with the Spirts as One.

  3. b.gupta

    what our fathers given quarrels ,killings , hastes , because they wanted their childrens should be good and better .so they fought to others and but they didnot think for others’s childrens . on the spoilings of others our happiness

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  5. Pingback: “How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?” * Dick Lourie « Step On A Crack…Or Break Your Mother's Back

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  7. Robin Santos

    Smoke Signals is a movie i can watch over and over again. I have had the great pleasure of meeting and knowing the whole cast and producer of this movie. They themselves are awesome people. I am Blessed to call them my Friends. Most of all they are my Native Brothers and Sisters…Aho. This poem touched me. I share it with Friends and Family who have lost their Fathers, when watching the movie I have to say, I look forward to the reading of this poem, each time it makes me cry. Many Blessings

  8. This couldn’t have been more perfect for today. The man who stood closest to a father for me when I was between 6­12 yrs old passed away this April. I had the hardest time processing the abrupt death of someone who blanketed my mom and I with a love potent enough to overshadow his severe alcohol abuse. Despite their parting, his love never felt distant or cold. There was no question of fault or forgiveness, until now. While he was passing, my feet gripped the hospital ground, suffocating the unhealthy weight of his frivolity in loving himself. His failed organs, his limp body, the machines and all of their wires­ were still not enough to budge the gentle love that his eyes never failed to bestow. There was nothing deeper than the flesh of his organs to forgive. His love never faltered or questioned those who chose it. I chose to love this man as a naive child­ and I choose to keep him wrapped around my heart with that same love.
    Purely forever, safe and warm, Richard.

    1. How beautiful. Addiction is an inevitable phase on the spiritual path of many, and I’ve noticed over years of working with addicts that they are so often among the deepest and most profound visionaries among us. How wonderful that you were able to see this and appreciate it.

    1. One thing to keep in mind is that Sherman Alexie did NOT write this poem. It was indeed a wonderful film and is a moving poem, and there are certainly a lot of people out there who are having trouble forgiving their fathers, because I get more hits for this poem than anything on my blog. In fact, I’ve begun to feel that it is a public service to post it here! We live to serve. . .

  9. Stephen Maxam

    Thirty nine years ago, my counselor, a Penobscot from Maine, and I was from Maine, told me I was not drinking to escape so much as I was drinking to save something…….
    Well, it’s thirty-nine years later, and I guess I must have found another way of saving it.

  10. Reblogged this on Rays and commented:

    Recently I learned that I can only “reblog” things once, and only after I deleted something I’d “reblogged;” but I’m going to do this one anyway, for it is, again, Father’s Day, and well….read below. Some clever person posted the trailer from the film, “Smoke Signals,” that it was recited in, so do check that out, too . . . And see the film! It is wonderful!

  11. Pingback: Resentment is heavy…..Forgiveness is a little lighter | 10thousandthingseternal

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  14. Jeff Sipley

    This film speaks volumes to every culture where alcohol divides families and children grow with holes in their soul that can be difficult or impossible to fill. I see so much of my past in the film that it hurts me to the core. I can only hope my children will understand just how much being a constant in their lives will mean to them later. That damn poem just wrecks me at the end. Way to go Sherman. You can make a grown, white man cry. I am truly grateful.

    1. I love Sherman Alexie too, but he actually didn’t write the poem. However, I agree that it was truly a little gem of a film, and we pull it out and watch every few years. And that damned poem gets more hits than anything on my site! Not surprisingly, of course, it is truly a universal theme.

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  21. Anonymous

    I enjoyed the movie greatly, but I was not prepared for those words in the closing scene, words that cut deep into my heart. As the son of a cold, distant father, it took me a very, very long time to learn to forgive him – too long. No, he was not the father of my dreams, but I was not the son of his dreams, either.

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