What Do You Do When Your Father Lets You Down?

You love him anyway. Or at least honor him from an arm’s length anyway. Maybe you eventually start to teach him what it means to be a man, a husband, a father, a patriarch.

You forgive him, do your best to let those painful betrayals and disappointments float away, and show him how it’s done right.

Author: @dogma_vat

self-help, coaching, masculinity, religion, fatherhood, centrism, adhd.

2 thoughts on “What Do You Do When Your Father Lets You Down?”

  1. This is a great question…because it is one that we must all answer. As well, we must each be prepared for the fact that our own children will ask the same question about us as fathers. Being let down by one’s father and letting one’s own children down as a father is inevitable. Let me explain.

    When my middle child was about five years old he said to me, apropos of nothing in particular, “Daddy, you can’t fly!” This took me a bit by surprise, but naturally I confirmed that I could not fly. As I reflected upon it later I realized the significance of his comment.

    He viewed me as the nigh omnipotent figure who provided for him, had all the answers to his questions, navigated the world around him, and generally seemed to be able to do whatever needed to be done. Naturally, it seemed to him that I had unlimited power and the fact that I had never chosen to demonstrate my ability to defy gravity in front of him did not mean that I could not do it. How precious and how amusing that he ascribed such power to me!

    But, how disappointing the reality must have been for him. The person that he thought had unlimited power turned out to be merely human. To realize that a person we count on and look up fails to live up to our expectations is always a great disappointment. When that person is a parent, the disappointment is more crushing still. And here’s the thing: we will always be disappointed and we will always disappoint.

    I have concluded that a fundamental rite of passage, at whatever age is necessary, is to forgive our parents for being merely human. We expect them to be more because at some point in our development they seemed like more. We feel betrayed when they let us down, despite the fact that the betrayal is of our own idealized notion of them rather than the reality. Their failures are magnified in our eyes because of the inflated standard to which we necessarily hold them.

    And, I believe that this forgiveness is the key to the forgiveness we need as well. Regardless of whether we think we parent “better” than our own parents and regardless of whether we think we have met every reasonable standard, we will still mess it up in the eyes of our own children. My example about being unable to fly is not meant to claim that this is my only shortcoming as a parent (there are many), but rather to demonstrate the impossible standard. Thus, as we know that our children exhibit behavior that we model, having the charity to forgive our parents for being only human will set a good standard as to what we can expect from our own children.

    So, yes, I agree that modeling good fathering behavior in front of one’s own father is a good thing to do and could be helpful to him as well. But, forgiving one’s father is also important to do in front of one’s children.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! The ability to forgive is one of the most valuable skills in life. I say “skill” because it is not natural, conflicts with one’s emotions, and must be cultivated. When you step back from any hurt and realize we are all deeply fallible people doing the best we can (more or less) and all children of God, forgiveness builds and grows.

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