It’s Never Too Late to Heal the Father Wound: A 40 Year Journey

 

Many of us have been wounded by our fathers.  For some we experienced abuse growing up.  For others we dealt with neglect.  For most of us, our fathers were absent physically or emotionally more than we would have liked.  Many of our fathers died too soon.

The first wound occurred for me when I was five years old.  My father, a writer like me, was having great difficulty making a living during tough economic times.  He wrote in his journal:

Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work.  Yes, it’s enough to make anyone blanch, turn pale and sicken.

Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain was about to descend.

Four days after that journal entry, he tried to commit suicide.  The first wound occurred when I learned he’d wanted to die.  “Why doesn’t he love me?” I thought. “Why does he want to get away from me?”  I didn’t understand.  He was 42 years old and I was 5.  The wounds didn’t end there.

Camarillo State Hospital

My uncle Harry visited my father every Sunday and it was my job to accompany him.  It was a two hour drive from our house in Los Angeles to the hospital outside of Oxnard.  I knew we were getting close when we drove between a huge stand of eucalyptus trees that lined the road.  The closer we got the more terrified I became.  I wanted to see my father, but the other “inmates” were strange, sitting alone rocking or talking to themselves.  Remember this was 1948 and a mental hospital wasn’t a great place to be.

I did my best to cheer my father up, but he was usually quiet, and interacted very little with me.  Driving back my Uncle would tell me how glad my father was to see me and how much I helped him by being there.  I hated going, but even then I was a “good little boy” and thought it was duty to be strong and do what I was told.

I went to Camarillo every weekend for a year until it became evident that my father didn’t know who I was.  He’d look right through me and my Uncle would have to remind him that I was his son.  I finally was allowed to stop going and I felt I was given a reprieve from the weekly wounding.

He’ll Never Leave.  He’ll Die Here 

The doctors told my mother that he’d never leave the hospital.  His mental illness hadn’t improved and she could accept the fact that he needed to be taken care of the rest of his life.  I started having nightmares about going crazy and being locked up for the rest of my life with my father.  I didn’t tell anyone about the horrible dreams.

In school, particularly around holidays, like Father’s day, other kids would ask about my father.  At first I would tell them he was in the hospital.  But I was stymied when they wanted to know when he was getting out.  I finally told them he was in a mental hospital and I didn’t know when he was getting out.  I felt very ashamed to have a “crazy” father and the kids taunted me endlessly.  When I changed schools in the third grade, I told anyone who asked that “my father is dead.”

But he wasn’t dead and we got a call from my Uncle one night telling us that my father had escaped from the hospital and police were out looking for him.  My mother was terrified that he was coming to get me and so she sent me to live with neighbors.  I lived there for a couple of weeks.  And one day there was a knock on the door.  It was my father.  I hid under the bed and he finally went away.  I knew he was out there somewhere and my mother continued to tell me to be careful.  “There’s no telling what your father might do.”  But he didn’t do anything.  He disappeared.  We never heard from him and gradually I concluded that he probably was dead.

A Ghost Attends My College Graduation

I graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara and had been accepted to U.C. San Francisco Medical School in the fall.  I felt on top of the world.  As I walked across the stage to shake hands and get my diploma, my hand turned to ice.  I saw someone in the audience that reminded me of my father.  It was a momentary glance and then he turned away.  I was shaken to my core, but I didn’t tell anyone.  A day later I got a letter in the mail from my uncle.  He said he had run into my father by accident in Los Angeles and had given him the information about my college graduation.  “He seemed OK,” my uncle wrote, “and he said he wanted to see you.”  He also left his contact information in Los Angeles.  “He goes under the name of Tom Roberts gave me a number where you can reach him.”

After I returned home for the summer, I called him at the number I had been given and we set up a meeting.  I had a jumbled mixture of feelings.  I longed for the father I had never known.  I was afraid of his “craziness.”  I felt I should help him.  The first meeting went pretty well.  He told me that he was a street puppeteer and I saw how much joy he brought putting his shows on around his neighborhood in Ocean Beach.  But he still had an edge of anger, weirdness, and unpredictability.

I visited a number of times, but by the end of the summer he seemed to be becoming more and more agitated.  I didn’t know what to make of him and I’m sure, unconsciously, I was going to medical school to find out what was wrong with him and how he could be fixed.  I had planned a trip to Mexico before I began Medical School in the fall and my father suggested we spend a few days in San Diego before I took the bus on to Mexico City.  Our time started off OK.  He showed me parts of San Diego he liked, bought me a book of letters from Theo Van Gogh to his brother Vincent, and we went out for our last dinner before my planned departure in the morning.  But when I got ready to go the next day, he became extremely agitated and angry and forbade me to leave.  “You’re my son and you have to stay and take care of your father.”  I was dumb struck.  I couldn’t believe what he was telling me.  As I boarded the bus he screamed after me, “You’ll never be a good doctor, if you can’t even take care of your own father.”

Brief Encounters of the Wounding Kind 

I headed for Mexico, badly shaken, but glad to get away from this “crazy man.”  I wondered where the gentle, supportive father I was dreaming of having had gone.  I had a great summer and started Medical School in the fall at U.C. San Francisco.  I lasted less than a semester.  I dropped out and enrolled at U.C. Berkeley in the school of Social Welfare.  I took many years to deal with the curse hurled at me by my father.  It took even longer to realize that he was probably right.  Medicine wasn’t for me, but not because I wouldn’t take care of my father, but because I had to learn about taking care of myself.

He and I ran into each other unexpectedly four more times over the next fifteen years.  Each time we’d spend a few days together and I thought maybe we would be able to have a real adult-to-adult, father-and-son, relationship.  But each time it would end the same way.  He would make some demand that I wouldn’t meet and he would scream at me, “You’re no son of mine.  I disown you.  Get out of my sight.”  I had armored myself to the blows and they didn’t hurt as much, but they still struck home.

The Last Wound and the Courage to Heal 

I hadn’t seen nor heard from him in over five years.  When my first book, Inside Out:  Becoming My Own Man, came out, it developed a wide-spread readership.  I wrote about my father, his inner demons, and our wounding relationship.  I got an email out of the blue:  “I read your book and was very touched by what you said about your father and your relationship with him.  I work at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco and I’m a nurse on the ward where your father lives.  I think he’d like to make contact with you.”

I wrote back and said, I wasn’t so sure, given our history.  But I wrote a letter to my father.  For the first time I told him the truth and didn’t hold back my feelings:

Dear Dad,

    I just learned that you are in the hospital and I’d like to come visit you.  But things have to change.  I’m tired of being blamed for your pain and I’m through with your angry outbursts when I don’t do what you want me to do.  It was you who left me, remember?  I was five yours old.  All I’ve ever done was to try to love you and all you’ve ever done is reject me over and over.  You are my father, but this is the last time I’m reaching out to you.  I’m the only one in the family who makes any attempt to get through to you.  If you keep acting like this, you’re going to end up a lonely old man.  I’m through.  It’s up to you.

I figured that would be the end of things for us.  At least I could say I had done my best to connect with my father.  But I’d done what I could do.  I was totally surprised when I got a letter back and even more surprised with what it said.

Dear Jed,

     No one has ever talked to me like that in my life.   And you’re right.  I have blamed you, the family, everyone for my own unhappiness. And I don’t want to do that anymore.  I do want to see you and I promise to you that I will treat you well.  Please give me another chance.

The End and the Beginning 

I did go and see him and he did treat me well.  The only exceptions were letters I would get which were written at 4 AM (he’d always but on the date and the time).  He was depressed and would chastise me for having plenty of time to travel all over the world, but didn’t seem to have much time for your Dad.  I didn’t get many of those.  And they’d usually be followed by a much more positive letter written in the light of day.  As a mid-life man I now understood something about the weariness, depression, and sadness that can hit us when we’re awake into the wee hours of the morning.

We spent 10 years together until he died at 89.  He met my wife and children and put on puppet shows for them.  He even came to a family reunion was able to heal a lot of wounds with his brothers and sisters.  I would visit him at his little apartment in the Tenderloin District.   I still remember our last walk together.  The new San Francisco library had just opened and he wanted to leave a flower on the steps to thank all those who had helped bring the library into being.

It was a long walk and we took it one slow step at a time.  He laid his flower on the steps and we sat on a bench to rest.  Finally, he looked me in the eye, gave me a slow smile, and told me “It’s time to go home.”  A week later he died.

At a gathering of friends and family I told the assembled group:  “By the standards of society, my father was not a success.  He didn’t make a lot of money.  He was labeled as mentally ill.  He liked to live among people that society pretends do not exist.”  Someone read one of his last poems, “Because of you,” said one, old madness has become new meaning.  Because of you, my tongue is no longer lead.”

Happy Father’s Day.  May all our souls heal from our father wounds.  It’s never too late.

Photo Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/1516351219/lightbox/

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Comments

  1. A great story Jed. So glad the two of you eventually reconciled.
    My father did give me a hard time, plenty of thrashings with the feather duster, given for minor infractions, with my mother helpless to prevent them – it was the 1950′s and ’60′s, after all.
    Eventually when I was 22 he passed away suddenly from a stroke at the train station on his way home -still working at 67.
    I feel one of the reasons for his temper and treatment of me was that he first became a father at age 44 and the era where I spent most of my teens was the 1960′s, a time very different to when he was that age.
    Although I am now only three years from the age when he died, I am hoping to make it a little further as unlike him I have never smoked and possibly because of him, I have never treated my two sons to any physical abuse.

    Regards,
    Russell Workman

    • Russell,

      Thanks for your response and sharing your experience. So glad to hear stories that show whatever happened to us as children we can heal our wounds and be a different kind of father than our father was able to be for us. Thanks for being part of the MenAlive community.

  2. cassandra rose says:

    I am a fan of all you write Jed as I realized the last few years that Men need to reclaim themselves as media and consumerism have used them controlling them with narcissistic hedonism that Moms such as myself have found the man to be useless in raising children. They have no character nor integrity. White lies define their world and life. This article sums up very well what my research said too.. of why Men are so on run from selves and the need to reverse this for our children’s sake and the future…Transcending the ManBox — The Good Men Project
    http://ht.ly/bziAk

    This todays writing of yours captures so much of the times we have lived through of people not understanding mental and emotional health…. That there was points of reconciliation over the years in your story is a fascinating journey that needs to be made into movie !! I live in Santa Barbara and the area’s you speak about where your father was while you growing up and your college years is such wonderful landscape for a very poignant truth movie to teach all the baby boom men as well as the boys becoming men today that there is zero perfection in life.. We cannot have expectations at all.. No matter what role one is playing etc.. That we all are fragile humans working to understand the moment and ourselves in this wonderful vast Universe of existence.

    I have friend in NY State who had a similar journey with her mother that you did with your father almost to a T… It is many people’s story. My sons’ father moved out of the country while I pregnant.
    I raised my son now 22 yrs by my self and 2 excellent boarding schools from his ages 11-18.
    When my son 21 yrs old living in Washington DC on own in college this long lost father found my son.. My child is trying to figure out this situation with much complexity of emotion as his biological father is escape artist living in much fantasy… My son wanting a authority figure and a father ( I never married so he had no Dad etc ) yet actually having to be a parent to this lost 68 yr old man who is the Paternal DNA of him. This story of yours is wonderful gift I can my son today… to know he is not alone in working to figure life out and there is hope for all us in the end… Thank you Jed !

    PS equally important is so many baby boomers and the Jones Generation ( 1954-1965) were adopted etc as this is before birth control but a time when it was taboo for a girl to have baby and keep it.. I counsel so many finding their birth parents now and the birth parent as so much confusion in the emotions and DNA link etc.. Working to find a mode of friendship love that works for both…
    It is too similar to what you went through with your birth father.. rejection wondering who he is to finding the person and then the on going hurts and pains on each end but still the need to know each other.

    • Cassandra,

      Thanks for your response and sharing. Its a tragedy of major proportions that we are losing so many men along the way, through stress-related illnesses, suicide, and divorce. “Over 330,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the U.S. alone if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s,” says University of Michigan researcher, Daniel J. Kruger, PhD. “If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer,” says Kruger’s colleague, Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.

      I’m dedicating the next three years to helping Keep a Million Men Alive. I welcome those who would like to join us to contact me here.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    That story hit the heart and soul. I had a similar experience growing up.

  4. Dear Jed. I thank for writing clearly about these experiences that a lot of men live with.
    My experience is in the same range as many other “wounded” men. Joe, my father is alive, near 82 and lives a few blocks from me. I have no desire to see him. I am 50 with 2 grown children, and I am thankful that I was not so bad as to alienate my kids. Even though I tried very hard not to repeat Joe’s behaviours with my own family, I carry some regret.
    I can see that my out of control emotional behaviours were always drivin by fear that I had not faced, like any “intolerable” feeling. Your own father reached the point of the intolerable fear poking up, (abondonment?, self worth? unable to connect with the self? afraid he doesn’t matter?), each time you were together for a while. I know you know that he lashed out in stark fear, and that the scared boy in you reacted to that trigger. Your father was not so different? Reacted to triggers carried inside him. I just described me there. Even though I have worked at it for over 25 years, it still seems as though the emotional intelligence I need to navigate is hard earned.

  5. Paul, the wounds do take time to heal, but you never know when some new experience will trigger additional healing. My father was around 80 when our interaction triggered something new in him and we were able to begin a healing process. This kind of emotional intelligence, as you say, is hard to come by, but often something out of the blue can help it along.

    Happy Father’s Day and may the healing continue for us all.

  6. Before my husband left suddenly for no solid reason except within his own mind, my two grown sons were devastated at my husbands change in personality. He no longer was the father figure they grew up to know and he now rarely talks to them or sees his grandchildren. It’s as if the past were erased and he doesn’t have a clue how he’s hurting the people who love him the most. I’ve been reading books as to the why of his abrupt change and it’s still hard to understand how someone can act so cruel and unfeeling towards their children who always looked up to their dad. I don’t know what’s worse. To have a father abuse his kids from the beginning or abruptly change and leave them without rhyme or reason. The preceding stories are so sad. Yet, it is still something that can make a person strong with the family he or she has so that the sins of the father aren’t duplicated ever again.

    • Mary, I know how difficult it is when a man goes through these changes, becomes irritable and angry, and cuts himself off from family. I’ve been working with men and women to help reverse these devastating effects. I learned a lot from my father’s situation. I took me a long time to stand up to his abuse, with love rather than fear and anger. We can heal, but it takes understanding and a willingness to be both strong and compassionate. Thanks for sharing your journey with us here. We all get stronger when we listen and share our stories.

  7. Alizarin says:

    Dear Jed,
    I have been reading many of yours and other articles about midlife crisis and tried to find answers since my husband abundant the family. I am very touched by your personal story, but am wondering what roll your mother played in the process (you did not mention one word about your mother in your story). We have two great adult children, I am a career woman, and my husband owns a small business. We had a very close family and we all loved our family, but my husband suddenly became a different person two years ago after dealing his business financial difficulties and his parents passing away. During that time he was sleepless and very fearful, and was tempted by a woman 20 years younger than him and he is now living with her and filing a divorce. It’s for sure that I am heartbroken, but my children were hurt so much also, especially when he cheated on me and lied to them by using our trust. I haven’t seen my husband for over a year since he cut off communications and refused to see me after he sending our family an email telling us he had an affair and sending me an divorce paper at the same time. My children met him once during the holiday but had a big argument since they can’t stand the way he view things. He blamed all his unhappiness on the family and me, and felt nothing wrong having adultery and leaving the family.
    Recently, my husband, my older child and I attended an event organized by my younger child to benefit a community my husband used to have emotional attachment and cared a lot. . My adult children and me have decide to have some peaceful communication and relationship with him, but all of us, including all our old family friends noticed that my husband become even more fearful, angry at me and no interests on his own children and the community he used to cared. We felt his heart and soul were replaced with fears and junks. He basically ran away from us before the event is totally over and did not want to spend any more time with his children Why my husband tried to made the woman’s teen ager daughter who hated him happy but did not care about her own kids who love him. Does he afraid of his mistress knowing he spending time with his children? Or is he afraid that I will do something to hurt him? Or, he has fear of his own?
    I am really sad for losing my husband I love, but even sadder that my children lost their father they love. Can you let me know what I should do to help my children to heal the pain? Your exchange letters with your father seemed to point out the most important and common fact: the midlife crisis/depressed man seem to blame their spouse and family for their own dissatisfaction of life and unhappiness. How can we help my husband to understand his own problem?
    Thank you very much!

    • Alizarin, I know how difficult this can be for the whole family. Men often become stressed out and overwhelmed as they go through these mid-life and older-age changes. They often have a tendency to withdraw and distance themselves from family and friends and seek out other relationships that seem simpler. I’ve spent years trying to help men, women, and their families understand what is going on. My recent books on the Irritable Male Syndrome describe that’s going on and offer suggestions for family. I also offer counseling to help people heal. Thanks for your willingness to share your story here. I’m sure others have gone through what you’re going through. Together we can heal.

  8. Jed,
    This is a great post. It reminds me of the pain I felt from my fathers mental illness. He was a musician who suffered trauma from WWII. Life was very difficult for him when the band era faded. Moreover, as a child I did not understand why Dad would go away to a hospital when he was not sick. Children did not need to know about those things. After years of shock therapy and other treatments, he did get better and returned to our family. I believe that my experience with him is the motivation that drives me to study male depression in college. Again, thanks for your post it has awakened my inner child.

    Mike

    • Mike, sounds like we have a similar history. I’m convinced that it is through our wounds that are creative fire burns and our greatest opportunities to help make the world a better place. Thanks for being part of my tribe and sharing your story. We all heal together.

  9. Eric Tinsley says:

    Hi Jed, I’m feeling very sad regarding my relationship with my 11 year old son. I just moved back home temporarily with him and my ex-wife, his mother. While I did not live with him for the pst 6 yrs I called him every morn and every night, and saw him as much as I could.
    I’m afraid I may not be the dad that he wants, I want to connect with him again, to see him happy and not afraid of me. Can you give me some pointers to help me have a better relationship with my son?

    • Eric, thanks for writing. It takes time to heal wounds and re-establish trust. The truth is we can never be the Dads our kids want because life circumstances and our own lives force us to fall short of being everything our children want. What you can do is become a Dad of value that your son will learn to love and know you are solid and can be depended upon. Keep being there. Never give up and get the support you need so you can be there for him.

      I’m sure there are other Dads who read this that will have suggestions as well.

    • I am not a father, but as a young man I think doing stuff with him that does not require a lot of talking would be great. Play basketball, work around the house, build something. I suggest not forcing the communication. Say next-to-nothing if that is what he wants. I think this will evolve into him trusting you more, as he should, and then talking more. He will forget why he was uncomfortable with you. Good luck!

  10. My dad teaching me to tie my shoe would hit me until I got it right. I learned to tie my shoes. Mission accomplished. I would go fishing with him because I wanted to be with him but I was afraid. I knew if my line snapped or something I would be called stupid or something. I was learning to play the piano, I was practicing one day. I wasn’t playing the lesson I was supposed to be learning. My dad punched me in the shoulder.
    One day in high school a kid had been bullying me. (they didn’t call it that back then,… they called it teasing or harassing). He was a short unassuming kid and really didn’t look too tough. He kept telling me things like “I’m going to make you regret the day you were born” and other threats like that. I didn’t do anything. I would just walk away. Not because it was the best thing to do, but because I was afraid of confrontation. It didn’t matter why I walked away to anybody else. News of this got around the school and pretty soon everyone knew i wouldn’t fight this kid. I knew then it wouldn’t be long before others would jump on the bandwagon of challenging me. I had to do something. I had to make a stand! Afraid, shaking on the inside, I sat behind him on the bus. I leaned over and told him “Today is the day you get to make me wish I was never born”.
    The bus stopped. He got up stepped into the alleyway. I was right behind him. I had no idea what I was going to do, all I did know was I was going to fight this kid.
    He stepped of f the bus and I right behind him started to tell him to hit me. He wouldn’t. Again and again I would tell him to hit me,.. and he just stood there. I hit him twice. Both times were square in the face. He bled almost instantaneously. I stopped. He wouldn’t hit back. I left and walked home.
    Scared and shaking viably. I knew what I did was bad and I could feel that more bad things were going to happen because of it.
    Later that night my father and I were alone in his car. I told him the whole story. He said he was proud of me for telling him the truth. I was elated! I could not believe it. He said he was proud of me!!! It was all I ever wanted in my whole life! I was so relieved. I thought everything was going to be O.K. no matter what.
    The very next day I was in my first class and I got called into the dean of the schools office. There was the kid and his mom. I couldn’t believe he brought his mom! I walked into the office and there was the dean. He asked me what had happened and I too told him the whole story. I walked out and there was a police officer. He handcuffed me and walked me to the squad car.
    I was arrested for assault and battery. They put me in a holding cell. In the holding cell I kept trying to think of ways to kill myself. There was no way to do it,.. they took my laces and my belt.
    My dad and his wife (my step mother), picked me up. The first thing I remember him saying was how disappointed he was with me. I cried right then and there. Even as I write this it just about makes me tear up.
    As I got older talking to him was like having a conversation with a stranger.
    I also became an alcoholic and although was married to a great woman, was cheating on her either on chat lines or in bars.
    I kept looking for something that would make me feel better about myself and could not find it.
    I was led to follow some spiritual principles and I was able to overcome my alcoholism.
    I have not kept in contact with my dad and I stay away from events I know he will be at.
    That is until now. My sister is about to get married. My dad is going to give her away. I have to go and now all this stuff is coming up. I had talked with a friend about it and this friend went on line to try and help. They found this thing called “The Father Wound”. I had never heard of it. I have been to several websites and now I am starting to understand why I behaved and at times still behave the way I do.
    Thank you for your story and the ability for me to comment and write this.

  11. The above is just one example of how it was like to be my dads son. There are so many more stories I could write about….
    He could hit me, that only hurt for awhile,…

  12. Bonnie Baker says:

    Dear Jed,
    My dad didn’t visibly express anger but was/is withdrawn – both physically and emotionally. So who has his unexpressed anger? Myself and my 3 younger sisters. Each in our own way. My dad might be a sociopath. I know his mom suffered from mental illness and was hospitalized off and on. But this was back in the 40′s through the 60′s. My dad had a very difficult childhood and just never learned to connect with other people, including his own flesh and blood. He’s now 80 and I feel compassion for him but still choose not to get involved with the chaos he now creates or bail him out financially. It’s hard.
    My boyfriend/life partner had a very, very critical father and an alcoholic withdrawn mom. And she had 6 boys. My boyfriend would get up in the morning and make his brothers breakfast and their lunches for school because if he didn’t no one else would. At 69 he still talks about the time when he was a teenager and his dad told him “Anyone who walks like you do will never make anything of himself”.
    And I too felt if I didn’t take care of my 3 sisters no one else would.
    Right now I’m working on helping my boyfriend “have a life” and not sit around brooding. And I’m also taking care of myself. It’s more than a full-time job. I love my boyfriend so much and want him to be “happy” and joyful and grateful to be alive each morning. It’s a very delicate path I’m taking. I’m consciously not “pushing” him but gently helping him.
    Have I thought of leaving him? Oh yes. But I ask myself the question – would my life be better with him or without him?
    Amen.

  13. Dean D. Froese says:

    My dad left two months before I was born. I never knew what he looked like, I never heard what his voice sounded like, and most of all, I never knew what his arms around me felt like. He passed away in 2004 without ever having taken the initiative to know me. I was forty three. I had thought a few times over those last years that maybe I should make the trip out to the west coast to make the attempt as I had heard that his health was failing. What would I have done when I finally met him? Shook his hand or punched him out for being the SOB I never knew. I really resented the fact that he had never wanted to know who I was. When I heard that he had passed on, it surprisingly affected me more than I thought it would. More for having an absent father figure for all those years. I talked to his sister,(my aunt) the day he died. He had re-married and she had had a son from before. What really erked me was the fact that my aunt told me how good of a relationship my dad and the stepson had. I told her straight that that should have been me! She told me that he had thought of getting to know me but wasn’t sure if would have been receptive to the idea. At least if he would have made the attempt would have made such a difference. I have made it my tradition, every year on September 28th, the day he died, to pour myself a stiff drink, and by myself, toast my “dad”. The Son of a B***h I never knew!

  14. Dean, Thanks for sharing your story. I can feel the pain of your loss and your hurt and anger at not having connected with your father. I was blessed by having an opportunity to connect with him before he died, but not everyone has that chance. I’m glad you’re willing to continue your healing and eventually come to peace with your loss and use your experiences to do good in the world. I know you are helping someone out there by sharing with such an open heart, even though its painful. Thank you.

  15. Sons are hurt by their fathers and fathers are hurt by their sons. It takes two people to overcome the hurt, sons are hurt by abuse, fathers are hurt when their son do stupid things and finish up in prison wothout considering the effect their actions have on their parents. My father died last year and took all that hurt with him and now it cannot be fixed just forgotten.

    • Robert, You’re right. It is sad when unhealed wounds never get fixed. My father died 12 years ago and I’m still working on healing from our up and down life together. As long as I’m alive, I feel there’s opportunity for me to heal and maybe his spirit will feel it and be less burdened.

  16. Christopher Falbo says:

    I am a 46yo man born with Cerebral Palsy(I was born 2 months premature in 1966). My father was and is emotionally abusive toward me. He has called me stupid, a dummy, etc. to my face and enjoyed seeing me in pain. Dad also has a VERY EXPLOSIVE temper, and I was his personal whipping boy/punching bag growing up. I feel many years of bitterness and resentment over the fact that He chose to disown me/abandon me when I needed him the most. It’s sad to say, I truly don’t believe we’ll reconcile ever.

  17. Christopher,

    Overcoming an abusive childhood is one of the most difficult and rewarding journeys we can do in life. It sounds like you have gone a long way in your healing. The kind of abuse your father visited on you might have crushed a lesser man, but you’ve stayed alive and continued your healing process. For you healing may not entail reconciling, but in accepting that your father was a damaged soul, and forgiving him for how he treated you. “Disowning” you may have been the only way he knew not to abuse you.

    Continue on your healing journey. There’s more healing for you still.

  18. Samantha Marie says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. My father was also a very depressed man, after my parents divorced when I was 18, he became a heavy drinker and would cry to me asking me what he should do or could do to fix things. It was very hard for me to see a man whom I had always looked up to, always thought of as the strongest person alive, as this sad desperate man who felt he lost everything and gave up. He committed suicide when I was 22, unexpectedly. He was found by his girlfriend all alone in the darkness of his unfinished basement with a shotgun and a beer beside him, and it was too late. It’s so hard to let go of what’s happened, and this feeling of abandonment as if he didn’t love my sisters and me enough to hang in there. I need him, I miss him everyday. I appreciate your story because it reminds me that I’m not alone and it’s okay to be hurt about it.

    • Samantha, Thanks for sharing your story. It touches my heart to feel what you went through. Its a pain that never fully goes away, but drives me to do the work I do and reach out to others. I believe the more we share our stories, our wounds, our hopes, and dreams, the more we can heal ourselves and each other and hopefully bring a little more peace to the world.

      Thanks for being part of this community.

  19. I found myself at odds with the argument put forth in the title. For one thing, this father managed to hang onto life long enough for the adult son to affect a reconciliation. Furthermore, the father, despite his mental health issues, was open to it. This piece offers no guidance for men whose dysfunctional fathers either died early on, or are unwilling to change.

    • Rick, you’re right. I was lucky that my father lived long enough for a reconciliation. I know there are many who die with unfinished business and sometimes we have to resolve the feelings ourselves without the benefit of a father or mother who we can talk to in this life. I hope you find the peace and resolution you want and deserve.

  20. My father also had many inner demons and during my adolescence his body succumbed to years of alcohol and pill abuse. To his credit, however, he rejected the example set by his cold and critical father and tried to be a good parent: affectionate, with no corporal punishment. I certainly never felt like I let him down personally, but I suffered from a severe low self-esteem nonetheless. I am fortunate, however, in that my stepfather, over the years, has gone out of his way to communicate his admiration and support for me.

    • Rick, Thanks for reminding us all that step-father and other father-figure support can be very healing and can make up for a lot that we missed. I had a step-father who offered me a lot, though I wished he had been present in my life for longer periods of time.

  21. Jed, My Father was a very bitter, unsatisfied man. Wounded in France (twice) during WWII, he felt that he never accomplished anything. He was raised for a time in an orphanage & his step-father was an alcholic & rather shady businessman. I don’t believe that he knew how to be a father to us because he never really had one. Then, while in his early 20s, my older sister (first born) was killed at age 5 (hit by car). I was 3 but have memories of her & I… worst of is going to the funeral home & being taken in to see her after everyone else had left. My relationship with him was very strained & I was always afraid of him. The last time I saw him, he was in the Alzheimers Unit of a VA hospital & when I realized he didn’t know who I was, I left & never went back. I didn’t attend his funeral but have been to his gravesite. I am estranged from my siblings & Mother, not having seen or talked to any of them for 10 years. And I have no interest in doing so. I wonder if this behavior is because of the way I was raised… little affection but lots of control. I was the only kid in high school wearing wing tips because that’s what was bought for me. Anyway, I’ll be 69 on August 19 & I’m going sky diving for the first time. I feel I need a “near-death” experience to make me enjoy life again.

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