During my adolescence and young adulthood, I bore a lot of anger, bitterness and resentment toward my dad. In my hurt and indignation, I believed that he should fix our relationship since he’s my parent and an adult.
Why should I have to do it? After all, he hurt me first. I was just a kid and didn’t know better. So if he doesn’t want to, why should I? My pride held me back from offering the olive branch, from being the bigger person then.
However, this pushed the situation to a stalemate. I refused to make the first move because I believed he should do so; he didn’t seem to work on the relationship because he either didn’t know how to make a change or was unaware of my hurt. As a result, no restoration could happen because neither of us did anything.
It took me a long time to get to this decision, but I came to realise that having a better relationship with my father was more crucial than holding on to my pride. I decided to intentionally honour my dad by turning my heart toward him, in spite of how I felt he has let me down.
For me, to honour someone means to value them unconditionally, to give weight and importance to who they are, regardless of what they have done. This means I would love and respect my dad without requiring him to first meet any of my expectations.
Opening my heart
Because of some things my dad did which hurt me deeply, I grew up hardening my heart toward him.
I built a wall around my heart against him, which is a common defence mechanism for people who have been hurt. But this wall also prevented me from receiving his affection as it blocked out any feelings — including good ones — that made me feel vulnerable again. Hence, even when my dad did show love, I was indifferent to it and didn’t value what he did.
So the important first step for me in honouring my dad was to open my heart to him again, so that I could begin to perceive and receive his love. I had to become emotionally vulnerable and open to him. While there might be a higher risk of experiencing deep hurts, I knew that greater vulnerability would also bring the reward of greater intimacy.
This wall stopped me from receiving his affection as it blocked out any feelings that made me feel vulnerable again.
Forgiving from the heart
What also helped me honour my dad was to forgive him for how I felt he had hurt me. It wasn’t easy, because it meant I had to let go of my “rights” to retaliation and to release him from any kind of “justice” I thought I deserved.
As long as I held on to my unforgiveness toward him, it also gripped and imprisoned me. Forgiving my dad was necessary to set me free from my anger and resentment.
Since hurts are felt by and stored in the heart, I needed to release forgiveness from my heart, so that I could find true resolution. One thing I did was to revisit hurtful memories and try to see those situations from my father’s perspective while giving him the benefit of the doubt, trusting that he had good intentions.
I’ve come to realise that forgiveness isn’t a one-time act, but something I have to keep working on. Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting. Even though I’ve chosen to forgive him, I occasionally struggle with the pain of past hurts. At times like these, I have to intentionally forgive him again whenever I feel shaken by memories or current behaviour. It’s a process of revisiting and releasing the hurts again, as and when needed. But I’ve also learnt not to be too hard on myself, because I recognised that this is normal when it comes to deep pain.
Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting.
Although it was initially discouraging to repeatedly work at forgiveness, it eventually became easier to do. I’m learning to be quick to release forgiveness to him, instead of harbouring hurts in my heart. Forgiving someone is like washing our wounds with clean water, so that they won’t be left to fester.
Finally, forgiveness helped me to not just release my dad from the “debt” of past hurts I felt he owed me, but it also allowed me to desire the best for him as well.
Seeing his heart
The acts above helped me to see my father through eyes of love and understanding. I began to see things from his perspective, to understand where he’s likely coming from, and to appreciate the ways he expressed his love.
As I began to recognise my dad’s acts of affection towards me, however imperfect they may be, I became more thankful for him. Though my father does not always express love in ways that are best for me, I’m learning to see beyond the ways he shows love and more at his intent of love. This leads me to see the good in him, which cultivates my gratefulness for him.
I also realised that my dad has most probably not been given the best love by his father (my grandfather), thus he couldn’t give me what he hadn’t received. In fact, he was likely already doing better than my grandfather. I choose to believe that my dad is doing what he can with what he’s got, and I appreciate him for doing his best as a father.
Besides, I’m not perfect either, and I fall short of being the best son, too. There have been times when I wasn’t able to appreciate or I’ve misunderstood his love for me, and I’ve also caused him pain by my words and actions. Just as I desire his grace and understanding for my shortcomings, I want to extend to him that same measure of grace and understanding, too.
I’m thankful that I chose to open my heart to my dad, so that I could forgive him and appreciate where he’s coming from. It isn’t always easy, but he’s my father and I want to honour him with all my heart.
© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.