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The Wild Wild West: My Father’s Example of Forgiveness

My father taught me one of the most amazing lessons I’ve ever learned about forgiveness. It happened when I was a young girl, about eight years of age or so. I was at home with my mother and two sisters just doing things around the house. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed, and there was a flurry of tension that shook me. My sisters were looking out the window, so I looked too.

Dad had pulled into the driveway and someone was in the car with him. As they climbed out of the car, we all gasped. The person who had been driving with Dad was a man who had done tremendous harm to him and caused great turmoil in our family.

Having watched far too many episodes of The Wild Wild West, my childish mind surmised that Dad had brought this man home so he could take him down into the basement and shoot him with one of his deer hunting rifles. I hid behind the recliner in the corner and waited. I heard talking as they made their way to the house. I heard the door swing open and closed. I heard the shuffle of feet up the back stairs and into the kitchen. I heard the kitchen door close. And I waited for the…BANG!

Instead I heard the scraping of chair feet on the floor and muffled voices. I smelled freshly brewed coffee. I heard cabinet doors and clinking spoons. I even heard laughter. But no BANG! Eventually, I heard the chair feet scraping again.

“Oh, golly. NOW he’s going to shoot him,” I shivered, wondering if Dad would wield his gun like James West or Artemus Gordon.

Nope. This time, the feet came into the living room. It was the man who’d wronged my father, and he’d come to apologize to us girls. After that, Dad and the man shook hands, went out, got in the car, and drove away.

Years later, I asked Dad why in the world he’d brought that man to our house — and why he offered him coffee instead of the end of the barrel of a .30 caliber. His answer was simple and yet profound.

“I knew that it was the only way to work things out,” he said.

By this time, I’d grown out of my The Wild Wild West phase, but still couldn’t believe that Dad hadn’t taken at least some kind of action against the man.

“So…you just…drank coffee…and…talked?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes,” Dad answered.

“Uh…care to elaborate on that?” I prodded.

“Look. Bringing him to our house, sitting down face-to-face and talking things out helped him to understand how wrong he was in what he did. It also helped me to see if any part of it was my own fault. I wanted to make sure it would never happen again,” he explained.

Thanks be to God, Dad wasn’t a James West or an Artemus Gordon. I don’t think I would’ve liked him in spurred boots, anyway. No, he was just a regular guy — with plenty of faults of his own — trying to live the Gospel as best as he could. As far as I was concerned, he’d made a valiant effort and in the process left me a legacy of forgiveness.

The example Dad set for me on that coffee-in-the-kitchen day has had a major impact on my life. I’ve tried my hardest to imitate it, and at times it’s been a pretty hard act to follow. I can usually get up the driveway, out of the car, and up the back stairs. Sometimes I get stuck on my way through the kitchen door. Getting the coffee going can be a huge challenge. Still, I keep trying because I know that if I practice enough, forgiveness will come more and more easily.

So, this Lent I’m asking our Lord to clear the wild, wild west out of my heart and replace it with the warm, friendly kitchen. I’m asking him to help me believe what he proved on Good Friday and what a simple Milwaukee Dad lived valiantly — that all people are worthy of respect, understanding, and forgiveness. He has the power to do so; I just have to let him lead me through the doorway.

(© 2011 Marge Fenalon)


Marge Fenelon is a Catholic wife, mother, author, columnist, and speaker. She’s a frequent contributor to a number of Catholic publications and websites and is a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life and has touched the hearts of audiences in a variety of venues. Her latest book is Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013).
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  • I haven’t thought of James West and Artemus Gordon in 20 years. Thanks for bringing that memory back. I went through the same thing with a sister recently. It’s hard to speak with someone who wronged you, but even harder to admit that you may have played a role in that.

    I took her to a coffee shop rather than the house…but now I’m thinking that the house would have been a better place. Great lesson.

    In Christ,
    Michael

  • Kathleen Woodman

    Straight shootin, and straight from the heart. Love this, Marge!

  • goral

    The Wild Wild West was a TV series about two Secret Service agents: James West, the lady killer, gunslinger and Artemus Gordon the master of disguise. Their mission was to protect President Ulysses S. Grant.

    That’s pretty much the plot. There really was no theme of revenge or forgiveness.
    I think a better comparison could have been made to some of Eastwood’s westerns or even Les Miserables.

    The Wild Wild West was quite mild in violence and shallow philosophically. I found it to be enjoyable, relaxing entertainment.

  • goral,

    I’m sorry you missed the point. I was meditating on what I’d learned from my father, not what I’d learned from The Wild Wild West (that men in TV westerns carry guns. I learned forgiveness from my father. Thanks for sharing your insights. Looks like you’ve got enough material to write your own article.

  • Mary Kochan

    I think you kind of missed the point about the WWW reference, Goral. She wasn’t talking about the theme of the show — but rather how in her childish mind, she had surmised that gun violence might be the way her father would deal with someone who had threatened the family. Instead, she was surprised by the way her father did deal with it, and it turned into a great life lesson.

    Really an excellent lesson for us all as we head into Lent. Forgivness is something we all struggle with at times.

  • goral

    “Thanks be to God, Dad wasn’t a James West or an Artemus Gordon.”

    Ladies, please, the author’s point was well made and impossible to miss.
    I just think that The Wild Wild West, as a show did not depict unforgiving persons as the agents were going after lawbreakers as a matter of duty and service. A more recent TV show, Walker Texas Ranger, has similar plots.
    These men carry guns as lawmen and do not have the option of forgiveness even in a TV show.

    (Thanks be to God that Walker is Wisconsin’s governor.)

    Clint Eastwood’s – The Unforgiven is a good example of how to deal with personal transgressions.
    Perhaps the author of this article was also using
    “the wild wild west” as a generic term in reference to the way disputes were handled between persons, in which case it’s a good fit.

    I did read the article and commented and got the author and the Editor to respond. I consider that
    a success.

    My apologies for being picky and contentious.
    I am working on my own article presently. It’s title will be – Shooting from the hip.

  • No problem, goral. Apology accepted. So happy to see that you’re working on an article of your own. Please let me know when it’s out and where I can find it.

  • goral

    Marge Fenelon, the article is still looking for a publisher. Publishers can be very picky.
    Now I see that thumbs up or down icon at the bottom of articles and frankly, it’s making me a little gun-shy. Besides, your article has already taken that attractive shot of a gunslinger getting ready to shoot from the hip.
    Gotta get more serious, it’s the first Friday of Lent.

  • Mary Kochan

    Watch it with that gun, Goral. I’d be worried you end up having some trouble walking. 😉