How To Forgive Dad

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” 

—Mahatma Gandhi 

forgive dad

I was estranged from my father all of my childhood and most of my adult life. We all experience rejection throughout our lives but being disavowed by your father can do a number on your psyche during your childhood and adolescent years.

I was his first born child and carried both his first and last name but he never visited me or called. He was a no show for all of my birthdays and to watch me play sports. He failed to attend my graduation from high school and college. He did not celebrate my wedding nor the birth of his grand daughter. He was a deadbeat dad that never sent a single child support payment.

When I was 35 years old I made the pilgrimage from Charlotte to Wilmington to face my dysfunctional past with a parent who couldn’t care less about me. I named my trip to see him “the forgiveness tour” but it was more complicated than just being about forgiveness. I hoped for a face to face conversation that would address my scarred internal world that left me feeling unwanted. I hoped for a confrontation with him that might silence my unabating question of, “Why am I an unwanted son?”

Forgiveness. It’s fragile, and it’s complicated.

Forgiving your parents is a core task in having healthy emotional intelligence. If we’ve felt rejected by our dad and have remained in that state, we will inevitably feel rejected in other big areas of life as well. We see our dad in our partners, in our friends, in our bosses, in our children and ultimately in ourselves. Forgiving your parent is the first step to healing and moving past the scars of the past.

Here are 2 steps on how to forgive dad that will help the healing begin:

Recognize Unconsciousness

It’s more accurate and productive to call someone’s behavior unconscious rather than judge them as evil or mean spirited. Eckhart Tolle says in his book  The Power of Now, “Choice implies consciousness – a high degree of consciousness. Without it, you have no choice. Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…”.

It turns out my dad was an alcoholic with other drug addictions and lived his life in a drunken fog. He was unavailable emotionally and had no choice but to remain in a state of self-medicating his regrets. I’m not letting him off the hook from being personally responsible for his actions but I recognize the befuddlement caused by unconsciousness. When we live present and in tune with our own being we awaken from the dream and become conscious. When we are conscious we are more ready to forgive other’s unconsciousness.

Realistic Expectations

The mistakes of parents are difficult to forgive. They brought us into this world and we expect the world of them. We want them to humbly take responsibility and apologize to us for all their misdeeds. We long for our parents to fully accept us, to tell us they know we were good children, to give us their praise and approval. You must keep in mind that in most cases our parents did the best parenting job they knew how to do at the time. We also must manage our expectations of our mom or dad offering us an apology. It is difficult for we humans to be brave and reflect on our past mistakes and then admit them.

The night I forgave my dad we met at a small diner near his home in Wilmington. It was awkward at first and we both were nervous.  I started out the conversation by apologizing for not reaching out to him earlier. My apology broke the ice and released some of the tension of the moment and opened the door for him to hear some of my hurts. Overall I felt pleased with the meeting because I was able to release so much of that pain. He did listen and I felt heard but even if he hadn’t the exercise of digging up and scraping out my pain container was cathartic. Not all adult children have the opportunity to have a healing conversation with their parents. Either way, it is essential to acknowledge past hurts and work to let go of them… over and over again.

“The ineffable joy of forgiving and being forgiven forms an ecstasy that might well arouse the envy of the gods.” 

—Elbert Hubbard

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2 Responses to How To Forgive Dad

  1. Freedom February 7, 2014 at 1:15 am #

    I’m happy that you were able to connect with your father and get some closure. I have a similar situation, but my split from my father happened much later in life. A few years ago I had a disagreement with my father about how he was treating my daughter (his granddaughter). I sat down to talk to him about it and he didn’t like being told that he was doing something wrong.

    That started a journey for my wife and I and led me to realize he very likely suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. Basically that means he is right and everyone else is wrong.

    For a while we still visited him and my mother, but the poor treatment towards our daughter and towards us got worse after our talk. We eventually had to stop visiting altogether.

    • Ron Clendenin March 27, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

      Thanks for being so vulnerable and sharing. I hope your relationship with your dad can heal in the years to come. I admire the way you are protecting your daughter as a priority.

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