My ex-father-in-law was a rather miserable person.  He’d had a rough childhood, ended up on his own as a teenager, fought in a war and came home to become an abusive husband/father and relentless alcoholic.  One of his two sons fled; the other stayed and followed in his footsteps.  When I married the latter, I was viewed as the family’s savior, there to rescue them from all the perils of their heritage.  Then five years later when those perils threatened the life of my newborn baby, I divorced them all and became the arch enemy. 

“Ron,” my former father-in-law, hated me with the deepest of contempt.  He cussed me out and called me every name in the book, threatened me, shook my very core as I learned to hate him in response.

Two years ago, the matriarch of the family died, and with her, the lies she had told in an effort to disguise the pain and misery of their home.  Without her around to carry on the charades and to protect the image of her sons as victims of heartless women, the truth came to light.  In short time, Ron accepted that truth.

He was a lonely old man without the strength to play the game any longer.  He wanted to know his darling granddaughter before it was too late, and to accomplish that, he had to be nice—to ME.

In turn, I had to be willing to accept him.  To stand inside the garage where he whittled away his hours smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes and to see gentleness in the crinkled eyes of a man who had hurt me, his sons, his wife.  He asked for forgiveness and I gave it.

For the next two years, I took my daughter to visit Ron and watched the way he smiled at her … a smile that came from deep within a heart that had changed.  We hugged and said “I love you” at every visit—something I never imagined would happen.

Last week, Ron suddenly dropped dead in that smoky garage.  Around him were pictures and drawings and gifts we had taken to him.  He didn’t die a hateful old man, but grandpa and friend who had found love again before it was too late.  He was redeemed.