My daddy issues are old enough to buy their own alcohol.
I’ve had a strained relationship with my Dad for over 21 years. For most of my life, I could honestly say that if he died, I’d have no regrets. I know that sounds harsh, and I’m guessing you’re probably judging me right now. I’m fine with that, because I know there’s plenty of people out there who can completely relate.
The pain comes up in regular intervals: Father’s Day, his birthday, Christmas. They’re all difficult days for me, filled with guilt that I didn’t buy him a gift, wasn’t planning on calling, and honestly didn’t even want to talk to him. Church (and people who go) would tell me to “honor my father and mother.” I understand, it’s a good idea to honor most people, especially those related to you by blood. But what if your father, the one you’re commanded to honor, has acted so dishonorably toward you?
I hope you weren’t going anywhere, cause I’m unpacking my baggage.
I value authentic relationships. I want a genuine connection with my friends and family, a back and forth where we know each other. That’s what holidays are like in my house—my immediate family (just four of us) sitting around all day in comfy clothes, eating, and having great conversations. Every year, my mom throws out the idea of inviting extended family, and every year, I politely tell her no. For me, the holidays are times to connect more deeply with those closest to you, not for filling a house with people I have to painfully engage in small-talk till sunset.
All this started when my parents divorced. I was ten years old, and like other children of divorce, there was a lot of “it’s not you, it’s us” conversations. I thought I understood. And then my dad left. He didn’t really call. He didn’t really visit. We’d see him once a year, and awkwardly talk on the phone a handful of times between the visits. This pattern of sporadic communication lasted for two decades. And it built no relationship between us. When I would see him, once a year, he’d try to ask about my life—dating, finances, school. But I want genuine connection. He felt like a stranger. So I dodged his questions as politely as I could, and would leave feeling more alone than ever.
As I got older, I avoided interactions with him altogether. When we would get together, and he’d ask personal questions, I’d huff out an angsty, “It’s none of your business.” He’d retort with an “I’m your father, you should respect me,” and then we were off to the races. It never ended pretty. Even at a young age, I felt like respect had to be earned. And from my perspective, my father was not only not-earning respect, he was actively working against it.
In many ways, I still think about relationships and respect in a similar way. I want genuine connection with others, I want to invest deeply in those relationships, and I want authority figures in my life to be worthy of respect. But my definition of what it meant to honor someone, even someone who has acted in a dishonorable way, changed unexpectedly on a trip. I was on an international mission trip to India. A woman on the trip, someone I previously didn’t know, struck up a conversation with me one day. Everything was great until she started talking about how the relationship I had with my father was affecting the way I thought about, and interacted with, God. I looked at her with my mouth wide open. “Lady,” I thought to myself, “I don’t know who you think you are…” Oblivious to my face, she kept talking. She described a God who not only loved me, but cared for me on a personal level. He understood my hurt and heartache. He would be there through all of it, the good and the bad, and wouldn’t leave. He was sorry for the poor representation of him I’d seen on display from my father. By this time, my anger had turned to tears. I’d never met this woman, she had no clue that I had a strained relationship with my dad, and yet she named the exact feelings and thoughts I’d wrestled with for years. That got my attention. And it began to soften my heart.
I thought I wouldn’t care if my Dad died… and here I was, in India, ugly crying because of the words of a stranger. This woman asked me if I wanted a closer relationship with a God who wanted to be my Father. If so, I’d have to let him into all the hurt and rejection I was holding. I didn’t think twice. I said yes, we prayed… and I steered clear of her the rest of the trip. I didn’t want to see India through tears the entire time.
That was 6 years ago. And it began my journey toward healing. After that trip, I felt the necessity to move—to do something, anything, so that I could move past this hurt in my life. Out of all the things I tried to get momentum, the biggest difference-maker was prayer. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s the absolute truth. Talking to God about my dad, somehow, changed the way I felt about the man who was supposed to father me. Looking back at it now, I think I was allowing God to be the father I never had. And the presence of a father will change his children.
At one point in my journey toward reconciliation with my dad, I came across a prayer experiment. The idea was to spend an entire month—30 days—of focused prayer around one person. Instantly, I knew I should engage that experiment… and that I should pray for my father. I decided to write out my prayers for him. And the first few times I did, I ended up throwing them away in frustration. These weren’t prayers. They were expressions of rage, hurt, and rejection. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t even ask God for good things for my father? After about a week of this, I came to a revelation. These expressions of anger and hurt—they actually were prayers. For the first time, I was being completely honest with God. And he didn’t push me away just because the prayers were ugly and unpolished. In fact, I felt him draw nearer to me. The vulnerability was cathartic. The longer I persisted in the experiment, the more the anger gave way to pity; the rejection to acceptance; the hurt to healing.
This prayer experiment was designed to last 30 days. I took 60. And at the end, I felt a peace about my father that I’d never felt before. And then, I felt a prompting I desperately wanted to ignore. I felt like I should mail him some of the prayers I’d prayed for him. Not the hurtful ones, not the desperately broken ones, but the ones that asked God to bless him; to bring good things into his life; to heal our relationship. I wanted him to know that I was asking God for this, on his behalf. My heart beat through my chest as I dropped that package into the mail. And I waited. And waited. And waited.
Six months passed without a word from my father. It was during this time of silence that I learned three big lessons. They were things people had told me, but I needed to experience myself to make my own.
- Relying on God through conversation works. Through talking to Him and addressing what was going on in my heart, He was able to meet me and start to heal past hurts.
- I am able to reconcile relationships without the other person being involved. I can forgive a person without having to see them “change their ways.” I can be honoring whether I feel that they “deserve” it or not. It’s about my obedience, not the other person.
- I can honor my dad and maintain healthy relationship boundaries. I can be honoring while still keeping in mind the hurt that I have experienced. I can be honoring and not put myself in a position to be hurt/manipulated again. It is hard and involves constant calibration and thought but it’s worth it for my own health.
Half a year after I mailed those prayers, he called me. A quick thanks was all I got. But then the most surprising part of all—I wasn’t hurt. I actually felt a lightness of heart about it all, a feeling of hope. I trusted that my prayers for him would continue to work, and I’d continue to offer them, whether he appreciated it or not.
This year, for the second time in a row, I mailed my dad a Father’s Day gift. I didn’t send it out of obligation or guilt. I did it from a sense of hope, that these small acts of love will bring healing to a relationship that is moving in the right direction but still needs plenty of it.
My daddy issues are still old enough to drink. But I’m not buying anymore. I’m not feeding that hurt and heartache. That was my first step in trying to honor a man that hasn’t always acted honorably to me. Then I started to pray for him. Now, I’m acknowledging his place in my life. Our relationship is still in process. But I’ve learned that healing and forgiveness is a gift from God for me. It brings me freedom and lightness without minimizing the pain my dad’s choices have caused. The presence of God, my Father, has changed my life. My hope is that my dad, someday, will get the same healing and give me the same forgiveness that comes from a Father that loves him too. Until then, I can honor him without validating his choices. It’s difficult, but it’s work worth doing.