Father’s day is coming up. The more years I clock as a father, I cannot help but notice the profound impact that the male parent has on a child. I have understood this impact even more owing to the sessions of counselling I have with couples; many relationship problems between a husband and wife can be traced to father wounds in either one or both of the members of a marriage. I teach a purity program called Powerhouse, where I help men overcome sexual addictions and unlearn unhealthy patterns of manhood while embracing biblical masculinity. I have taken more than 700 men through the teachings and one thing often stands out- bad relationships with fathers contribute greatly to broken men.
Many people gravitate to deep resentment and bitterness owing to the nature of their relationship with their father. The men I meet who have father wounds often and easily admit that they had horrible relationships with their dads. These tough relationships often look like this:
Absent dads: dad was never there and he never wanted me. He chose to live a life apart from me.
Passive dads: dad paid the school fees, paid the house rent, bought the grocery and didn’t abscond from his duties. However, dad was never engaged emotionally. We didn’t talk then and we don’t talk now. We have no relationship.
Physically abusive dads: dad hit with his hands. When he wasn’t hitting mom, he was hitting us.
Verbally abusive dads: dad demeaned us with his words. He called us names and insulted us liberally.
Emotionally abusive dads: dad withheld good things from us to punish us. He threatened and manipulated us. He tore us down psychologically and emotionally.
Financially abusive dads: dad drained the family financially. He was a burden that kept us in poverty and lack. His absence would mean our thriving.
Sexually abusive dads: dad introduced us to pornography. Dad violated us sexually. Dad exposed us to a lewd lifestyle.
Controlling dads: dad never gave us freedom. He controlled everything we did. We had no say of our own.
Embarrassing dads: dad showed up drunk. Dad was caught in a scandal and everyone knew. Dad fought in public.
Spiteful dads: dad used his power, position, influence and wealth to hurt us. He refused to attend to our needs in order to spite us.
What kind of father did you have? You must understand that father wounds have been proven statistically to contribute to societal problems such as poverty, teenage delinquency, involvement in crime, experimentation with drugs and failure in marriages. I once met a woman who hated her father and had made out her life pretty well. She had a well-paying job, had stayed out of trouble for the most part and was handling her life in a pretty decent way. When she heard some of the empirical statistics from terrible relationships with fathers, she angrily chided that she was not a failure despite having a horrible father. I agreed with her. You see, many people view statistics as sealed fates. They are not. They are merely dispositions we often gravitate to. In this woman’s mind, people with father wounds were society’s problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, her strong misreading of the information betrayed her problematic father wound in the first place. Father wounds still betray your apparent successful life. You could be among the few outliers who overcame the societal pressures owing to terrible fathers. Or you could be among those who still succeeded (societally speaking) because life is not linear. Father wounds statistics are not prophecies. A non-linear life can still graduate, get a well-paying job, own property and be a denizen of the upper-middle class. However, life’s true success is not in money and apartments. It is in relationships. And when you are poor in relationships, you’re a failure, Beloved. And when you are this brand of failure, you struggle to keep relationships, you sink into narcissistic tendencies, you blame God, you victimise yourself and wallow in constant self-pity, you frequently shout at people to get your point across and you easily get triggered by statistics that you misread that any 14-year-old could understand. But you don’t have to be a failure. How?
Firstly, you can start by admitting that you do have a father wound. You can never offer a prognosis before a diagnosis. A problem that is not defined and articulated cannot be remedied. This is true even in our relationship with God. Before God offered the remedy of Jesus as the Saviour of the world, He first gave a diagnosis through the law of Moses. The Law demonstrates to us that we are sinners and that our good deeds are insufficient to save us. After having understood our deeply flawed and unsalvageable state, we then comprehend why we need a Saviour. We can’t live the life God desires because we are infected with sin- diagnosis. We can’t remove the deadly infection of sin by way of our good deeds- diagnosis. We are doomed and damned to eternal death because of our deadly infection of sin- diagnosis. We are spiritually terminal and deserving of death- diagnosis. But God the Father has offered a prognosis. Jesus has lived the life we could not live. Jesus’ perfect life has inoculated Him against the sinful infection that dooms and damns us. Jesus’ takes the death sentence we deserve. He gives us His perfect health. And on that cross of calvary, the greatest blood transfusion took place. His sacrifice is the prognosis. But you can never appreciate the gravity of the cross if you do not comprehend the desolation of our sinful state. The impression of judgement validates salvation. By admitting the father wound, you commence the diagnosis. You cannot process what you do not define.
Secondly, after you have defined it, extrapolate the implications of the diagnosis. Do I hate men because of my father? Do I struggle with the idea of marriage because of my father? Have I sought solace in drugs and substances because of the relationship with my father? Have I admired a rebellious lifestyle to assuage the anger I have towards my father? Have I purposefully tried to hurt my father to get back at him? Has my father wound made me fear getting children? Have I labelled masculinity as something evil because of my father? Has my wound led me to hate some truth simply because my father believed in it? Have I hated Christianity because it presents God as a father? Have I embraced the faith and struggled to accept God as a father because of my earthly father? You must extrapolate the implications of your father wounds and determine how far you have gone on that extrapolation.
Thirdly, understand that the wound has not held you any more than you have held the wound. The wounds of the heart only impress on our souls as strongly as we hold on to them. The way to loosen your hold on these wounds and in turn have their hold on you gone is to forgive your father. There are a few lies to unlearn to help you loosen that hold.
Lie number 1: I don’t need to forgive. I can just ignore my father. It’s a tragedy that many adults discover when they are in their late 30s and 40s that ignoring a problem does not make it go away. I have seen adults in their 50s learn that liberating truth, a tad too late. Wasted years believing there is another route to heal other than forgive. You can trust this truth and unlearn that lie or I can see you again at 45 or older with a wounded pride that rejected the truth.
Lie number 2: Forgiveness means they win. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forgiveness is not a credit to the one that hurt you and a debit on your heart. Forgiveness is a credit to you. The murk that is held in the petri dish of unforgiveness (bitterness, wrath, resentment, vengeance, hatred etc) harms you, not the other person. The ancient adage truthfully states that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. One reason people hold on to unforgiveness is that it is familiar. Forgiveness is the unknown. And many people fear the unknown. They believe if their hearts remain black and bitter they can never be hurt again. It doesn’t work like that, Beloved. If your heart remains black and bitter, a few things end up happening. One, you end up transitioning from victim to villain. Your dark and bitter heart ends up hurting innocent people the same way your father’s dark heart hurt you. You become your father. Two, you deny God the opportunity to fight for you. He says in Romans 12:19, Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Three, you forfeit the healing to be restored and to learn how to guard your heart.
Lie number 3: I need to feel the need to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice, not an emotion. When you are watching your favourite TV show and you get the urge to go to the washroom, you don’t wait for your feelings to align with your decisions. You choose to go to the washroom and not soil yourself. Many hurting people have spiritually soiled themselves because they are waiting for a feeling. On the mature side of adulthood is the inconvenient truth that life choices that are dictated by feelings lead to a mediocre way of living. We don’t feel like going to work on some days but we go anyway. Break the mental slavery of being chained to your erratic feelings. Make decisions out of conviction and not emotion. Forgiveness is a choice.
Lie number 4: Once I forgive, I will never be hurt by this person. Forgiveness changes you, not the offender. You have zero control over the actions of others but you have absolute control over your heart. What does forgiveness do? One, it liberates you from the bondage of bitterness and resentment. Secondly, it gives you room to guard your heart so that future offences do not affect you. You cannot build the fences to guard your heart when your hands are tied by unforgiveness. Guarding your heart involves drawing boundaries with the offender. Martin Luther the Reformer asserted that you cannot stop birds from flying over your head but you can stop them from building a nest on it. You cannot stop the offender but you can guard your heart and that’s basically the same thing.
Lie number 5: forgiveness is an event. Forgiveness is not an event. Forgiveness is a lifestyle of overlooking offences and cancelling debts. It’s the Christian lifestyle. This lifestyle starts with being forgiven of your sins by God in the first place. It is lived the rest of your life with the knowledge that forgiveness is not a fancy tool we use once and put away as we await another emergency. Forgiveness is a lifestyle that the heart must learn. The heart must learn to forgive as often as there is an offence. Unforgiveness is like a stubborn stain on a wall; it requires several scrubs before it fully leaves. You may forgive your father fifteen times before you feel the peace enter your heart fully. If forgiveness is not a lifestyle, you will burn out with pride and self-pity by number three. But if forgiveness is a lifestyle, you know that fifteen is just a warm-up. The lifestyle of forgiveness allows us to forgive infinitely because we draw from the reservoir of the forgiveness we have received at the cross of Jesus. No debt so great has ever been paid than the debt of our sin. On account of that, there is no such thing as an unforgivable offence from a fellow human.
Lie number 6: Forgiveness will always lead to reconciliation. While it is admirable that relationships be reconciled, we must live in the truthful reality that forgiving does not always lead to reconciliation. Even Paul the Apostle mentioned that the possibility of reconciling may falter (Romans 12:18). We cannot enforce reconciliation but we can guarantee forgiveness. Forgiveness is the bonafide signature of peace even in the absence of a reconciled relationship. Some people may prove hostile after forgiving them. It is not an indictment on your part. Rather, it is theirs.
Fourthly, understand that you can give the next generation a different experience. You cannot choose your ancestors but you can influence your descendants. I have personally decided to be a good father. Gentlemen, you can follow that example. You can be present, active, responsible and different from your own fathers after you forgive. Ladies, you can marry a man who will make a good father after you forgive. The generational baggage of broken families and broken marriages can end with you. You can stop the flow of spiritual garbage. You can assist to decimate the baggage of your nation.
Beloved, it all starts with forgiveness. Remember, a time comes when the price you will have to pay for your advancement will be to show honour to those who have persecuted you and mistreated you. The pinnacle of Joseph’s story required the forgiving of his malicious brothers. The test for your final step may have to involve showing honour to the dishonourable, loving the unlovely and blessing those who curse you. It’s a price that demands growth and maturity. It’s a price that requires giving and not receiving. It’s a price that few are willing to pay because for many, the only concept of closure they have is by having their enemies crushed and embarrassed. The peak of the mission of Jesus was similar to Joseph’s- loving a stiff-necked and rebellious people. It was the price for the gospel. It must be your price too because the revival is about love.