Forgiving Your Father For Fathers Day
The memory of my father stays with me like a shadow.
It's a shadow filled with a complex array of gratitude, sadness, disappointment, and awe. It is the same for all men, for there's no escaping these memories. They are deeply imbedded in us, and they impact us every day of our lives.
And whether you're trying to live up to your father's expectations, prove him wrong, or rid your memory of him, the shadow of your father will remain. Each effort demands its' own cost. And each effort will keep the shadow close to you.
When you have children, the memories of your father grow stronger. The wounds that haven't healed are poised to be inflicted on them. We all carry wounds from our father. We all feel the pain of not "measuring up" in some way. But whatever your wounds, it's important to remember this: What is not healed in you will show up in your children. It will show up no matter how hard you fight against it, and no matter how hard you try "not to be your father." It will show up, and transcend all your efforts to prevent it.
What's left to us is a simple choice. Would we like to live with these wounds, and transfer them to our sons and daughters, or would we like to explore them, and find a way to heal them? To be an effective father is to understand the power of the memories you make with your child each day. These memories can be touched by the wounds from your childhood, or they can be touched by forgiveness and love. And while the path to forgiveness can be difficult, it's worth every ounce of effort you give it. And most importantly, it is a gift to your children, and the generations that follow them.
The first step towards following this path is to identify the wounds that stay with you. In his book, "The Wisdom of the Journey," Don Jones said, "Until a man learns what went wrong in his father relationship and finds healing for it, he never arrives at mature manhood." To learn what went wrong in your father relationship, it's helpful to ask yourself some questions. And since our issues with our fathers are so often associated with anger towards our kids, this is a good place to start. There are three key questions you can ask yourself:
- What makes me the most angry and frustrated when I'm with my kids? What's the pattern I see most often? Is it when they don't listen, or when I feel powerless? If I'm not sure, what does my spouse think?
- How are these patterns connected to my relationship with my father? When did my father get angry with me? What do I resent about my father's relationship with me? When my kids behave in a certain way, what are the "reminders" this gives me about my childhood?
- What are the irrational thoughts I've created as a result of the wounds with my father? Thoughts like, "I'm not good enough," "I should be in control of every situation," or "My kids should always listen" can dominate your relationship with your kids. Understanding these thoughts won't make them go away, but it will make it easier to anticipate and change your behavior.
Forgiveness can be a powerful and transforming experience. It is a way of giving up hope that the past can be changed. When you forgive your father, you accept the past as it was, and ready yourself to move forward. No matter how abusive or absent your father was, you accept what happened, and stop blaming your father for your current problems.
Forgiveness is not a one-time event. It happens emotionally when we feel the pain and sadness from letting go of a better past, and what we might have had. It happens when we stop blaming our fathers, and stop using anger to shield us from our sadness. Forgiveness happens in our thoughts when we see our fathers for who they were, and not for whom we wanted them to be. It happens when we end the illusion of the selfless father, who looks after our needs first and foremost.
Forgiveness is complete when we allow it to unfold. It is a process, and it may take years. But as each layer of anger peels away, your opportunities expand. The energy that was devoted to anger and regret can now be devoted to things that matter: passion, truth, and love.
Fathers Day is coming, and there is no better time to consider forgiveness. It will allow you to feel more accepted by your father, and to more easily accept your children. And among the responsibilities that fathers have today, none is greater than accepting their children.
If you can forgive your own father and accept your children, you've supplied many of the tools your children will need to thrive in a complex and challenging world.
The rest is going to be up to them.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches fathers by phone to balance their life and improve family relationships—immediately! He is an Instructor for the Academy for Coaching Parents and author of "Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers" Ecourse. Become an affiliate: http://www.markbrandenburg.com/affiliate.htm.