My Father Emotionally Neglected Me For 20 Years. How I Finally Forgave Him.

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Emotional Neglect

Growing up, I never experienced living in a two-parent household. As soon as I was born, my parents were already in the process of separating with my father beginning to move out. My mother was the one who had been granted full custody of me, and I lived with her for the majority of my time at home.

My father’s agreement with the court was two weekends a month, holidays, and a few weeks in the summer. But my mother was always open to him coming around anytime he wanted, especially when I was much younger. 

It was his decision to never take her up on that offer, which was my first brush with my father emotionally neglecting me.

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I’m almost 21 now and it’s taken me a couple of years — and many conversations with my mother — to fully understand that my relationship with my father has never been anything but toxic. 

I used to make excuses for him. “It’s better than having a father who doesn’t even want to see me,” or “At least he’s still there for me financially.”

But there’s a big difference between financial support and emotional support.

Sure, my father showed up on Christmas Day with a bag full of gifts and he’d take me back-to-school shopping before the start of the school year. He’d send money on birthdays, and I’d never run out of sneakers to shove under my bed. But, all that money doesn’t buy the fact that I just wanted to have some sort of emotional connection to my father.

Thankfully, my mother compensated for my dad in the emotional support department. To this day she is my best friend, and I tell her almost everything that happens in my life. She knows me better than I know myself, and she’s the reason why I’ve become the woman I am today.

My father, on the other hand, felt like a stranger.

I remember multiple times when I was younger and my mother would take me to see him on weekends. I remember sitting in the backseat of her car feeling almost nervous. Every single time.

Each time I went to see my father — despite years of knowing him — was as if I were meeting him for the first time.

I never knew how to talk to him and conversations felt awkward on my end. It wasn’t like talking to my mother where the conversation flowed so easily,and I could sit there and speak for hours with her. 

I know my father doesn’t didn't neglect me on purpose. Being a parent is hard — there is no handbook.

But, there’s one thing that’s just universal: Love your child. Be there for them on an emotional level.

Any parent can just go out and buy their child a new pair of sneakers — nut not every parent can form that connection that runs so much deeper than money and materialistic things.

I know my dad — even today — feels the rift between us, which for a lot of my life, made it that much harder to take steps to forgive him.

It was then that I realized: you don’t need an apology for closure.

So I did something that I probably should’ve done a long time ago: I wrote him a letter.

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Sitting at my desk in my college freshman dorm, I wrote three pages worth of thoughts down, all addressed to my father. It took me three hours and a whole bunch of tears that I’d been bottling in for too many years.

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Immediately, I felt lighter, like a weight lifted from my shoulders.

I knew it was better to learn how to forgive him on my own terms then to continue living a life where I was holding so much resentment against him, which was toxic for my mental health. 

Once I finished writing the letter, I never mailed it. I was content in the knowledge that all my words had finally been let out, that I had confronted so many of my long-standing issues with my lack of an emotional connection to my father. 

Things aren’t all of a sudden great between my dad and me.

It takes so much to repair a relationship that has been teetering perilously for twenty years, but it’s a work in progress.

My dad and I are both showing up differently now that I’m a older,and I’m starting to realize that even though I’ve never received the emotional support I want from him, I’ve still lived a life of love from other people that I've surrounded myself with.

I’m optimistic that one day my father and I will be able to sit down and just talk about the years between us.

I still love him, no matter what, and I know he loves me — even if he struggles to show it.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.