One of the greatest gifts we can experience is the relationship between parents and children.
However, for some of us, this relationship is filled with deep wounds of resentment, shame and guilt. Sometimes, these wounds are so deep they prevent us from living the life we want. I know this because, for almost 30 years of my life, I put an incredible amount of responsibility and blame for my life on my dad.
I always assumed my dad cared more about money and work than he did being my father. But that wasn’t the case. The days he stayed late at the office or was late to pick me up from after-school care were not because he didn’t want to spend time with me.
It was because Dad was doing everything he could to give me a better life than the one he had. I see now that I couldn’t have asked for a better gift from him.
After being on the brink of suicide induced by years of PTSD from fighting in Iraq with the Marines, a series of supernatural interventions saved my life. My military service and deployments to a war zone were not by accident. I had engaged and often ran away from my enemies long before and after the war within the shadow of my past.
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That shadow was with my Dad.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I had an epiphany and realized I was using my anger toward my dad as an excuse for why I wasn’t living the life I wanted. Something had to change, so I turned to prayer for an answer. Surprisingly, the answer appeared in the form of a phone call from my dad asking me to go on a cross-country road trip with him.
This was not the answer I had been praying for. I wanted to say no, but something told me to go because I might not get this opportunity again.
Our 11-day trip was one for the ages. We slept outside through a Florida downpour, cooked meals on a Coleman stove, and laughed more about our past the more time we spent together.
The turning point for me to forgive my dad was when he told me about the friends he grew up with in the church. I saw a vulnerability in him that I had never seen before. Expressing the faith and love he had for his brothers in Christ was something he had kept to himself all these years. I now understood my dad as a man who had flaws and imperfections, just like me, and was doing the best he could with what he had at the time.
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I had held onto such deep resentment because I expected him to be much more than what he was at the time. After hearing his story, I forgave him, accepted him, and began to love him more and understand him at his core. That moment made me proud to be his son, something I never thought in a million years I would ever say.
Many of us still hold our parents responsible for how our lives have turned out. We blame them for why we’re not making enough money or having the relationship we desire. We still blame Mom, for example, for not letting us go to prom because we got a D on our math test or when Dad told us we were making the wrong choice pursuing an art degree in college instead of a business degree.
All because it’s easier for us to blame others for our circumstances than to take ownership of changing them.
Our society underestimates how powerful forgiveness is as a tool for creating the lives we want. We don’t consider the power of apology and the weight that gets lifted.
Forgiving Dad and accepting him for who he has also revealed something incredibly life-changing: To forgive him meant forgiving myself.
But it goes deeper than just forgiving your parents. You must let go of the pain and suffering of the past to create a more vibrant future. You must be at peace with what you cannot change and be responsible for what you can change.
If you find yourself in a similar situation and need to find a way to forgive your parents, here are a few steps you can take:
Accept the past
Your first step toward change is to embrace what cannot be changed, which is the past. Accepting what happened will allow you to accept what can change in your life.
Define what type of relationship you want with your parents
Part of embracing change is defining what you want to change. This is especially true with your parents. You cannot change how they are, but you can change how you interact with them.
Take responsibility for your life
Yes, your parents raised you and they did the best they could at that time. But at some point, it’s no longer their responsibility for the choices you make. Honestly, that point is now. The moment I took responsibility for my life and removed the blame from my dad was the moment my life changed.
Two years later, my life is drastically different. My relationships with my friends and family have improved. I’m in the best physical shape I’ve been in since I was a young Marine. My faith has grown immensely. More importantly, my relationship with my dad is now what I always wanted it to be.
Two men who are not just father and son but very good friends.