By Jennifer Hoffman – June 18, 2012
It’s Father’s Day in the U.S., a day when we celebrate our relationship with our fathers. Some of us don’t have a lot to celebrate, our fathers may have been absent, unknown, or so emotionally distant that we cannot find a reason to celebrate our relationship with them.
My father has been dead for over 20 years and while I spent much of my life being angry with him and wondering whether he cared about me at all, I now understand so much more of him and can actually be grateful for the gifts he gave me, instead of focusing on how he ignored so many opportunities to show how much he loved and cared about me. Fathers mirror our lessons in power and love, often through their limitations instead of their abilities.
My father was, as were many of the men of his generation, emotionally damaged. Orphaned at age 4 and adopted at age 7, much of his life was lived with the question of what happened to his family and why he wasn’t worthy of being with them. He was quiet, withdrawn and emotionally disconnected.
Yet, there were a few times, like the first time I was rejected by a boy I liked, that he was loving and supportive. I wanted him to be strong and powerful, to protect me and to love me so I could know that I was lovable. But he didn’t love himself or feel worthy of love, based on his life experience, so he could not give that kind of love to me. I know that now and am at peace with it but it took me a very long time to figure it out.
I had many expectations of my father and was very angry because he did not meet them. I could not appreciate his pain because I wanted him to fix mine, to show me that I was powerful and worthy of love. He lived with me the last few months of his life and then I saw the depth of his emotional suffering, the feelings of unworthiness, the deep hurt at having been separated from his family and how closed his heart was.
In the moments before he died he told me he loved me, that he was proud of me and apologized for not being a better father. It had taken him over 30 years to say that to me and it was the healing, power and proof of love that I needed. I could accept it and move on or be angry and reject this gift because it was too little, too late. I chose to accept it, grateful that he loved me enough to find the courage to say it.
I now know, with the understanding that comes from experience, wisdom that comes with age and compassion from being a parent, that my father’s limitations were his gift to me. We choose our parents, even our distant, hurtful, absent or wounded fathers, so that we can heal ourselves. The belief that fathers should be ___ (fill in the blank) puts the burden of our healing on them and limits our ability to learn and heal from our shared journey.
Whether they were horribly abusive or lovingly kind, there was a reason we chose them and when we can be compassionate and forgiving with them and ourselves, we can release lifetimes of anger and disappointment and accept them for who they are, human beings doing the best they can with what they were taught and know. Whether you were well or poorly fathered, your father is part of your soul group, an important aspect of your healing journey and another mirror of your healing.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Jennifer Hoffman. All rights reserved. You may quote, copy or re-post this article in its entirety if you mention the author’s name and include a working link back to this website.