Good Dad, Bad Dad, Disowned by Dad. Happy Father's Day.

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I was a little nervous as I walked to the bulletin board outside my professor’s office. The final grades had just been posted for his class, the last grade of my first year at UCI as a biology major, and I desperately wanted an “A”. I was one “A” away from what had seemed to me an impossible achievement, a 4.0 grade average for my first year in University.

I grew up in an abusive home where I was repeatedly reminded of every awkward deed and innocent mistake. The persistent put downs and constant mocking had left a mark. I constantly doubted myself.  I started university hoping against hope that I had what it took to make it into medical school, not at all confident I did. Straight “A’s” had not even entered my mind.

I reached the bulletin board. My eyes found my student ID number and scanned across to the grade column. “A”. I had done it. I let out a yell and hurried to find a pay phone to call my wife. (This was 1984 after all) “I did it!” I yelled into the phone, fighting back the tears. The conversation was brief as I wanted to share my joy with others. I hung up and dialed my father’s number to give him the news, certain he would be proud. I blurted out, “I just got my last grade! I got a 4.0 for the year!”

His words were a punch to my stomach, “Wow. I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.” My father didn’t believe in me. I hung up the phone deflated and hurt.

7 years later I graduated from medical school. All of my family, including my father, were in the audience as I walked across the stage to receive my degree. I received my diploma from the dean and turned out to the audience to search for my family. I saw my dad first. He was standing on his chair, head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. He was pumping his fist in the air, a huge smile on his face, overwhelmed with pride for me.

These stories are two of my most vivid memories of my father and illustrate the enigma that he is. On many occasions he was a viciously and abusively mean, reducing me to fearful tears. At other times he could be incredibly generous and supportive. For the three years I was in residency he gave us $500 each month so we could afford to have Lisa stay home with our infant son. My final year of residency he gave our almost three-year-old son an empty box for Christmas, telling him that Santa said he was a bad boy. When I questioned him about it he disowned me.

As father’s day approaches all of these memories come flooding back. I have not seen my father in over 23 years but he still impacts my life. I work every day to overcome the negative traits I inherited from him and the abuse wrought insecurity that remains.

I am not alone in my struggles. A while back I wrote a blog post entitled “The Day my Dad Disowned Me.” Although it was posted two years ago, each day brings new readers who have been similarly disowned. Almost every month I receive a message or comment from someone dealing with issues of abandonment. The stories of pain and rejection shared by strangers are heartbreakingly sad. Dysfunctional and absent father’s damage their children in unimaginable ways.

I pray for these hurting people every Father’s Day.

There is nothing I can do for them, and there is nothing I can do to about the damage done by my father in the past. All I can do is be the best father I can be for my children and encourage others to do the same.

On this day that we celebrate dads, my prayer is to be a good one. 

- Bart

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Christmas for the Fatherless

Christmas is a wonderful family holiday, for those who have families. For those who come from broken homes it is an especially difficult time of year. I live in both of these realities, rejoicing in the time I have with my wife and children while at the same time dealing with the sadness that remains after many years of having no relationship with my parents.

I know I am not alone in this struggle, that there are thousands of others who similarly mourn. Every month in their search for understanding a few hundred of them find their way to my blog post “The Day My Dad Disowned Me.” Some of them are so wounded, so sad, that they pour out their hearts in the comments or in a private email. Their stories are heartbreaking.

One woman wrote,

At 53 years old and being disowned as well, the pain never completely leaves. My father at 88 years old and dying still won't utter my name. I still carry a fantasy that as he is dying he will ask for me to come to him, tell me he loves me and we embrace, washing away the years of silence and pain. But this never happened. And still I search web pages "why a parent would not love one of his children" to help ease my broken heart and help me to understand.”

Another woman wrote of dealing with the death of the father she had lost years earlier-

My Dad just died yesterday.
I haven't seen him in 10 years....and 6 years ago he emailed me telling me to never contact him again.
He has been breaking my heart my entire life...and only in the past few years have I begun to make some progress in overcoming some of the heartache and not having it rule over and try to destroy my life.
Now it feels like I'm starting all over again in dealing with the pain, rejection, feelings of not being loved. If you have any books or sermons you can recommend I would greatly appreciate it.

A life spent fatherless led one woman to share these words-

I've grown up my entire life without a father. In high school when I found out, who (was told to me) was my father, I wanted a relationship. I spoke with him on phone, and asked for his help to attend college. As a naive 18 year old, I never imagined that it would cause such heartache for the rest of my life, as he denied me. To this day, I often wonder what it is like to grow up with a father.

There are many more similar stories of people hurting deeply, longing for a father’s love even as they enter middle age knowing it will never, ever come. I think of them at Christmas time and wonder what the holidays are like for them. Do they also stop and wonder if their fathers think of them? If there is any regret over casting aside their child? Have we been completely forgotten, are we nothing more than a bothersome memory they suppressed long ago?

Like me do they still wonder, “Why?”

For me, and for most of those like me, complete answers will never come. The only answer I have is that my father is a sick and damaged man who is incapable of love. The only choice I have is to be the best parent I can be and to love the family I have with all my heart, all year round, and to pray that God in His mercy will redeem the heart and soul of my father.

At Christmas I focus on another Father and another Son. I am grateful for the Father that sent His Son into my world so I could enter into relationship with Him. This Father will never leave me or forsake me for He loves me with an everlasting love.

-          Bart

Thanks for reading, and for taking a moment to pray for those who are hurting at Christmas. Thanks to all who have shared blog posts with others, it is the only way awareness of the blog grows. Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Merry Christmas