In this 21st century our culture still doesn’t understand at a heart-ful level the impact a father has on his children for good or ill. In particular, our culture does not understand the impact of a father on his daughters’ sense of self-esteem. We understand how fathers are important in the lives of sons. Not to take away from that importance, we need to give the father-daughter relationship more attention.
Writing about fathers brought to mind my two fathers: my biological father and my stepfather. One was mostly out of my life and the other was a daily terror. Both hurt me and left a trail of “not good enough” in their stead. As the saying goes, you teach what you need to learn. Until now, I hadn’t considered that my biological father (whom I idolized as a child) had actually abandoned me. Though we had to move away when I was 7 due to my stepdad’s job, I didn’t learn until I was around 14 that my biological dad knew where we lived and our phone number.
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For years I believed that my mom and stepdad were keeping me away from my biological dad and his side of the family. I felt that if he knew where I was he would come and rescue me from the abuse I was experiencing. But since he didn’t know where I was he couldn’t get to me. I held out hope that someday he would find me and save me.
I’m embarrassed to say that not until I was thinking about writing this article did this memory come to mind which sent a shudder through my whole body as I connected with this revelation. My mother was pregnant with her sixth child. One day I heard her on the phone and of course like a nosey teenager grew my ears wide to listen in. “No she can’t come. I need her here to help me with the kids.” Then she hung up. I don’t remember her letting me talk to him. But when she put down the phone I asked her who it was.
“It was your dad. He hurt his back and he wants you to come and take care of him. But I told him I needed you here to help me especially with your brother coming soon.”
I knew not to show any emotions. Inside I was raging. How dare she not let me go to my daddy! I wanted to go but I couldn’t. I’m sure my attitude changed after that but I knew I had to reel it in or face the wrath of my stepdad.
But in that reminiscing moment I realized that no one had kept us apart but him. And he, like my mother, only cared about how I would take care of them and help them. There was nothing remotely about my needs or wants. No acknowledgement. How invalidating. Then it dawned on me that all those years I cried for him, wondered about him, wanted to run away from the abuse to find comfort with him, longed for the safety of his arms and kind words—he knew where I was and never contacted me!
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Invisible learnings began to reveal themselves to me. My template for what to expect from men was rooted in my relationship with him and with my stepdad. What messages did my vulnerable innocent heart receive from these men? What did they teach me about myself, women, relationships and my value?
Past my hurt, past my pain, past my tears, as my eyes clear I see—I see the intergenerational need for unconditional love to be passed on to our children. To do this we need to heal our adult wounds. It is time to pause. It is time to grow ourselves up. It is time to make love a verb.