Every year as Father’s Day approaches, I find myself combating the same stubborn combination of remorse and guilt. Another year will have gone by where I haven’t spoken to my dad. I’ll start to think about all that he’s missed out on over the years, like not walking me down the aisle on my wedding day or saying goodbye before I moved across the country. He doesn’t even know about his two grandsons. It’s not something that I think about on a daily basis, or even a regular basis. But, if I’m being honest, this is a weight that I carry around with me, whether I’m conscious of it or not.
The last Father’s Day we celebrated as a family was in 2003. Despite having zero memories about how that day actually unfolded, I do remember that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There was nothing to indicate that just five days later, my mom would be scrambling to get my sister and I out of the house while my dad was at work because she had filed for divorce. It all happened exactly one week after my 15th birthday, smack dab in the middle of the hormonal chaos that is adolescence. I knew my parents didn’t get along, but I wasn’t privy to the level of psychological abuse that my mom had endured for nearly two decades. Sure, there was constant yelling and tension in our home, but I had come to accept it all as “normal.” Whether “normal” or not, it was a far cry from acceptable.
Under shared custody, my sister and I would go back and forth between parents each week. However, things quickly unraveled as we became the new outlets for our dad’s emotional instability. I’ll never forget the day I left his house for good. My dad would typically drive me to school, but I was often terrified of being in a car with him because he drove recklessly when he got upset. I’d arranged for my grandfather to pick me up that morning, but my dad stormed after me as I tried to leave the house, insisting that he would be the only one taking me to school. Out in the driveway, he proceeded to yell threats and profanities—things that no daughter should ever have to hear from her father— until a neighbor overheard and came outside to stop him. I knew I couldn’t go back.
From then on, I rarely spoke to my dad, and he never once apologized. My sister and I would see him on holidays because “it was the right thing to do;” that meant we’d see him on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and yes, Father’s Day. Throughout my late teens and early 20s, there were periods of time when I would try to reach out more in hopes of salvaging our relationship, and every time, he would find a way to break my trust. But, despite it all, I still wanted his approval. I still wanted his love. That’s what kept me trying.
We Need Our Fathers
I imagine that a father is meant to be his little girl’s protector. He should be someone who will relentlessly fight for her safety and someone she can rely on to fix what is broken or come to her aid. A daughter craves feeling like she’s cared for, loved, and appreciated. Even as I write this, I’m left with a nagging, empty feeling, because, for me, those needs were never met. And while I’ve tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter—that I’ve been able to get along just fine without my father in my life—the truth is, it did matter. It does matter still.
Breaking the Cycle
Now, as a mother, there is nothing that I would not do for my kids. I want our two boys to grow up secure in their parents’ love for them, trusting that there is nothing they could ever do that would break the bond we have as a family. The notion of not doing whatever is within my power to ensure that relationship remains is beyond my comprehension.
When a daughter experiences rejection from her father, it impacts the way that she relates to other men. Since I didn’t feel accepted by the main male figure in my life, I looked for that acceptance elsewhere. From the time my parents separated, I sought out male approval. I always needed a boyfriend in order to feel any level of self-worth. Unfortunately, the boyfriends that I chose only perpetuated the manipulation and emotional abuse that I had become so accustomed to. Subconsciously, I was seeking out men similar to my dad. That’s what was familiar, and I had come to believe that I didn’t deserve any better.
It is only by God’s good grace that I met (and married) my husband, Landon, a traveling RN from Alabama, and the complete antithesis to anyone I had been interested in before. He’s the type of Southern gentleman who, despite knowing my history with my dad, still wanted to ask him for my hand in marriage (which awkwardly ended up happening in a public restroom, but that’s a story for another day). Though seven years later, I still have trouble believing I deserve him. Landon has shown me nothing but patience and steadfast love. He has stood by my side, helping me navigate how best to approach my relationship with my dad, and together, we’ve made the best decisions we could for us and our family.
Set Clear Boundaries
When there is any type of abuse in a relationship, firm boundaries are an absolute must. This is even more important when children enter the picture. Safety needs to be the number one priority, and that means both physically and emotionally. After years of manipulation and emotional abuse, despite my repeated efforts to try to build a relationship with my dad, I had to draw that hard line in the sand. For me, that meant zero contact. Looking back, I only wish I would have spent less time feeling guilty over that decision. There is never any shame in setting boundaries that protect your own heart or the hearts of your little ones.
Be Honest if Your Kids Ask Questions
There have been a few occasions where our now four-year-old has asked questions about my dad. He has questions like “who is your dad?”, “where is he?”, and “why don’t you talk to him?” While you can absolutely be age-appropriate in how you respond to these types of questions, I believe part of building trust with your children is being transparent with them. I’ve told our son my dad’s name, where he lives, that he made some bad choices, and that because of those choices, I’m not able to talk to him. I’m sure as our boys get older, they will have more probing questions, and our conversations will run deeper. In my answers, I don’t ever want to bad-mouth or speak disrespectfully about my dad, but I do want to teach our sons that actions have consequences, even for adults.
Celebrate the Men Who Fill in the Gaps
I don’t think anyone could ever completely fill the void I feel from not having experienced a healthy father-daughter relationship. However, I have had a handful of men fill in portions of that void, including my father-in-law and my step-father. But most importantly, I am especially grateful to God for blessing me with a husband who has sincerely taken his role as a father to heart. I’m so thankful I found a man I can trust to always love and protect our family and to be an example for our boys so that one day, Lord willing, they too will grow up to be devoted husbands and fathers, dedicated to doing right by their own families. I’m grateful for the healing I’ve found in observing first-hand what a supportive father-child relationship can look like, and that is definitely something worth celebrating not just on Father’s Day, but year round.