How I Learned to Feel About Father’s Day After Growing Up Without My Father

Share This Post

The most searing memories of my childhood are the many times my father promised to come for Christmas dinner but never did. My brother and I would fall asleep on the sofa waiting for his footsteps to come up the stairs of our apartment building. My father always seemed cool and collected. That’s why as a child, it was so easy for me to believe him when he promised to come.

After he missed each Christmas dinner, my mother would send me to ask him why. His reply was always that there were twelve days of Christmas and that he would make it before the end. Somehow, he could just ignore my obvious disappointment when he had again failed to show up on Christmas Day. This went on for many years until we moved away when I was seventeen.

After we moved and I became a young adult, I didn’t think about my father and the pain and suffering I endured because of him as a child. I focused only on surviving and making my life better. But after my first marriage ended— ushering in all the sad things that go along with that— I realized there was much to heal. During all the years prior to this, I was pushing through life as if everything was fine. That is, until the divorce. It was then I realized how much trauma I was carrying below decks.

In the middle of the divorce, I suddenly decided to call my father. When I reached him, I hadn’t said much before I started bawling. Though he didn’t hang up, he remained mostly silent. He literally just listened to me cry. At some point, I must have told him about the divorce. He offered to send me $500 (which he did), but that was it for our father-daughter talk. I’m not sure what I expected, but I later realized my father couldn’t give me what he didn’t have.

I had suffered so much growing up, and the divorce just seemed like more of the same kind of suffering.  My cup had overflowed with it and I could bear no more.  I knew that my choices were either to fix myself, or accept that life was not worth living. I came to understand that my relationship—or the lack of one—with my father had created what I called “holes in my soul.” He had missed every milestone in my life and avoided me like a plague. Later, he told me he realized that in running away from my mother, he had run away from his children too.

Although I had answers as to why certain things happened in my life— like coming to understand the nature of each of my parents, and why their relationship couldn’t work— those answers alone would not make me whole. l came to acknowledge the anger, resentment, agony, and chaos of my life and that those circumstances were happening for a reason. I finally grasped that there was work I had to do to heal. I made the decision to recreate my life.

It was forgiveness that changed everything. Once I realized forgiveness was the key to clearing the path for the real me to emerge, I could forgive my father completely. Forgiving him cleared the negative energy that was weighing me down and attracting the turmoil. I felt my heart open up and that led me to therapy and seeking wisdom from spiritual teachers. I learned that everything was connected to a spiritual life force. This awareness helped me to see life much differently, and I wanted to start living it differently. I could see my father in a whole new way. Even though I had adored him from afar, there was always just beneath that, some anger and resentment for his absence.

Looking back, there is no question my father had missed the mark in many ways as a father, but eventually it became clear that it wasn’t personal. It also became clear that there must have been a whole bag of issues in his life which led him to behave the way he did. I’ll never know what those were because he is no longer on this side of life, but those issues blocked him from his wholeness and from creating offspring that would have had an easier foundation for life. It also deprived him of a lot of joy.

Eventually, I was able to see my father with compassion. I realized he must have been in a lot of pain to do the things he did. His own pain generated more in his children, and then he would have to watch them suffer too. Like when he listened to me cry over getting divorced. I had learned by then that everything was about energy and that like energies attract. If we live in pain, we attract more of it.

The things I see most clearly on any Father’s Day aren’t my losses, but my father’s. Some fathers may feel they are getting away with something when they abandon their children, but they actually have a lot at stake. My father never had the opportunity to get to know me as a woman; as a professional; as a mother. He never had a real conversation with me to understand and enjoy my sense of humor; or even to come to know something as simple as my laugh.

These are all small things, but there are bigger ones. As always, it’s the little things in life that make the difference. So, after a long journey, I developed the ability to give myself compassion; and to do the same for my father. I grew to have empathy for his circumstances and for his lack of understanding of life.

Fatherlessness is one of millions of issues we humans face, but it’s an important one because of how pervasive it is, and how its generational effects impact us all as a society. It is estimated that in the US, 1 in 4 children live in a home without a father; and there are similar statistics in some places around the world. Additionally, while this issue is disproportionately prevalent for people of African descent in America, they certainly have no monopoly. Fatherlessness cuts across all demographics.

For me, the worst part of fatherlessness is the likelihood that its effects will travel forward with future generations. This is obviously not an absolute. There are some children who grew up without a father and overcame their circumstances to become balanced and productive people. They’ve not only overcome their challenges, but they’ve done so to such an extent that they have broken the negative generational patterns to change the trajectory for their children.

I would love to reach the inner child of women who were shattered by their father’s absence. I long to share with them that despite all they endured, they still carry the potential to light up the world. To tell them they can heal and fill those “holes in their souls” with the nourishing force that comes from forgiveness. This Father’s Day (and all others) is an opportunity for them to celebrate the compassionate person that emerged from their adversity. A day to behold the miraculousness of a being who can forgive the man who so significantly let her down, and be able to transform his failures into the fuel to lift herself up.—

Five Keys to Healing for Father’s Days:

1- Acknowledge your feelings about Father’s Day and your father. Is there resentment, anger, fear, shame?

2- Remember, how you are feeling and living now, is no longer about your father. Your life and feelings are now withing your control.

3-Understand and accept that your father’s mistreatment of you happened . . . but it is not happening now . . .

4-Even if your father showed today to make up for his past mistreatment of you, your healing is still in your hands.

5-Know that acceptance of our childhood circumstances has a spiritual aspect because it acknowledges something bigger than us. This can lead us to another spiritual practice which is forgiveness—a total release of the experience, the pain of the experience, and the person, understanding that despite it all, it could serve for our highest Good.