How and Why I Forgave the Father I Never Had » VSB

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How and Why I Forgave the Father I Never Had



“Kids have a hole in their soul in the shape of their dad. And if a father is unwilling or unable to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed.” – Ronald Warren

My life is the result of the bargaining between two consenting adults; only one held up their end. Growing up with an absent father has been a rollercoaster ride of sorts, with slow ascents, exhilarating drops, and abrupt stops. There were times that built me up to believe I was going to have a dad like everyone else, times when he actually showed up, and times where I felt the world come to a screeching halt. I was not the only young girl in my environment growing up without a father, but I seemed to be having the hardest time coping with it.

As I got older, I set out to be something opposite of what I knew about my father. I put so much pressure on myself to be the person that never said no, always showed up, was impeccable with my word, and never let people down. It was, and still is, exhausting. With that, I began to understand my father just a little more. So brace yourself, because out of nowhere, Iyanla Vanzant actually fixed my life.

A few years ago, I watched an episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass where Iyanla told a woman still dealing with her “Daddy Issues” that she was no longer a child, and the reason she couldn’t get over this hump was because she was thinking like a little girl looking for her daddy instead of approaching the relationship as a grown woman relating to another grown man. As far as Iyanla was concerned, the healing process starts with one real sentence made of two raw words, “Daddy gone.” That day was a turning point for me in really understanding life, pain, and the man who became my father.

The How of my healing can be broken down into three steps, and none of them are asking or persuading you to forgive. In fact, my forgiveness came without me really noticing. This process is personal, and selfish, and depends wholly on you. And in trying to explain how I reached this place, I am also taking every scenic route around cliché reasons and narratives for why you should be forgiving anyone. Oprah said, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be changed.” So here’s how I let go of the past, and held onto the hope:

Acknowledgment. Don’t make excuses and don’t avoid the issue.

I’ve been seeing the same therapist since I was 17 years old. She recently asked me to bring my dad to a session and I did not because a) I knew he wouldn’t come and b) I was not ready for the conversation if he did. For years, I’d attributed my every weakness and stumbling to him, and maybe I wasn’t far off, but I lived for that crutch and knew if I confronted him, resolution wouldn’t be far behind. In preparation for that fateful moment, I began to acknowledge that many women with [good] fathers have my same issues, and if I want to begin moving forward, I would have to face the wreckage like an adult and end the blame game. For instance, my father has not sent every man who has disappointed me, I chose them; and the love I’m not getting is a result of the love I’m not giving—to myself. In the words of Iyanla, “You must be willing to give up the story. About what he was, what he wasn’t, and how life would’ve been had he been there.” Acknowledge that you are more than the sum of your broken pieces; that sometimes you participate in the breaking, too; and that no one man should have all that power. Your life does not have to be a series of unfortunate events. Face your fears, beloved!  Acknowledge the truth and choose more.

Acceptance. It is hard; and trust me, I know these are just words, but I promise you, your feelings are not final.

When I became an adult, no matter how begrudgingly, I started to see everything differently. My father, no matter how flawed, is just a man. He is as imperfect as I am. He has made mistakes, and so have I. He has disappointed people, and so have I. He hasn’t lived up to my expectations, and neither have I. But in order to be happy, whole, and open to life’s goodness, we have to accept and love our situations and ourselves exactly as they are before we set out to change them. In understanding that my father is who he is because of his experiences, I was able to forge a relationship from a different perspective. Talking to him about his interests and the happenings of his life became more natural, because I was no longer trying to force the father out of him. I was simply talking to a man about his day, his favorite song of the moment, and what he was going to eat for dinner. And acceptance does not mean that you won’t still be saddened or disappointed by this person, it just means that by engaging with them, you are accepting the risks that come with it. I accepted that this is the father I have; if this is who God gave me, what am I to learn from him?

Here is where I also say sometimes it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. Don’t betray or compromise yourself for appearances. If your father is not good for you, cut him off.

Gratefulness. Recognize that although your father wasn’t good, great, or even trying, there is someone who had it much worse.

I know people who were abused by their fathers, watched their fathers abuse their mothers, or just suffered overall as a result of their father’s presence. I thought to myself, sometimes, in the absence of one thing, you are being spared from another. Maybe my father wasn’t there for me when I needed him, but my grandfather stood in the gap, and not only am I grateful for his love, I am honest-to-God a better person because of it. Today, I am thankful for the relationship I do have with my father, at times awkward, sometimes distant, and most times unpredictable. But a childhood friend of mine buried his amazing father this year, and all I could think about was being more humbled than I was hurt.

There’s a lot of back and forth between the words daddy and father—one meaning the person who raised you, the other being the person responsible for making you. Both names hold weight, but the distinction doesn’t matter much to people who can’t attach a face, or better yet, love, to either. With that being said, it’s possible that I’m asking you to accept that you don’t have a father, and the answer is, I’m not sure. But I do know that my life changed when I accepted that the man I have is just the man I have, and he could not be changed or replaced. No matter how much anger, guilt, or resentment I hurled his way, his behavior remained consistent. I used to take it personal; like his stubbornness was a direct attack on me. But one essential life lesson I’ve learned from my father is to do what’s best for you, no matter who likes it. It took years for me to understand that his intention was never to hurt me—he can’t even stop hurting himself. He can be selfish, aloof, and oblivious, but what’s left of his heart is good, and that is what I choose to make of the time I have left with the man who gave my mother the daughter she always wanted.

Of course, the How’s can be applied in pretty much any order. The Why, however, is a tad more simple, and that is: Because I was tired of scream-crying after watching John Q and Hook, all because I didn’t have a father who would go through hell and high-water to save me. Dramatic, right? But real. I was tired of crying, complaining, and waiting for a hero that would not come. Believe me when I say, this entire transition was not quick or easy, but it was one I was ready to make. Note that I enlisted the help of a professional, because I want to be clear that I could not have done this alone. We are talking about years and years of trauma; peace was earned, not given. Also, please know that I would never sit here and ask you to forgive him, her or them because “it’s time” or because you have to. I’m not going to frustrate you by demanding you simply “let it go”, when this situation may have more of a hold on you than you have on it. I simply wanted to share what worked for me, give you something to consider, and give you hope.

There is greater in store for you. Your worth is not dependent on the people who left you, and your destiny will find you regardless of how lost you feel. If you are reading this, and we are of the same tribe, I am wishing you patience, healing, and most of all, joy.

Patti Swayne

Patti Swayne is going places, she’s just not sure where, yet. A longwinded, wannabe intellectual, she enjoys ignorant stuff way too much and is trying to get a handle on her laziness. She is often inspired by waking up Black, along with flagrant acts of unapologetic and undeniable Blackness. Patti is currently working on escaping the angst of her twenties, reading more, and laughing as much as possible.

  • -h.h.h.-

    awesome article.

    oh and hi.

    • What was your favorite part?

      • -h.h.h.-

        acknowledgement and Acceptance.

        i went through a training session a couple weeks back that dealt with this in our personal lives, that there is a difference between being a victim of an event of the past, and being ruled by that past event. there comes a point where, in order to move forward, you have to acknowledge and accept that the past is happened. there comes a point where you have to tell folks that you forgive them and mean it, so that your soul has peace of mind to move forward (this is for me, i’m not talking about chexual trauma, watching a murder in front of you, etc.)

      • uNk

        ^this man aint sh*t lol

        • Lea Thrace

          the most aint sh*test of all

        • -h.h.h.-

          i missed it lol

          • MsSula

            I love how candid your response was. I like you when you are not cynical. :-)

  • I don’t f*k with Iyanla like that but “You must be willing to give up the story” is a WORD. And applicable to so many other forms of heartbreak.

    • TheCollinB

      Best part of the write up. People are defined by their story and when you take that away then what do you have. It’s more comfortable to live with the negative sometimes than it is to embark on creating a new story.

      • Phee_nix

        THIS spoke to me. **Time to write a new story.

  • Christopher Cormier

    Absentee or clocked-out mothers is the next/currently trending epidemic. Be interesting to explore/read about this.

    • I wouldn’t put that on mothers….I think parents as a whole are either mollycoddling or washing their hands of them at 18.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        There are levels to this thing. My foster parenting classes have taught me that kids end up in the system for a multitude of reasons. What I’ve learned is that some parents may care about their kids but don’t have the physical or mental means, some lack resources, and some have disconnected due to trauma.

        • TheCollinB

          Facts only

        • Kas

          I’m assuming you have foster kid(s)?

          • Sigma_Since 93

            I do. I want to elaborate more via VSB but I told Mrs. SS93 I’d wait.

            • Kas

              I admire your willingness to put in the work.

            • Asiyah

              Admirable! I would love to be a foster parent, but I’m not sure I can what with my history of clinical depression.

              • LMNOP

                I’m seriously looking into being a foster parent (I still need another bed before I start the classes) and I am also wondering if my mental health history would rule me out, I’ll let you know what I find out, I think you’d be a great foster parent.

                • Asiyah

                  Please do. And thank you :)

        • Definitely.

        • PDL – Cape Girl

          Right. Sometimes we see a turn of events that don’t seem fair, but on a higher plane it’s best for the kids.

          My two oldest nephews were raised by my mom. She didn’t blink twice to take them. Their parents weren’t ready. Had them from pillar to post. Their mom ended up an addict. Took her until there were ready to graduate hs before she kicked the habit. Their dad, my brother, was a hoe, a big ole hoe and was not ready. He wasn’t on drugs but he was doing everything else detrimental to their upbringing. Where would they be had they not come to live with us? It was natural as breathing for my mom to raise them.

      • I’m talking about …brand new people. Babies. Like the mothers are there but they aren’t really present.

        • That happened with my cousin. Thankfully the baby is lucky enough to have 4 active aunts in her life that are literally doing everything.

          • I’m going through it now. My niece is just NOT real in my great nephew’s life. The burden of motherhood has been placed in MY mother’s hands…and some of it bleeds over into my life. I love him to bits…but Everytime I’m expected to take a heavy handed role in his rearing all I can think is: but…i didn’t have no babies tho >_>

    • I have been thinking on this a lot lately. a lot of deadbeat motherhood is overlooked because in most cases, deadbeat mothers are PHYSICALLY present…but they AREN’T by any stretch of the imagination actually mothering ANYONE. They are barely taking care of themselves.

      • Illumina

        You could be talking about one of my cousins. She was there, but she has no clue how to take care of herself and her three girls.
        One of the three girls was severely injured in a car accident about two years ago, and she is still recovering. Thank goodness my other cousin, her older sister, has stepped up to the plate to take care of the three.

  • Mr. Quojo .

    The energy of hatred won’t get you anywhere; but the energy offorgiveness, which reveals itself through love, will transform your life in a positive way.
    ~Paolo Coelho
    Congrats on your Climb, this post warmed my heart.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Howdy Patti. Thank you for sharing.

    My dad was there all my life and I’m still going through the process you have because the relationship was not there.

    That gratefulness part, that’s the trickiest but most rewarding of the bunch. I’ve heard far too many horror stories and seen the damage of way too many men with no regards to not appreciate that as hollow as our relationship is, he was there.

    I dunno if Iylana is always going to be a hit with the quoteables but hopefully it all worked for you in the end.

  • Crying at Hook? Im not judging….that much.

    • Lea Thrace

      Bangarang Ruffio didnt get to you?!

      You dont have a heart.

      (But I knew that)

    • Patti Swayne


      • I said not that much, keep your tuhs tuh yourself Ms Swayne

        • Patti Swayne

          Just for tuhday.

          • Well played. So, come here often?

            • ChokeOnThisTea

              Hold up! I’m bae. After your “wife” of course. Lmao!

              • Oh….hi Choke.

                • ChokeOnThisTea


                  No worries. You’re free to ho…I mean, go. hehe

                  • So we still on for lunch tomorrow

                    • ChokeOnThisTea

                      Count me out. Just don’t CHOKE on your (hamburger) PATTI tomorrow, loverboy.

                    • So much vitriol for someone without a face

                    • ChokeOnThisTea

                      Lmao! Face coming soon.

            • Baemie St. Patrick

              spreading yourself a little thin here, aren’t we?

              • Nope im on my Dave hollister

                • Baemie St. Patrick

                  lol which one?

                  • Why is everyone against me today

                    • Baemie St. Patrick

                      what have you done to turn everybody against you?

                    • -h.h.h.-

                      deservedly so

    • TheCollinB

      You didn’t cry when they tried to make Julia Roberts sexy as tinker bell. Her see appeal is all downvotes that my loins can’t get jiggy with.

  • Me

    I’ve heard so many people use the line “he’s not my dad, he’s just my father/sperm donor”. I feel like that is part of the problem. There comes a point when you have to stop wishing you could hurt your absentee parent the way they hurt you because the truth is: a (wo)man who chose not to be a part of your life really doesn’t care what you call him/her, so the distinction only helps you harvest the pain. Stop wishing for karma to kick in and start focusing on all the things you have going for you despite your nontraditional family makeup. That’s how I’m able to overlook the many many MANY faults that exist in my own family.

    • Nik White

      I tried to share the same thing with my cousin about her father stressing that it doesn’t take into account the fact that her mother CHOSE to be with him.

    • BlueWave1

      So true. I remember taking a similar attitude during my teen years. Looking back now I realize how unproductive that approach was. You can say “he’s nothing to me” all you want. But when you look just like the man its kind of hard to make that feeling stick. My dad would come around and I literally saw a reflection of my own face, just older. And it would break me down every time.

      And some point I had to learn to say that’s my dad. He just needs a lot of help. Addiction ain’t no joke.

    • inYOface


  • Skegeeaces

    I’m not crying. It’s the onions.

    Bless you for sharing, sister. That’s real.

    • Amber

      I know. I’m on my lunch break and I’ve got to get myself together before heading back.

  • I appreciate this sis. We all can develop a sense of comfort by avoiding resolutions in our lives because afterwards the control is then thrust back onto us about what to do now that we’re passed all the physical/metaphorical barriers that we believed were hindering us. It can begin to feel like a sanctuary because it’s comforting (in some ways) feeling like you don’t have control of the situation so nothing is your fault it’s the product of everything around you.

    • Wild Cougar

      Yup, Yup. This right here. It’s what growing up is about. The horror of facing the fact that your life is yours and you are the product of your own actions.

  • iByron

    I’m always wary of reading yet another “My daddy wasn’t there for me and this is why I hate him/moved on from him/forgave him” story. They can be really frustrating and predictable, and they don’t have meaning for the majority of people — not even the majority of Black people — in this part of the world (full disc: not my story either).

    This one was different. No blame. No whining. No self-aggrandizing “He’s bad but I forgive because I want to take the high road [and I’m superior to him].” Just acknowledgement of personal responsibility for one’s life and — perhaps more importantly — the humanity of the writer’s father.

    I actually felt good about having read this. Thank you.

    • Patti Swayne

      Thanks Byron, I appreciate that.

      • Evadmaul

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        • VnVet

          Gurl, stop Lyin’. You know what yawl is REALLY doing to earn dat money !!!!

    • TomIron361

      Aren’t all black people the same when it comes to deserting their children?

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