I struggle to love my father. I have no desire to do so – why even bother trying?
When I was younger, these were the sentiments I carried towards this man I called ‘daddy’. I knew him as a strict father, one who was hardly expressive with his emotions other than the only one I was familiar with – anger. He was often a silent and distant parent whom I did not dare to approach. Even though we were living in the same physical space, our lives were far from being intertwined.
One night in my adolescent years, I witnessed a huge argument between my father and the rest of my family. The harshness in his words and actions that night left me shocked, sad, abandoned and heartbroken. “My father does not love us”, I believed. “He is responsible for tearing my family apart”. This incident left a mark on our relationship, and I began to live the coming days with a deep-seated anger brewing within, one which I was unaware of. The fear that I initially had towards him, now grew to become indifference. I was not interested in his life and was happy that he seemingly wasn’t interested in mine, either.
The strained relationship between my earthly father and I also impacted the way I viewed God as Father. To me, God was simply a distant authoritarian being, who existed in the universe but was uninterested in me. I dared not approach Him and felt like my role as a Catholic was to obediently yield to the plan that He had for my life, with no questions raised. Along with the unfolding of other events that later happened in my life, God seemed to be a ‘taker’ who would strip me of my possessions – the things I hold on dearly to. The peace at home, the innocent and joy-filled childhood days… why did God have to take these away from me? It didn’t seem like God was listening to my cries for help. He certainly did not bother answering them, anyway.
The familiar yet unwanted feelings of sadness, abandonment and heartbreak revisited me, but this time I was offered the space to be vulnerable and honest, with the Lord.
I grew comfortable with these relationships over time, and the traumatic incident that I witnessed years ago was soon pushed back to the rear-end of my mind. I thought I had forgotten and moved on from this episode. It wasn’t until I had a deep encounter with the Lord during the Sacrament of Reconciliation at a retreat, that brought to consciousness again these painful memories with my father. The familiar yet unwanted feelings of sadness, abandonment and heartbreak revisited me, but this time I was offered the space to be vulnerable and honest, with the Lord. For the first time since that incident, I could vocalize my resentment and pain to the priest before me. With his gentle grandfatherly presence, it felt like I came face to face with the Heavenly Father, experiencing His love and mercy during the session. God the Father was so real and close to me in that moment, and I felt heard, cherished and loved by Him. This was the first step that allowed me to finally release the burden of staying angry for such a long time. Not only did I experience healing from this painful season, my perception of God was also healed while my identity as His child was restored.
The days that followed were far from smooth-sailing. While I experienced a change of heart with my powerful God encounter, the situation at home remained unchanged and my struggles were equally – if not even more challenging to withstand. It was common for me to reach a point of desperation and despair, that led me to once again question if God was present with me in this struggle. What constantly existed within me was a tension between my human weakness to retaliate in frustration, and the holy desire to respond with love instead. Needless to say, there were countless times when I wrestled with feelings of helplessness and completely lost the strength to continue in my journey of embracing and loving.
But as my relationship with God deepened, I too grew in awareness of the Father’s presence with me through the trying times at home.
Charmaine shares with us about her journey of loving and accepting her father as he is.
“Share in my hardships for the sake of the gospel, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy — not because of anything we ourselves had done but for his own purpose and by his own grace.” (2 Timothy, 1: 8-9)
This bible verse spoke to me in prayer one day and it moved me as I recognized that I was not alone in my struggle to love my father. The God whom I initially saw as distant and nonchalant was actually interested in my life, listening to the cries of my heart all these years. I was blinded by the pain and anger with each difficult encounter, which affected my ability to love and caused me to abandon Him in this journey. How silly of me to have seen God as a ‘taker’, when He was so generous in gifting me with His beloved son Jesus, as a companion in the mission at home, that at times made me feel lonely.
I began to see that God was inviting me to love my father. It was not an obligation imposed upon me, but a gentle invitation that God was leading me towards. I have a choice. And as God revealed to me His keen interest in every part of my life – including my relationship with my father, I felt assured to embark on this journey with Him. I desire to join God in embracing and loving my father as he is. This marked the start of my journey in growing to accept my father.
It has been eight years since I embarked on this journey of growing in acceptance and love for my earthly father. During this entire stay-home period, the increase in time spent with my family inevitably led to more situations of conflict, tension and a further strain in our relationship. At times, the frequent disagreements brought about feelings of frustration towards my father, and the lack of physical space escalated it. However, I am beginning to appreciate the struggle with my father as I view these trials as opportunities to grow and deepen in love.
As I learn more about his childhood and past experiences, I’ve come to see that my father is just like any other human person. He too, has experienced hurt and pain in his formative years, that has shaped him into the person that he is today. My father desires to receive love just as I do, and is worthy of every bit of it. Thus, I desire to share with him the love that I have received so freely from the Heavenly Father.
Charmaine is now resolved to lean in to our Heavenly Father in this journey.
I also recognise the gradual shift in my attitude towards him. I now desire to remain present instead of running away when things get tough, to listen to his opinions and grumblings even when I disagree with it, and to choose to let go of my expectations of him instead of pushing him to fit into the mould of an ‘ideal father’ that I’ve always dreamed of.
There are still moments when I seem to experience a roadblock. I sometimes succumb to my weaknesses and find it challenging to see hope in this struggle. However, I lean on my Heavenly Father for strength to love my earthly father when I find it too much for me to bear, and I seek Jesus’ guidance in showing me how. The lie that surfaces every now and then is that my situation will never change and that I will continue to struggle the same way for the rest of my life. However, the truth that I am invited to believe in is that God will lead me (and my father) in this struggle if I allow Him to, and He has the power to transform hearts, even if it’s just mine. I live each day with hope, entrusting my heart and the relationship with my father into my Heavenly Father’s hands.
I still struggle to love my father, but I now desire to learn how to. Heavenly Father, would You lead me on this journey?