“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.