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Bitter ... better

The following is a previously published column.

It was just a couple of weeks ago when a friend and I were having a long-distance conversation on the phone. I’m not sure which one of us brought up the topic of Father’s Day, especially since both of our fathers are deceased.

The two of us have a lot in common when it comes to our fathers because neither of us had a Dad who took an active role in our lives. While my father was far more absent than her father was, we both know the pain of living without a male parent. We both know what it was like to see our friends with their fathers and listen to their stories of the roles their fathers played in their lives. As adults now, we are able to talk about it openly. More important, we are now able to acknowledge how our fathers’ absence affected who we’ve grown up to be — good and bad.

It’s no secret how the absence of a father can cause many problems for children, teens, adults. While the parental load is much lighter for children with just one active parent in their lives, the baggage can be considerably heavier. I’m sure there are statistics out there to prove that, but take my word for it ..., an AWOL father can cause some damage — mentally, psychologically, emotionally ...

As we continued to chat, something troubling occurred to me. It was obvious my friend still harbored a ton of resentment toward her then-absent, less-than-wonderful and now-deceased father. Her comments dripped of bitterness as she relayed incident after incident where her father had disappointed her. At one point, I even heard her voice crack as the pain from days gone by filled her heart. She spent quite a few minutes telling me how her father’s actions (or lack of actions) had caused her to become a person who still lived with the effects of her deadbeat dad.

Perhaps that’s why we’re such good friends because I could clearly relate to her pain and bitterness, her hurt and troubled soul. Even though we both had other positive male role models in our lives, it didn’t take the place of the man we were supposed to call Dad.

But while I understand her emotions, I believe I am different now. Sometime quite a few years ago, I came to the realization that I am not defined by the actions of an absent father. While I allowed him to make his absence my problem for many years, there came a time when I had to look at my own face in the mirror (ironically a face that looks like his) and give myself permission to go on without his baggage. Even though he was majorly responsible, I had to quit blaming him for my own shortcomings. I had to stand on my own two feet and say, “OK, Terri. He didn’t give a damn about you, but now you have a choice. You can let that continue to destroy your life ... or you can move on.”

I chose to move on ...

Now when I think of my father, I have more pity than pain, more apathy than empathy. I no longer think of what he ruined; I think of what he missed. The end result is that I am no longer bitter; I am better.

Years ago when I was consumed by a man who didn’t give a damn about me, I wish someone would have told me — maybe even given me permission to drop his baggage and never look back. I can’t get those years back, but I can tell a friend it’s OK to let it go ... to move on ... to stop looking back.

And so I did. After all, we are who we are — genetically linked but not emotionally attached, and it’s OK. I think I heard some relief in her voice after our chat. After all, sometimes letting go is the start of a journey we should have been on all along ...

To all the great dads out there ... You have my utmost respect.

And to those who can’t be bothered ... I hope my words will cause you to think about how your actions impact the child you brought into this life.

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