In my book How to Be a Great Dad—No Matter What Kind of Father You Had, I wrote a chapter on “Forgiving Our Fathers.” It was an emotionally moving chapter to write because I have spent years (and thousands of dollars in therapy) working out my painful relationship with my dad, learning to see him as a man in pain himself, owning the good that he did bring to our relationship, growing in compassion for the life he lived (and endured), and forgiving him for the many things he did and did not do that hurt me.
I just completed Jack Canfield’s Train the Trainer course this past week in Arizona. While there, I asked Jack in the public meeting a question about my business and an issue I felt frustrated by. I was looking for some business advice. I got way more than I bargained for (as is often the case with Jack). He “processed me” in front of the group about this issue that actually led right back to my dad’s rejection of me. I had no idea when I asked my business question that the situation I felt frustrated and a bit angry about was in fact an emotional trigger of a past experience with my dad. In fact, it was my final experience of my dad—the day he told me he didn’t want to be my dad. Those were the last words I ever heard him speak to me. We had no contact after that for over a year. Then I received a phone call from his landlord informing me my father had been found dead (of heart failure) in his apartment. He was alone.
After all those years of working out my pain and forgiving him for so much, I now realized I had not yet resolved that last rejection. Because it was so painful, and perhaps more importantly, because it turned out to be so final when my dad died, that rejection got stuck in my psyche as somewhat of an independent rejection, somehow split off from all the other pain associated with missing my dad and his repeated rejections of me. It was as if those final words were frozen in time. Even after fourteen years, they still touched a place of deep sadness in me. I had allowed those words to define me as a fatherless son, and my heart still ached.
Jack asked me questions that led me to see that it was me, not my father, who was still causing the ache in my psyche, telling myself that I was somehow not okay, that I wasn’t a good son, that I must have done something wrong that contributed to, if not actually caused, my dad’s rejecting tone and words. My dad was gone, but I had kept his voice alive in my head and heart all these years around this final interaction. When I encountered other men since who disapproved of me in some way, even if I just perceived that disapproval, it would often trigger this same feeling of sadness and anger I harbored deep within me toward my dad’s final disapproval. And I would sometimes respond to the man triggering this feeling with some of the emotion I still felt toward my dad.
Jack helped me see it was time to let all this go. It was time to release my dad from the judgment I felt toward him for not wanting to be my dad, and the judgment with which I viewed myself (that I had done something wrong). It was time to forgive my dad for rejecting me, and forgive myself for judging my dad for doing so. I chose to forgive—to finally let this go. I chose in that moment, and the days that followed, to release my dad and to release myself from judgment.
The freedom has been remarkable since. I feel at peace—finally. I’m not worried any longer about the disapproval some may feel at times. It’s no longer tied to nor does it trigger pain I’m harboring inside me. That pain has been healed through forgiveness.
I’ve let my dad rest in peace. And I’m going to live in it from this day forward.
To read more from Keith, take a look at his book: