I don’t respect my father.
Many people balk at that statement, even those who have had bad relationships with their paternal parental figures. Somehow, despite the problems, expressing disdain for a dad is still a bridge too far for some men.
I get it. We’re predisposed to look upon our fathers favorably; we have a deep-seated yearning to be close to them. Then there’s societal pressure, and peer pressure, to have good relationships with our parents. Hell, “honor thy father and thy mother” is one of the Ten Commandments.
But what about when your father abuses you? Are you still supposed to love him unconditionally?
Note that I’m not saying my disrespect for my father makes me feel good, about him or me. Yes, I wish I didn’t have to feel this way. It hurts me in the deepest core of my being when I think about it. But my disrespect has been vital to my survival. It helped me cut the rotted psychic umbilical cord between my father and I so I could take a step back and reevaluate my relationship with him, with some much-needed objectivity.
Ultimately, my disrespect allowed me to find a way to love my father.
So, what does a guy do when a father doesn’t deserve respect?
Find Better Father Figures
Disrespect for my father and his abuses taught me a vital lesson: respect is thicker than blood and as vital as water for our survival. No one should have your unconditional respect if they abuse you. Period. It doesn’t matter who they are in your life.
My father’s failure also taught me I had to respect myself enough not to suffer anyone’s disrespect. It also taught me I should seek out those who would not abuse me, but rather uplift me, as my father should have done. Therefore, I realized that men still need father figures.
But a father need not be related to you by blood. A father figure can be a man who gives you the respect you deserve as a human being. I found such men in the form of school teachers, principals, guidance counselors, and even the fathers of close friends. These men gave me what my biological father did not: solid examples of what it means to be a good man.
So, if you can’t depend on your father, find another. And another. And another. Because there are more dads out there than you can imagine.
Practice Compassionate Detachment
I don’t respect my father, but I do love him. It took me a long time to rediscover that love, though. It was buried under mountains of anger that had built up over the years of his abuse.
This is why I had to detach from him. At first, that detachment was composed of nothing but rage and spite. But I realized that anger was really just hurting me, not him. I had to let it go because it was killing me.
So, I made the effort to practice compassionate detachment. This involves removing oneself from a difficult situation with another person but doing so in a way that is fueled by self-care and other-awareness. I had to take care of myself while also harnessing empathy for my father. All of this took work, as anything worthwhile does. It has been well worth the effort.
I considered what my father had experienced in his own life that led him to be so abusive. It doesn’t excuse his actions towards me, but it does explain them. It also helped me absolve myself from feeling like I had caused his behavior. In addition, it allowed me to let go of my desperation to try and “fix” our relationship. We can’t fix other people. Rather, we must live well ourselves, and hope they are inspired to fix themselves; if this inspiration never occurs to them, we must be willing to accept that as well.
I also practiced a lot of self-care during the compassionate detachment process. I realized I was worth more than how my father treated me. Also, I reframed my struggles with him as a path to personal growth. I’ve taken time to celebrate how self-motivated and resilient I’ve become in my struggle to overcome my difficult paternal relationship.
The Hero’s Journey Continues…
This experience has taught me why the hero’s journey is so meaningful to us mortals, and especially men: in life, it is good to learn to struggle well, rather than let our problems beat us down into cynicism and despair.
A big part of the hero’s journey is the changes the hero undergoes, and the wisdom they gain from their experiences. My disrespect for my father will perhaps never completely disappear, and that’s okay. It definitely isn’t the fiery, active volcano of rage it was for so long. Now it is dormant, cooling over time. It is solidifying into wisdom.
My father hurt me for so long that it is good for me to be wary of him. The remnant of my disrespect is a reminder that he doesn’t deserve the gift of my complete trust, or the sacrifice of my own self-respect and peace of mind. He also doesn’t deserve any credit for the man I have become. I forged myself out of the fires of his disrespect, with the help of men who were much better fathers to me than he could ever hope to be.
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