Finding Healing on Father's Day

Learning how to make peace with people who may have hurt us the most.

I have an old, faded black-and-white photograph of a tall, imposing, full-blooded Italian young man dressed in combat gear leaning against a three-ton World War II Sherman tank. On the back of the picture a date is scribbled out: 4/6/45.

The young man is my father, who arrived at Omaha Beach fresh with bodies of American soldiers still floating off shore 13 days after D-Day. He fought in Patton’s 3rd Army on the 712 Tank Battalion in the 90th Infantry Division. He began in France and fought his way to Czechoslovakia, shutting down the last German resistance near the war’s end.

It’s difficult for me to think of my father as a soldier because I knew him to be such a passive man. Though he left home when I was young, the truth is he was never really there. To this day I cannot remember ever having a meaningful conversation with my father. We didn’t fish together, we didn’t go to baseball games together and we didn’t work on cars together.

It wounded me deeply that my father was patently uninterested in me. It made me feel ugly, stupid and worthless. I entered adulthood clueless about what it meant to be a man. I pretty much just made it up as I went along. In many respects I’m still doing that today. Eventually I became a father myself; it has not been easy figuring that out either. For many years I cringed when people referred to God as “Father.” Inside I was thinking, “Not interested!”

Healing may not mean your relationship with your father is fixed ... Healing may mean realizing that this is not preventing you from being at peace and free right now.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Happy Father’s Day!

Maybe it’s not so “happy” for you. Perhaps you’re one of those people who will play the charade of giving a gift, sending a card or making a phone call out of obligation or guilt. Maybe you carry deep wounds from your relationship (or lack thereof) with your father. Perhaps you’ve suffered from the disapproval, rejection, absence or abandonment of your father. Maybe you will try to drum up some positive demeanor toward your dad on Father’s Day even though you really feel nothing at all.

I understand.

So, this is not one of those articles about how if you had more faith, or more biblical knowledge, or more forgiveness, or more commitment, or more Christian maturity, then your broken relationship with your father would be healed, the issues resolved and your pain gone. I’m not saying those things can’t happen, I’m just offering a different idea about what “healing” might mean for some.

Let me break it down into some specific possibilities. When it comes to a broken relationship with your father, maybe healing means …

Separating pain and suffering

If you experienced abuse, rejection or abandonment from your father, the normal human response is to feel deep hurt and pain. But how you interpreted that abuse, rejection or abandonment can lead to unnecessary suffering. For example, I interpreted my father’s lack of involvement and interest in my life as evidence that I was worthless. I concluded that his rejection was all about me. The truth is, it had very little to do with me—it was all about him.

As a child or young person, when we first experience hurt with our father, we don’t have the capacity to reason through it accurately. For all practical purposes, when a father doesn’t express love and affirmation to his son or daughter, they conclude they are therefore not worthy of love and affirmation. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to see that a person who views themselves this way will suffer deep emotional anguish, which is likely to sabotage their life and relationships.

“Healing” means identifying the false messages you took on board as a result of the hurt experienced from your father. These could include feelings of self-hatred, irrational or unfounded fears, and all kinds of self-defeating and destructive patterns of thinking about yourself, life, God and others.

The truth is sometimes hidden within a web of lies. The reality of your value, worth and identity may be buried deep within a maze of falsehoods you adopted about yourself in hurtful experiences with your father.

Depersonalizing the hurt

I’m not talking about denying the hurt you feel with respect to your father. What I am saying is that you may only be operating with half the picture. Here’s what I mean. No little boy says: “When I grow up, I want to be a dad who hurts and wounds my children. I want to reject them, abuse them, abandon them and damage them for life.”

But damaged, wounded and hurt people damage, wound and hurt others. That’s not an excuse, but it means any child could have been inserted into your place, and the damage, wounds and hurts would have still been afflicted upon them by your father.

My father had a troubled relationship with his father. My father experienced the horrors of war. My father worked two jobs, barely keeping his head above water. Who knows all the dreams he gave up along the way. My father carried all kinds of hurts and wounds I know nothing about. My understanding of my father is woefully incomplete. There is some healing that comes when this truly sinks in. It doesn’t eliminate the pain, but it helps you to absorb it.

One of the most common miracles Jesus performed was healing the blind, which I believe was partly Jesus’ way of emphasizing the significance of seeing things clearly. In Matthew 6:22 Jesus said: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light ”(TNIV). In other words, seeing things as they truly are is the bedrock of freedom.

Breaking the silence

Hurts and wounds that are suffered in isolation and silence are rarely healed. One of the most significant things you could ever do is tell the painful story of your relationship with your father to a trusted friend or significant other. There’s something about articulating and expressing your heartache with another person that helps you disentangle yourself from it. AA has largely been successful because it provides a network of relationships where people are open and honest about their pain and struggle.

If you don’t feel like you know someone you’d be comfortable sharing with, there are groups of Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse that you may find very helpful. “Healing” means no longer suffering in silence or carrying your pain alone.

Choosing life

If I’m reading Jesus correctly, the message is that ultimately your peace, freedom, contentment and well-being is not dependent upon anything or anyone outside your control—including your father. The source of love, peace, freedom, contentment and well-being is the life of Christ within you. That source is never threatened by life’s circumstances, and nothing needs to change in order for you to access the “abundant life” Jesus offered.

“Healing” means we allow the love and compassion of Christ to flow through our own pains and sorrows to others.

“Healing” may not mean your relationship with your father is fixed, restored, resolved or gets any better. Instead, “healing” may mean realizing this is not preventing you from being at peace and free right now.

Compassion for others

Frederick Buechner wrote, “Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” Do you feel deep sadness and sorrow about your father―things you wish could be different or hurts that never seem to go away? Maybe this sadness can become a source of wisdom, strength and compassion for others who are hurting. Maybe “healing” means choosing to be an instrument of healing in the world.

Your own deep hurt is one of the most significant gifts you offer the walking wounded. For a lot of people, there is no fill-in-the-blank God-answer or biblical formula that “fixes” their heartache. What many of these people desire and need is to simply connect with another person who truly understands. “Healing” means being someone who will listen and care, someone who is willing to walk alongside someone else in their pain.

This is at the heart of Christian revelation. God is not some distant cosmic force that doesn’t understand. God in Christ is familiar with human heartache and sorrow. God in Christ understands and shares our hurts. As the “body of Christ” on Earth, we are now expressions of Christ to one another and the whole world―God in Christ in us. “Healing” means we allow the love and compassion of Christ to flow through our own pains and sorrows to others.

There is no bridge that crosses the sea of sadness separating me and my father. To this day the man in that faded black-and-white photograph seems like a stranger. I carry a deep sorrow about the absence of relationship with my dad. Sometimes I will drift back in my heart and mind to painful memories of his absence.

I experienced in Jesus someone who understood those painful places in me for which there are no words, knowing He hasn’t “fixed” my relationship with my father or taken away the pain, and yet I have found peace and freedom in ways I’ve described above.

Maybe this is what “healing” means.

21 Comments

85,535

spinal injury compensation commented…

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Life is a Vapor

2

Life is a Vapor commented…

great read. particularly enjoyed the idea of healing being something we do (by being instruments of healing to others) rather than just something we receive, though the two may be two sides of the same thing.

Josh
http://theironwepound.tumblr.com/

Andrew Hall

13

Andrew Hall commented…

This year is the first year I haven't bothered to send anything to my dad for Father's Day. Mainly because I'm in a different country for the summer, but the wonders of the internet cease that to be an excuse. My parents split up when I was 18 months, and my dad wasn't really too bothered about seeing me outside of obligation. When I grew to adulthood, this continued, except now he justified it by saying that I have my own life and I can control when we see each other. Basically, the onus was always on me to make contact. A clever move.

I'm not sure if I've ever been hurt. He was never abusive to me, he always affirmed my achievements, verbally supportive of my aspirations. However it just never really followed through to anything other than lip service. I guess he was just a bit absent, never fully present, if ever at all.

As you say, Jim, my dad has his own demons from his own childhood, mostly from his abusive mother. But the end result, regardless of this, is someone who I should care about, but honestly don't. I'm not entirely sure if my situation is something I need healing for, as I don't particularly feel wounded. I feel nothing for the man, nor the lack of our relationship. How can something that never existed actually wound you?

My biggest concern is my translating this into my relationship with my kids if I ever have them. The last thing I want to do is repeat the cycle.

But thanks for the read, I'm a big fan of your blog.

NIKKI

10

NIKKI replied to Andrew Hall's comment

We were created by a man and a woman. Any absence, physical or emotional, of either parent creates a wound so yes you do have one. I guess, to prevent yourself from translating your dad's fathering into your relationship with your future kids, you would have to look at any question you had/have for your dad, flip it, and ask your children. EX: If you wanted to ask your dad "Why do you put the fate of our relationship in my hands; why don't you take the initiative to reach out to me?" Flip the question as if it were coming from your dad as, "How do you feel about my always relying on you to make the father-son connection; do you feel I should put forth much more effort?" The question then becomes one that fosters understanding between you and your kids and navigate away from your father's behavior.

Steve Cornell

229

Steve Cornell commented…

Many today live with a fatherhood deficit or a damaged view of fatherhood. And, yes, this can have a troubling effect on life. But what we learn in Scripture is that spiritual transformation specifically focuses on restoring one’s need for fatherhood in deeply meaningful and intimate ways.

The inner work of the Spirit ministering to our spirit centers on our need for fatherhood. Ponder the powerful implications of these words: “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” and “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6).

Greek-speaking Gentile churches in Galatia and Rome continued to address God as "Abba." But they only used this title for God because Jesus had used it and taught his followers to do so. Little children and others used “Abba” when they addressed their earthly fathers but only Jesus used this term of intimacy to address God. There is no evidence in Jewish literature that Jews addressed God with this term.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be consumed with the failures or absence of a human father, let us turn to the affirming work of the Spirit of God as He ministers to our spirits to bear continual witness (present tense) to our identity as God’s children. From the spiritual cradle to the physical grave, let the Spirit restore the comforting truth of Fatherhood as “by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

(http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/spiritual-transformation-and-...)

NIKKI

10

NIKKI commented…

I was never physically abused by my dad. But, he only had two real modes of expression: #1 silence and surface banter; #2 yelling, screaming, throwing, and breaking things. He did physically abuse my brother (kicked him when he was on the floor, 8y.o., punched him and dragged him across the cars in the parking lot, high school). Being the receiver and witness of my dad's behavior, I must quote you, "damaged, wounded and hurt people damage, wound and hurt others." My brother cannot stand our father and chooses not to speak to him. I am beyond irritated with my dad and it is because he refuses to seek therapy. He denies his own issues with his upbringing and we bare the brunt of his brokenness. I want to respect him but I don't feel he's earned it. It is honorable in my eyes to admit when you need help and he never has. I love him for the fact that you only get one dad, but I struggle daily with how I feel about him.

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