Congratulations to Dennis Driscoll for Winning the June 2023 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

Write about a time someone hurt you and why — or whether — you forgave them.

Dennis told a touching story about the journey from pain to forgiveness. Enjoy his winning submission:

Dennis Driscoll

I grew up without a father. And better off for it, I often thought. My father was an alcoholic and spent most of his adult life in and out of VA hospitals, where he died penniless and alone.

After the war, he and my mother had three children. I was the youngest. When I was about 5, my mother finally got him out of the house.

I didn’t see my father at all after age 8, and those few events where he did show up were just embarrassing. High school and college graduation, marriage, and children came and went without any contact. He had abandoned us.

That left us to fend for ourselves. We had some welfare assistance at first. My mother was up at 5 a.m. every day and took the subway to work at the Sears Roebuck catalog office in Boston. As kids, we learned how to work hard. Working many jobs during and after school. We learned how to hustle for money and be independent.

Growing up disadvantaged left me with books and sports. And activities that didn’t cost anything or much at all. Walking, biking, going to the beach, park, or playground. My mother would take us to the library to find some adventure and stay cool in the summer. It’s where I fell in love with words.

My dad suffered from what’s now called PTSD. The son of Irish immigrants, he graduated from Boston College and was in his first year at Boston College Law when war broke out. He enlisted in the Navy. Became an officer of landing crafts. He fought with the Marines in some of the major theaters in the South Pacific, including Iwo Jima, where he received a Bronze Star. While he never spoke of it, according to my mom, he had seen some horrendous action.

At my father’s funeral, I couldn’t help but think what a grand tragedy this was — one that would take several generations to heal. My grandparents died of broken hearts. My mother’s life was nearly ruined. Three children’s lives were changed forever.

At his funeral, one of my father’s street buddies shuffled in that morning and shook my hand, saying, “Your father saved my life during the war.” I never knew whether to blame the war or his weaknesses.

I went on and earned three degrees. Had a good career, raised my own family, and put my three kids through good schools. I was always there for the major events in their lives. I shared my life lessons with them. My brother became an international lawyer. My sister is an artist.

As I got older, I learned to forgive my dad. He was a casualty of war. We were victims too.

Sometimes I think about how my life might have been different. Growing up was hard and painful at times, but full of lessons that gave me grit, a desire to achieve, and a passion for giving back.

All the hurt made me a better person.