The Day My Dad Disowned Me

Most parents would do anything to be close to their kids. My father is not like most parents. He values power and control more than relationships, something that became painfully clear 20 years ago when he disowned me.

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“Take your $100,000 salary and go to hell!” he said as he hung up the phone. With those angry words our relationship ended. I had dared to question him, dared to suggest he had done something wrong, and to Wayne Barrett that was an unforgivable sin.

Several months earlier, on Christmas of 1992, he decided it would be funny to play a joke on my son. He wrapped a large empty box and brought it in on Christmas Eve. When Nate opened the empty box, Grandpa declared that Santa had decided he was a bad boy. Nate didn't get the joke and stood in the living room with a puzzled look on his face. My dad laughed and then brought in the child-sized bicycle, thinking it all quite funny. It may have been slightly humorous to pull this prank on a teenager, it was cruel to do it to a child who was not quite three-years old.

I did not say anything that night as I did not want to further ruin the holiday, so I waited until a better time. That time came, I thought, the following summer. I do not remember how the conversation turned to Christmas but it did, and I seized the opportunity to address the topic. I gently told him that his empty box joke was not such a good idea and that a child so young could not comprehend that kind of humor.

“You can't tell me how to be with my grandson!” he quickly replied.

“Actually, I am his father, and I do get to tell you how to be around my son,” I calmly explained in as soft a voice as I could manage, “Not everyone is good with young children, and you may not be.” I went on to say that this was okay and understandable but that I may on occasion need to point this out to him so could be aware and adjust. The conversation ended soon after as no amount of critique or suggestion was acceptable to him.

I knew when I hung up the phone that in all probability I would never see him again. Wayne Barrett never apologizes, and he never accepts any terms other than his own.

I have thought about him often in the last 20 years as I have watched my son grow up to be a man and the granddaughter he never met develop into a beautiful young woman. I have often wondered, “How could a man purposely choose to lose his grandchildren?” The only answer I can come up with is that a normal man can't. Only a man with some sort of mental illness could do such a thing.

While painful and sad, my father's rejection has motivated me over the years. I have dedicated myself to being different from him, to being a better person and to being the best father I can be. It is a reminder to me that no thing is more important than people and that no people are more important than family.

Some who read these words can share their own story of relationships lost. As a family doctor I have seen and heard many stories over the years of parents who have rejected their children and children who long to be loved by a father or mother. Every one of these stories is a tragedy. 

You may wonder how it is that I have handled the loss of my father and succeeded where he failed. I was able to cope with this for two reasons- First, because I have embraced the reality that my Heavenly Father loves me and will never leave me or forsake me. Second, God blessed me with a surrogate dad in the person of my father-in-law, who for 23 years loved me like I was his own son.

If you have been rejected by a parent, my heart goes out to you. I pray you will know the love of the Father whose love is eternal and the hope that such love brings and find someone who can give you the support you need. If you are estranged from your children as a result of your own doing, I beg you to reconcile. Swallow your pride and reach out.

- Bart

If you know someone who may need to hear the message of this post, please share it. It's the only way they will know about it! Also, if you want to receive future posts by email, click the button to subscribe, on the web below my photo, scroll down on a tablet or smartphone. I can be followed on twitter @bartbarrettmd. For more on the topic of dealing with dishonorable parents, I invite you to listen to my talk on the topic "Honoring the Parents God Gave You" on my Vimeo page- https://vimeo.com/142703584