My father doesn't remember who I am. He doesn't remember himself. All the people and events in his life have joined the dust.
I am his only child—his only son—and he has no memory of how often he used to beat me. He tortured me sometimes. Once, while washing dishes, I dropped a glass and it shattered, so my father held my arm under the faucet, turned on the hot water, and held me there until I passed out from the pain.
I always wear scarves around my arm to hide the burn scars. I don't want people to assume that I injured myself on purpose—that I am a cutter or suicider. And I don't want to answer anybody's questions about what actually happened.
When I was 11, after a relentless beating that put me into the hospital with a fractured skull and three broken ribs, my father was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison. My mother, who'd never protected me from my father and was beaten as often as I'd been, tried to rebuild our lives. It worked—we both graduated college in the same year. She married a decent man, and I did, too.
Then, 40 years after my father went to prison, I received a phone call from the warden, a truly Christian man who believed in rehabilitation and redemption for everybody. He told me that my father didn't have long to live and that his mind was gone.
"I think you saying good-bye is important," the warden said. "For you, if not for him." So I went to my father, a dark man turned pale and twisted by age and illness. I searched his eyes for any recognition, any fragment of his hatred for me, or worse, any trace of love or regret. But there was nothing, so I left him, a silent stranger, strapped to his prison hospital bed. On the way out, I hugged the misty-eyed warden and thanked him for the chance to maybe forgive my father. And I told the warden that I'd never be a Christian because that would require me to forgive a man who could never apologize.
I don't know if that's good or bad theology, but it's the only theology I own.