My parents divorced when I was seven years old. After my dad moved out, he’d pick me up every Saturday and we’d go out for ice cream or a burger at his favorite spot, but things were never close between us. We rarely spent time together at his house because of my stepmother was not friendly and had her own three kids to deal with. I felt like he picked them over me so I stopped going with him when I was about twelve.
Now that I’m an adult I crave time with my dad but I don’t know where to start. He has cancer and I feel badly that I haven’t returned his phone messages for several months. I sent him a text but that seems very cold and I feel guilty. But I don’t want to just show up at his house because his wife or one of my stepsisters might be there. I still love him and I know he loves me but I’ve felt rejected by him for a long time. I don’t know where to start and need help.
Thanks for writing to me. First, you need to know that your situation with you dad is not unusual, especially after a divorce. In order to repair your relationship with your father, you need to examine the beliefs that you have about your father and his ability to restore his connection with you. The following are a list of self-defeating beliefs that may be obstacles to healing your father-daughter wound. Many of them are cognitive distortions that may be based on the past rather than current reality:
- My father isn’t capable of changing. It might be true that your dad is resistant or isn’t showing much initiative, but maybe you haven’t tried the right approach. For example, calling him would give you more control than simply waiting for him to call you. He might respond in kind.
- There’s nothing he can do to improve our relationship. The first question should be: have you identified what you want to change about your relationship? Be specific and come up with a plan of action.
- Rigid thinking such as “If I try something different it might make things worse.” For daughters of divorce, this usually means, it hurts too much and I’d rather be numb than feel the pain.
Once you’ve examined your beliefs about your father’s ability to change, you are ready to begin changing your relationship with him. The following are five guidelines for forgiving your father and healing your wound:
- Give up a dream of a perfect connection with your father and accept that tension may exist and must be worked through. All relationships go through rough patches.
- Expect resistance and be patient. It may take time to iron out the kinks in your relationship.
- Explore your intentions and desires. Counseling and talking with close friends can help you to come up with realistic goals.
- Request a change and be creative. Try one request at a time and lower your expectations.
- Create healthy boundaries. It’s not necessary to throw in the kitchen sink and dredge up past hurt every time you meet. Asking questions about the past can promote healing but be patient.
In closing, it’s possible to repair your wound with your father so that you can establish a closer bond and support him while he is dealing with cancer. For the most part, I have noticed that with work and patience relationships between fathers and daughters can and do improve. Examining your parents’ divorce from an adult perspective and practicing forgiveness will allow you to create a new story for your life.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.