Over the last ten years, I have counselled hundreds, if not thousands, of people relating to their forgiveness issues. The number one issue that people struggle with, is what I call The Parent Wound; the pain created by parent(s) upon a vulnerable child. Before I go any further, let me say that anytime a parent attempts to discipline a child, rightly or wrongly, it is likely to be perceived by the child as painful. Healthy, reasonable and legitimate parenting can, and often does, create The Parent Wound. Because parents are in the unenviable position of disciplining their children, they become, in their children’s mind, the primary perpetrator of harm. Seared into the memory of the child is the unhappy experience with mom or dad, without the maturity to analyze the variables involved. Within the best situations and circumstances, most children will unavoidably end up having issues with their parents.
That said, there are abusive parents; those who cross the line when it comes to punishing their children. What could possibly be more heinous than parental child abuse? And how deep and profoundly painful are the wounds of child abuse, which never seem to heal. People often carry the pain for their entire lifetime, even long after the abusive parent has died. That is my story. I didn’t forgive my father until after he had been dead for ten years.
I didn’t realize that I had “unfinished business” with my father, until a counsellor (seemingly out-of-the-blue) made this request: “So, Mike, tell me about your relationship with your father.” My heart began to beat fast, and the sharks began to circle. There was no way to avoid dealing with the pain that emerged and that I didn’t even realize I had. After all, he had been physically dead for ten years! Turns out that he was quite alive in my mind; and the memories of him had not dimmed much, if at all.
My Parent Wound was not created by my father’s physical abuse, though he was physically intimidating. He wasn’t overly emotionally abusive in any intentional way, either. My Wound was not created by things he did or said. Rather, my Wound was created by his absence. He wasn’t around. During my formative years, my father travelled quite a bit, which meant that he wasn’t there to mentor me, to love and hold me when I fell, to play catch with me, or take me fishing. And when he was home, he wasn’t emotionally present or available to me. In many ways, it seems as though I never had a father…and then he died.
Ten years later, I’m asked, “So, Mike, tell me about your relationship with your father.” Wow.
Absentee fathers are not unusual. The consequences of fatherlessness are profound. Consider this data from the National Center for Fathering:
Children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.
How did I avoid these consequences? Truth is, I didn’t escape all of it. A combination of meeting and marrying my high-school sweetheart, Kay, and my Christian conversion at the age of 29, keep me out and away from lots of predictable self-inflicted pain.
Key to my freedom from emotional pain was forgiveness. Though long overdue, I finally found the peace I didn’t even know I was looking for.
So, tell me about your relationship with your parents?
Barry is an author and research associate with FoRGo, a forgiveness and resiliency project led by research scholar, Dr. Loren Toussaint, Ph.D., from Luther College.