Unlike many, I had a wonderful father. He wasn’t perfect but he was exceptional in so many ways. Every year until he passed away, my dad sent a card on our shared birthday with the words written, “You’re the best birthday gift I ever received.”
Yet my dad didn’t have an amazing father like I did. Growing up, my dad didn’t really say much about his own father who died when I was five years old. The few stories I did hear described a harsh, distant father—nothing like my loving dad who was generous and kind to me.
Although my dad was able to be a loving father despite his own father’s inabilities, a lot of men fall short in their fatherhood roles for a number of reasons, including growing up fatherless, dealing with their own personal issues, and immaturity.
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Why So Much Unforgiveness toward Fathers?
Unfortunately, statistics reveal that fatherlessness is a reality for more than 20 million children growing up without a father at home.
Yet, God cares very much for the fatherless and encourages those who are without a father to look toward Him to fill this role in their life. As Psalm 68:5 explains, He is a father to the fatherless.
However, along with the serious issues of abandonment, abuse, and absentee fatherhood, grown kids often struggle with unforgiveness and disappointment toward a father who simply wasn’t perfect. They struggle to get past how their dad’s failures, weaknesses, and choices affected their lives.
These imperfections cover a broad list of grievances from a father who didn’t show affection or give verbal affirmation, to a dad who missed his kids’ major life events.
Yet Scripture instructs, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
Offering your dad forgiveness for his shortcomings is the best gift you can give him this Father's Day. But how do you do it?
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Take the First Step
On the TV show Long Lost Family where estranged family members are reunited, many of the fathers express reluctance to reach out to their families. Dealing with their own shame and regret for their actions, many believe they don’t deserve another chance and are sure they’ll be rejected.
Their lack of effort in restoring relationships is often seen as not caring about their families, when in truth, they care very much.
Glenn Stanton, Focus on the Family’s Director of Family Formation Studies and author of The Myth of the Dying Church states, “It’s quite likely your father is aware of the ways he’s hurt you over the years. It’s also likely he doesn’t really know how to face it with you.”
Stanton encourages children to bring things up, not as accusations, but as issues to discuss and forgive, stating, “It will be something he will likely appreciate, and deeply so. He will also respect your strength and leadership in being the one to bring it to the surface.”
In doing so, Stanton believes you will strengthen your relationship with your father which could lead to other healing conversations.
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Let Go of the Ways Your Father Disappointed and Hurt You
Author Joshua Rogers writes on his blog how his father disappointed him in so many ways growing up, yet his dad only seemed to remember one specific incident. He writes how it was odd and annoying to him that his dad held onto one mistake when he had a whole list of his father’s failures, explaining, “He needn’t worry. I was keeping up with it and I decided to confront him with every item. I told him off, recounting every failure like I was a prosecutor in a closing argument.”
What happened next surprised Rogers. He writes, “Finally, I rested my case, took a deep breath and waited for dad to push back. He didn’t. Instead, he did something beautifully bizarre: In his soothing, tenor voice, he sang a line out of an old song about being sorry for hurting the one you love. Then he apologized.”
Rogers admits, “Dad’s genuine contrition took the fun out of holding offenses against him. In choosing weakness, his love became stronger than my hurt.”
Like 2 Corinthians 12:10 reminds us: in our weaknesses, Christ is strong: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
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Focus on What He Did Right
Others, rather than bringing up past failures to their father, choose to forgive unconditionally by wiping the slate clean and focusing on what their dad did right.
Writer Cherie Groll describes how “Once my Dad turned 80, I realize how futile it was to be offended about anything towards him. I gave him ‘a pass’ on any mistake or misunderstanding (past or present) realizing he did/does his best.”
Groll decided to do what Colossians 3:13 instructs: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
She goes on to explain how she chose to look at what her dad did do rather than where he had failed. “My Dad stepped up when I was small and raised me by himself. We are close but I wish I would have given him that grace sooner.”
Because God forgives us, we are urged to freely give, as we have freely received (Matthew 10:8).
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Go the Extra Mile and Show Kindness
In today’s “Me too” atmosphere, author and speaker Joyce Meyer, whose father did the unspeakable by sexually abusing her growing up, might be counseled to believe that he didn’t deserve to be forgiven, much less receive her kindness. But ultimately, she chose to love like God loves by extending His kindness to an undeserving father.
In Meyer’s journey of forgiving her father, she recognized the truth that God’s kindness reaches to the unworthy. When faced with whether or not to help her aging dad at the end of his life by providing him with housing and practical needs, she sought the Lord’s counsel. In doing so, she came to believe God was leading her to extend kindness to her father, even though he was still unrepentant for what he had done to her.
As Romans 2:4 explains, God’s kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. And in Meyer’s situation, God’s kindness lived out through her did lead her father to repentance. Before he passed away, she witnessed him asking God (and her) to forgive him for what he had done.
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Pray for Your Dad
Many sons and daughters struggle to forgive their fathers because forgiveness is costly and requires them to let go of their grievances. But unforgiveness is a weight too heavy to carry around for a lifetime.
If you don’t feel ready to give your father the gift of forgiveness this Father’s Day, consider beginning the process by praying for your dad. Through your prayers, God will minister to him and also to your own heart, softening it and helping you to move toward a place of forgiveness.
In Luke 6:28, Jesus instructs us to pray for those who mistreat us, and 1 Thessalonians 5:15 encourages us to strive to do what is good for each other. In addition, Ephesians 4:32 encourages us to, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
As you do, find comfort and strength in knowing you don’t have to try and accomplish this on your own. “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19)
Lynette Kittle is married with four daughters. She enjoys writing about faith, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. Her writing has been published by Focus on the Family, Decision, Today’s Christian Woman, kirkcameron.com, Ungrind.org, StartMarriageRight.com, and more. She has an M.A. in Communications from Regent University and serves as associate producer for Soul Check TV.
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Originally published Wednesday, 12 June 2019.