“Dads play such a formative role in our lives. Sometimes this can be immensely positive, but for so many, their relationship with their father has become devastatingly destructive.”Luke Gibbons
I’m almost 35 and I still vividly remember anxiously waiting by my grandmother’s bay window in hopes to see my dad show up to visit. Those hot summers in Long Island, NY stung a bit more when he wasn’t able to make it. Which if I’m honest was the normal. I don’t remember when I stopped waiting for him to come, but when I did there was a tough callous. Somehow my mind and heart normalized broken promises and unmet expectations and tried to remedy them with perfectionism and “excellence.” Healing can come swiftly, but also through an extensive journey. Mine has been the later on forgiveness and healing my own father wound.
Even though I didn’t have much of a relationship, I yearned for any time he would give. There’s such an innocent forgiveness children extend. More often than not, he didn’t show. No matter how many times the sun would set, I still had a deep hope he would appear.
The reality of bitterness
When Father’s Day is less of a celebration and more of a deep wound, know that I get it. These words are formed from the reflections of that little girl. The one waiting and hoping for that ideal father/daughter connection that wouldn’t happen. It’s also from a woman who has had to find the courage to open up, heal, and the lessons from that journey.
Those bitter roots from missed birthdays, no shows, and hurtful words turned into anger and a longing for someone to see me. That searching landed me in a toxic relationship, confusion on who God was, and an emptiness unfulfilled by people pleasing. Anyone to notice my value and love what seemed to be unloveable.
That hurt also lashed out at the mom who still encouraged me to keep a relationship, make the calls, and send the cards. Looking back I still mourn those years, but there’s such beauty in redemption even when it doesn’t look like the fairy tales.
Lessons in brokenness
It took many years to accept I really was not okay. With good intentions I tried my best to keep the door open for what “could be.” Maybe when I get older I could:
- Have a better relationship
- Understand why he wasn’t present
- Accept our past and easily forgive
As a kid I could always craft an excuse in my mind why my dad was unavailable. The problem arose when I felt the need to own those excuses, instead of letting them rest with the one making them.
You are not responsible. I wish I had the boldness enough to tell myself that at a much younger age. I was emotionally put in charge of managing my father’s guilt and my own abandonment. Unfortunately, you can’t do both well. My outbursts, meltdowns, and “behavior issues” were the result of trying to carry a heavy load.
Children are not equipped to shoulder adult decisions and emotions. Even with the best of intentions, it’s not a fair task to ask of any child.
Boundaries are not punishment. This one is so much easier said than done. That pattern of making excuses, receiving excuses, and accepting them made boundaries a pile of mush. The ability to tell someone, even an absent parent that access to your life is a privilege takes practice. To find the words without the anger as the catalyst has been a personal area of growth for me.
You can have boundaries and be completely at peace. I’ve been reminding myself of that lately. Being around someone who randomly picks and chooses when to drop in only to ease their pain isn’t much of a relationship. I didn’t tell myself that sooner, but I hope you do.
Forgiveness can happen with separation. I think Christians get this mixed up, and this is from first hand experience. The complexities of forgiveness, boundaries, and grace seem to look more toxic than anything else sometimes. We are called to forgive just as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32) – but that doesn’t mean I have to maintain communication.
You’re not a bad person by choosing to step away or close that door. I can say that 34 years later. My biological father has not met my kids and that’s my choice. I understand that somethings are better left not pursued, because that will not be a part of my kids’ story.
Open to receive love
Celebrating fatherhood has come in the most unexpected ways. One of those is the grace that has covered my relationship with my step father, who I see as my own dad. It’s also shown up in the healing of church abuse, watching my husband become a father, and learning what a good father is from my relationship with God.
The depth of my father wounds had to be surrendered to God first. That surrender looked like:
- Acknowledging my hurt
- Seeking help through therapy and support of healthy people
- A lot of talking through trauma (still I do this)
- Realizing no one could fill my pain, not even my spouse
- Understanding who God sees me as
- Redefining fatherhood according to scripture
This only scratches the surface. The greatest thing that has happened is understanding that I will always go through a cycle of grief in regards to my relationship with my biological dad. Embracing this has given me peace, grace, and relieved the pressure of a timeframe on how my healing process will look like.
We do not always have earthly reflections of God’s heavenly love for us. However, it does not negate that God deeply loves and pursues us even when our earthly parents may not.
Remember and rest in that truth. God desires a relationship with YOU. His love is not contingent on the shortcomings and failures of men. Knowing that for myself has created a space of willing forgiveness and a desire to move forward.
With boundaries of course, but nonetheless forward.