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Will “the sins of the father . . .”?

by on June 6, 2016

Today my ten year old nephew came up beside me as I was reading by the pool and said, “Hellooooo.” It was quite a shock. I haven’t seen him since last summer. He doesn’t know he’s my nephew–or that I’m his uncle. He thinks we’re more distant relatives. His parents haven’t told him the truth.

I was awed by the purity and beauty of childhood innocence. In choosing not to tell him that his grandfather is actually my biological father, his parents have preserved his “ignorance is bliss” affection for me, an affection his parents have long lost. It is an affection I suspect his parents aren’t keen to encourage. I embraced him as a loving distant relative–and a loving uncle–would, might, and should. For I am, or I at least would be, these to him–and his sister, and his cousins.

But I can’t be this while he only knows me as a distant, remembered relative whom he only very occasionally sees. He looked for me because he saw “my son” in the pool. He doesn’t know my son’s name any more. Surely he would if he knew that my son was actually his cousin and not merely another even more distant relative.

By living in denial of his grandfather’s true identity as my biological father, my nephew’s parents have also preserved my nephew’s image of his grandfather as a loving, faithful, upstanding man. And he may well be that now and for the rest of his life. But he wasn’t always. He abandoned my pregnant mother, let his brother raise me, and hid that fact from his wife and their family until he was forced to reveal the truth.

I feel for my nephew’s parents, my brother and his wife. Not only do they wish the past wasn’t true for them, but they also want their children’s present and future to be free of the family drama. I can’t blame them. But the past is true, and it cannot be changed. And I can envision my nephew coming to me someday and asking why I and my family aren’t close to his dad and his family. And then what my brother will have avoided for however many years will be the burden I have to bear, the burden of telling the truth.  And then my nephew will have to bear the burden of truth also.

Maybe it’s better that he bear that burden at that future date. Maybe his maturity at that time will be such that he takes it in stride, incorporates the truth easily, and goes on with his life with little disruption. But maybe not. Maybe the revelation will have a similar effect for him and his generation as it did for his father and our generation. My brothers and sister and I do not have a relationship. My biological father and I do not have a relationship. My uncles and aunt and I do not have a relationship. Our children do not have a relationship. This despite the fact that most of us live in the same city. “The sins of the father will visit the generations that follow,” the Bible portends.

I respect the sanctity of the parent-child relationship too much to force the issue. If my siblings choose to live in denial and raise my nephews and nieces in that same region, I won’t challenge it. But their denial is adjacent to the truth, which is where I have chosen to live and raise my children, and eventually someone is bound to cross the border. At that point, I pray the strength of the parent-child relationship can survive the weight of the truth. If so, the next generation will have proven stronger than mine.



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