Studies show that a strong father figure is extremely important to a child's development. Yet, it is no secret that we are having quite a crisis of fatherhood in our society. Many fathers are absent or maybe present, but very distant. And even the best of fathers have their shortcomings. So what do we do? I'm not asking how we can reform society and fix fathers everywhere, but rather, I am reflecting on the question of how we ought to handle it when our own father's fail. (Just a disclaimer, I am not talking about abusive relationships. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, you need to get some professional help ASAP.)
I have been uniquely blessed to grow up in a very loving home, with both mother and father still in the picture and happily married. This is increasingly not the norm in our world. But even with a childhood that could easily be called idyllic, there were moments when the combination of my human frailty and that of my parents, left me feeling hurt, confused, and unloved, because that's what sin does. Until we are all sinless, we will inevitably hurt those we love, even unintentionally.
A few recent conversations with some friends and the youth with whom I work brought forth the question of how to handle the weakness of our parents. Children naturally resist the idea of their parents having flaws. They want to believe that daddy is a superhero who will never fail us. But the fact remains that sometimes our parents fail us.
I am admittedly not an expert on this topic, but these are some things that I have learned in my short years on this earth about this particular quandary. Many of these lessons apply for dealing with the shortcoming of any other person, including ourselves.
1. Accept him as he is.
Those moments of failure hurt so much more when we have unrealistic expectations of our fathers. In recognizing his areas of weakness, then you can be prepared for it when it comes. Show him the same mercy and patience that God shows you when you try to overcome your weaknesses. My relationship with my own dad became so much smoother when I came to understand his fear, insecurities, struggles, etc.
2. Love him.
In the face of disappointment, hurt, loneliness, continue to shower your father with love. Find out his love language and use it. Don't do it to change him or to win love in return. Don't do it for thanks or for praise. Just love him and make sure he knows it. Dad's need that love as much as you do and they are often overlooked. As the "child" in the parent/child relationship, it is easy to get caught up in your own needs and forget that your dad needs your love too, even if you don't feel like you're getting anything out of it.
3. Forgive him.
This one may [most likely] have to be one that you have recommit to moment by moment. Your relationship with your father will rapidly become unbearable if you don't find a way to let go of past hurts. They build up. If you don't let them go, then the relationship just ends up being one giant wound. Counseling and or spiritual direction is extremely helpful if your hurts are not something you can let go on your own.
It takes humility to apologize, especially if we're convicted that we're not the only offending party. But a little humility goes a long way, even if we can't see the results. Sometimes we are unaware of the degree things we say or do can hurt our parents. It is not little thing to learn to recognize when you could have done things better and apologize for your own shortcomings. Extra points for apologizing before he brings up the issue with you.
5. Get some extra father figures.
In addition to working on your relationship with your own father, it's important that your need for a good father figure is being met. It's not in any way cheating on your dad to have a couple of "adopted" fathers in your life. They can be a great sounding board and offer fresh perspectives when you need. I find these father figures in my uncles and the many holy priests that I have known.
6. Let God be your father.
We have a perfect father who never, ever fails us in God the Father. He is always ready to heal your wounds, forgive you, affirm you, hold you...All you have to do is turn to Him and let Him do those things for you. Building your relationship with God the Father will do so much to help and console you. Don't waste that precious opportunity.
So, those are my tips for a better relationship with your daddy. I want to give a special shout out/thank you to my own wonderful father, who has always done his best to let me know how much he loves and cares for me. I admire him immensely and I wouldn't be who I am today without him.