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I Finally Decided to Love My Father

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It’s a common but sad truth: many people have had traumatic experiences when it comes to their loved ones, parents, and more specifically, their fathers. As I am writing this, I can’t help but notice how I’m physically reacting with nervousness to even thinking about this situation – much less preparing to publish this information – but it’s time.

One thing I’ve learned about love is knowing how to love someone, fully accepting them for who they are, and not being disappointed because of my own expectations of them. So when I say I finally decided to love my father, I don’t mean I never loved him before. My new perspective is meant to clarify my detachment from expecting him to meet my expectations.

Before I go any further with explaining this part of my life that is undergoing radical healing and transformation, I should say I discussed my intentions with my father before publishing this piece. I was surprised, proud and appreciative of his response, and he understood my reason for doing this without reproach. It was truly gratifying and affirming to hear him say, “Well, baby, do you what you have to do.”

I found it necessary to fully involve him with what I need to do for my own healing, and this means being bold enough to say I’m still growing from the childhood trauma that my sisters and I experienced (and have even experienced as adults) because of his actions involving substance abuse and domestic violence. Being open about this is continuing a channel for healing that I’ve learned from others who have openly talked about their experiences with recovery from their trauma, and not only will this help with my progress, I also hope it can be a blessing to someone else.

I’ve never really been open about how I’m still evolving from what my family experienced with my father. People who are close to me know I haven’t had the best relationship with my father, but I’ve never gone into detail about the sheer anger, pain and distrust I held onto in irreparable agony. I remember when I was 11 years old, and my mom finally made the decision to leave him for good. There was no taking him back after this last time she came home from the hospital due to injuries she sustained from his hands. Even though my mother never said anything bad about him, I still waited for when she would leave him, and that was when I said, “Now, I can be free from him, too.” Free from seeing my mother and sisters in pain and free from being disappointed by him regularly.

But I was never truly free. In turn, I went on to make some bad decisions as a teenager and as an adult, and I blamed him for it all. “If he would have been a better father, I probably wouldn’t have made those choices,” I told myself. Then I realized, I had to take accountability and forgive myself for my own actions if I wanted to truly surrender to myself and achieve healing. And then I thought, “Well he’s the father and grandfather. It’s his fault, so he should take accountability for his actions, too.” But it wasn’t until recently that I grasped the idea that my spiritual healing has nothing to do with how he handles himself now.

For so long, I had worked so hard to believe if he wasn’t in my life, he couldn’t hurt me anymore. Out of sight, out of mind. And so I said early on, I didn’t want anything else to do with him. Over the years, I had moments where I wanted him in my life, and I tried, but I wasn’t ready to let go.

I wasn’t ready to let go of the anger I still wanted to hold on to because if I was still angry at him, I could make him suffer the way he made my family suffer. Being angry at him kept him away from me because he did not deserve to be in my life (or my sisters’ lives) because of the way he chose to be a father and husband. Truthfully, there was nothing I could do to make him suffer the way my mother and sisters endured the pain he imposed. Additionally, I was the one who was suffering even more because I wanted to hold onto this anger to give me a false sense of power to cover up the broken heart of a hurt little girl who’s never been consoled by her father for his wrongdoings. I ran across this article from about our inner-child that has not been healed: “The Cylcle of Suffering.”

Without healing our childhood wounds and subsequently forgiving our parents, we stay emotionally stuck at the age of our earliest wounds, and because this causes us to repeat the cycle of suffering, we keep experiencing an adult version of our childhood wounds.

For instance, let’s say you haven’t forgiven your mom for missing your 10th birthday or healed the resulting feelings of abandonment; whenever this issue is triggered by a current-day experience (someone forgets to call you), the original emotional wound is activated and you drop into an unconscious reaction. For all intents and purposes, you become your wounded 10-year-old self, and because you feel the same pain you felt then, you react by lashing out or shutting down.

Because an emotional reaction is an automatic response to an unhealed wound, there is little or no control over emotions or behavior, and this dynamic can result in a series of current-day relationship issues. Year after year, the cumulative effect of emotional reactions can destroy the quality of our most important relationships.

So I approached the thought of him as a hurt little boy who also has not fully confronted his own childhood traumatic experiences. I cannot expect him to give me something he has not learned how to be fully capable of doing. If he has never learned how to be an effective communicator, a good father, a good husband, and knowing how to be emotionally competent, I cannot ask him to deliver something he does not have the tools to give. This is what has worked for me.

As a newlywed, I knew that I needed to grow from that and break this cycle of suffering if I am to work towards having a healthy and successful marriage and thinking of becoming a mother in the future. There’s so much depending on this healing. Above all, I needed to feel what it really meant to let go.

The images of violence and destruction don’t go away, so I can never pretend like any of it never happened. He’s my father, my only living parent, and deep down, I have always wanted to forgive him. But it was easier and more familiar for me to hate him. If I am to love him without attachment (loving him without my expectations of how I think he should be) then I have to choose peace and separate the hurt little girl from the grown woman who’s now building her own life and family. I can love him in a much healthier way but still know my boundaries. My healing is spiritual, but it’s also realistic.

For me, my healing isn’t praying for an ideal picture-perfect father-daughter relationship. My healing is praying for putting things in place that works for me in a way that I can love him and talk to him with peace in my heart. Because honestly, I cannot say he is in a place where he’s making decisions that would put him on a platform for being “Father of the Year,” and I’m OK with that because I’m no longer trying to fulfill the dreams of a broken-hearted little girl who wants her daddy to take her to the movies like he’d promised. Now that I’ve comforted that part of me (feel free to comment if you’d like to know more about how I healed that part of myself), I can love him in way that’s much more suitable for where he and I are in life, and that’s one of the most enriching decisions I’ve made for myself. I’m transcending the painful past, and I’m happy with where we are now and being in a much healthier space where I can talk about our difficulties and call him out on his choices without the presence of rage.

Lately, I’ve been praying to grow even more by giving love, receiving love and being love. Today, I can talk to him without expectations or anger. I know I can call him just to say hello, and he’s going to keep me laughing until my stomach hurts. And my healing has allowed me to be perfectly fine with that. In some ways, I’m much like my father. Even though he’s still hurting from whatever it is he’s gone through (he never talks about his past), he still likes to crack jokes like it’s nobody’s business. I’ve forgiven, and I’m happy that I finally decided to love my father.

This story originally appeared on Books and Jazz.

Getty image by skyNext.

Originally published: July 3, 2019
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