I Don’t Want to Love My Dad on Father’s Day

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I lay on my stomach upon the floor. Colorful markers and construction paper strewn about. I was in the midst of creating something special. Something for my dad. It was to be an accurate portrait of himself — tall, bearded, wearing jeans. I spent quite a bit of time coloring as correctly and as neatly as I could. It looked pretty good to my optimistic, four-year-old eyes.

My older brother came home from school and sat down on the floor next me.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Coloring a picture of dad,” I replied.

“I know what would make this so much better,” he said as he picked up a fluorescent green marker.

He uncapped the marker and drew two big alien antennas sticking out of our father’s head. My heart immediately sunk as I thought to myself, Noo! This is not right. It’s ruined!

My brother burst out in laughter; I didn’t find it funny. I wanted to show love to my dad, and now my drawing was a mockery of him. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just went along with it. We then proceeded to take markers and defame our father’s figure with all sorts of outlandish and insulting alterations.

Ultimately, I chose not to give the picture to my dad out of fear of an outburst of anger with subsequent scolding. I felt conflicted inside and still do when I think of that moment. For the majority of my childhood, I would feel a similar tension regarding my opinion of my father.

Do I love my father and want to please him or find him laughable and aloof or am I fearful of his wrath?

My father was not the greatest man I ever knew, and I learned to develop a deep disdain for him over the years. After an episode where his senseless controlling behavior disrupted some of my creative plans, I ran to my bedroom in a rage and with a dull knife carved the words “I hate my dad” into the back of the door.

My conflicting feelings would be especially heightened around one particular day of the year — Father’s Day. Those two words still send shivers down my spine and tie knots in my stomach.

This “holiday” would be the time when no matter how we felt about Dad, we all had to pretend to like him. Mom made sure of that. She would buy him a set of tools or something practical that he needed and requested the week prior and then tell him it was from all of us.

I would always choose to create my own Father’s Day card which included such cliché phrases as “You are the best,” “So glad you are my dad,” and the dreaded “I love you.”

I never felt any of those words. I didn’t think they were true, but I felt obligated to say them. That’s what this Father’s Day holiday is for, right?

My dad would always be in a strange mood every Father’s Day. Very out of character for himself. He would seem happy and welcome the gifts joyously. He would put his hands on us to say thank you or even force a hug upon us.

On Father’s Day, this single day of the year, we would all act like everything was okay. But it all felt fake. It never felt real. It left me feeling depleted and dried out — estranged from myself and from everyone else.

Father’s Day still brings up those same feelings within me. Am I obligated to show my dad love and attention on this particular day because the calendar tells me to? What if I didn’t want to? What if he didn’t deserve it?

Since becoming an adult and moving across the country, I’ve blamed the distance on why I’ve not reached out to my father on this day. It’s been a good excuse, and I’ve gotten away with it for the most part, though my mother has heaped guilt upon me the following day.

I’ve learned to steer clear of most retail stores approaching Father’s Day. I remember walking into a book store the week before Father’s Day, and they had a display set up: “Books Dad Will Love.” The shelf consisted of literature about beer, pin-up girls, cars, sports history, and grilling meats.

It wasn’t that I just felt disconnected from my father on Father’s Day, but also from my own gender. That’s what makes up a man or a dad?! I don’t want anything to do with this!

I also came to understand that church was to be avoided on Father’s Day. It was not a safe place for me emotionally. They would always make a big deal out of it, asking all the fathers to stand so they can honor them in some trite way. Seeing dads be loving and affectionate with their sons would incite rage and jealousy in me. The pastors would often give a sermon that could be summed up into something like this:

“Our earthly fathers love us so much and would do anything for us, and they are just a small picture of how much our heavenly father, God, loves us.”

I wanted to throw up all over the Bibles and hymnals and little welcome cards that were in front of me. Nothing could make me feel more lonely, more dejected, and more unloved than to say that God was like my dad.

I struggle deeply with seeing God as a father.

That is a strange mystery I’m still learning to understand to this day, and probably will my whole life.

It wasn’t until I was 22 years old that I decided I needed to deal with my father issues. I will write more specifically on these events later. But in short, I came to see that my dad was a broken man just like me. His father was actually worse to him than he was to me. With what he was given, he did better. My dad did the best he could.

Was it good or right? Certainly not! But it’s what it was.

As I became more aware of my own brokenness and failings I came to see that I am no better than my father. Would I have done any better if I was him?

It took everything I had in me, but I forgave my father. Honestly, I still have to choose to forgive him, because I don’t want to.

So, as Father’s Day rolled around this year, I can honestly say that I don’t “hate my dad” anymore. I still don’t feel love for him, nor really like him. But feelings aren’t required to love. We are called to love even our enemies. That doesn’t mean we have to have a relationship with them, though.

As I navigate the stormy seas of father-son relationships, I know that I am not the only one who has deep wounds and disconnect and frustrations. I always assumed that this area of my life was untouchable, un-redeemable, and incapable of healing. Though I haven’t been very optimistic regarding this topic, I have more hope now than I have ever had before.

There is no place of my soul that is unreachable to God. The calloused layers of my heart flake off a little more each year, like a snake shedding its skin. God truly is my real Father, and I am seeking to understand what that title actually means — a redefining of the word “father.” A father is not an angry figure only interested in sports and meat, but a loving guardian seeking to build me a home.

I will not leave you orphans – I am coming to you… If someone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:18; 23

I look forward to that day.

Are Father’s Days difficult for you? How is your relationship with your father? Does it affect how you see and understand God as a father?

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  • Bryon

    Elliott. I am so glad you wrote this article. I had a terrible relationship with my father. I called him twice today and he wasn’t home. I was rather relieved. I also hated giving father’s Day cards, searching for the least affectionate and most trite card I could find, while feeling guilty. Like you, I had trouble seeing God as a father, and struggled but eventually came to a place of healing. You made me think of something I can and want to say to my dad when I call him tomorrow. I’m going to say I’m sorry that he had such a crappy father and that he was a better father to me. It is the honest truth, despite how little his improvement from his father is, it isn’t about me any more. I’m and adult, capable of forgiving and healing, so I want to be a light and path of healing for my father. I don’t have to deprive him of what joy and happiness I have, because if I do, I haven’t really forgiven him, right?

    • mike

      Bryon, it depends on how you see forgiveness. There still are consequences to one’s actions. Fathers make choices that result in pain for us. We can’t be responsible for their choices like their rejecting God early on when God could have done for them as He has brought healing for us. They too need to own their bad choices, come to God, and have Him bring healing and restoration.
      But you’re right, we can be “light and a path” to God. . The how is tricky and delicate. Forgiveness for me simply means that injustice has occurred. I can demand justice or I can forgive. Forgiveness for me means to relinquish my right to punish my father for the injustice and give that option up to God to correct. That frees me to move on, but moving on does not automatically mean I have to continue a dysfunctional relationship with my dad if he refuses to change and continues to make choices that hurt me. I cannot be codependent and responsible for his joy and happiness.

      • Bryon

        Well said and I agree with everything you said. My relationship with him has always been at an arms length, even growing up. I think finding the courage to stand up to him was what I really needed and found that a few years ago. I certainly don’t take any crap from him any more. Last October, he called me to fix his remote and I was visiting from out of town. He wanted me to drive 50 minutes to program it when he could do it over the phone. He yelled at me so I said I was hanging up and he should call when he was ready to program it. He called back 3 minutes later, as nice as could be and got his wive up to do it with me, and she was pissed. LOL! He hasn’t done that since though.

    • Elliott Gladwin

      Bryon, thanks for the comment. This is so difficult. I get it. You aren’t along there. Forgiveness is huge, I am still learning to discovery the mystery of it all, but I know it’s necessary and God’s heart. Though I have come to understand that forgiveness does not mean trust. You can forgive someone without having to ever trust them again. Nor does forgiveness require reconciliation or even relationship. Those are not up to you, God can work those out, or not. Sounds like you are on the right path though.

  • mike

    I think this is a pivotal article for us. It’s harder for a boy than a girl early on. A girl doesn’t have to separate her gender from her mother but a boy has to negotiate separation of not only his identity from his mother but also his gender to realize he is a separate being despite the umbilical connection being cut. It takes a strong father to come along side and to say hey you are not your mother but another unique individual AND you are a boy like me.
    Rejecting one’s father like I did hurt me and the childhood vow against my father that I will never be him resulted in me rejecting my own gender leading to mega confusion in adolescence. But God ( my favorite two words in the Bible) changed that for me. I learned that my dad too was a very broken man from wounds of his past. I rejected his crumbs of love because selfish me wanted the whole loaf. My father died a premature death and now on father’s day I remember him and the day I led him to the Lord on his death bed. Now I long to see him again.

    • Martin O

      Mike, my father rejected me at a young age and did not accept me as a man of the tribe. I too vowed to never ever like him. The pain of that child’s choice reverberate now as a 45 year old man. A father is so very important for a boy’s individuality and sense of self. I hear you and understand the pain.

      • mike

        Martin, I’m sorry to hear of your pain. Sharing it here on YOB I think is honest and helpful because of the acceptance on this blog that validates that some of us have been sinned against. For decades the word ‘father’ was like the word ‘table’ — not much heart softness there. But now God has flowed forgiveness into my veins and I am free from that past and able to move forward. May you become free of that pain as well my friend.

  • Alan Gingery

    Very honest Elliot! Very very honest. Today as an adult I realize my father loved me as a kid. But he was handicapped in his dad skills by his own lack of a good father role model. So I felt rejected and like I never could meet his expectations. Tough stuff for a kid to go through. My dad didn’t like me and he shamed me instead of affirming me.

    In university I began to grow in my Christian Faith and realized God accepted and loved me just as I was. This was powerful and I decided to love my dad despite my feelings of rejection as a kid, I showed him my love both verbally and affectionately through hugs and other touch. And guess what? He loved it and starting loving me back. I forgave him and we grew to be best friends as adults. This was so healing to the kid who felt like his father didn’t like him. Wow! Today I love him more than ever and understand his own brokenness. Sure he didn’t give me a good foundation for self esteem or acceptance of my own masculinity, but it was not something he knew how to do. I cannot blame him, just love him for who he is. Imperfect, making mistakes, but a man who loves me and whom I love.

    • Elliott Gladwin

      Thank Alan for your comment! Your story is very powerful, and and though it might not be possible, realistic, or necessary for everyone to be reconciled with their father, I think it does provide a lot of hope. Thank you for sharing!

  • Jerald Bell

    Totally how I felt yesterday and every Father’s Day. I push myself to love him and forgive him via the Holy Spirit, but am never quite convinced I’ve forgiven him, once a bad memory involving him gets stirred up. Fear, anger, disgust, compassion, frustration, sadness, confusion – all mixed together to reflect upon every Father’s Day. Ugh.

    • Elliott Gladwin

      I feel you Jerald. Such a mix of emotions on that day. I pray we find shalom and wholeness in this area one day.

  • Mike

    I appreciate this article a lot. I always joke about what if there was a greeting card line that was for those of us who had less than ideal childhood experiences. “Thanks for trying!” “way to give it your best shot” “My theatre performances weren’t THAT important” lol. But, I guess that wouldn’t be very nice, now would it! Lol

    I have my own issues with my father, but actually have more of these emotions and experiences on Mother’s Day as me and my Mom have always had an interesting relationship.

    I’m not yet a parent, but as I grow more and more into adulthood and see my failure in so many areas, I just think they really must’ve done the best they could. It wasn’t enough a lot of the time and it was definitely messy. But, maybe that was just all they had to give. As much as it sucks that I had such deficit in my childhood, seeing my humanity has helped me have grace for theirs.

    I also struggle with God as the father and what that means and looks like. I’ve been listening to this album called “Brave New World” by Amanda Cook and she has all these songs that talk about who God is and is not as a father. It’s been a powerful tool of revelation as I try to see how he defines fatherhood. But, I’m sure it’ll be a lifelong journey of discovery and redefinition.

    All that to say, I appreciate your vulnerability and for giving a voice to so many of us who are pained walking down the greeting card aisle on these holidays.

    • Elliott Gladwin

      Thanks for sharing Mike. I appreciate your humor as well as sincerity – and thanks for sharing your resources with us! You are certainly not alone in your struggles.

  • Appreciate your heart and perspective, brother. Praying for continued healing and restoration with your earthly father as you grow deeper in relationship with your heavenly one. That forgiveness piece is huge.

    As for me, I was blessed by a solid father growing up. So very grateful for all our hikes and campouts and other adventures, inside the Church and out. Such cherished memories all these years later. If I ever become a father, I want to be as intentional with my time as he was, especially in that formative first decade of my kid’s life.

    • Elliott Gladwin

      Thanks Tom! Yes, I too have though a lot about how I would father my potential future children given what I experienced. Whether that happens or not, I can firmly say that the role of a father is tantamount in a child’s life and development.

  • Eddie

    Thank you Elliott for unveiling another part of yourself. I love you brother.

    I can’t say Father’s Days are particularly difficult as my relationship with my father has essentially reached a “stalemate.” I decided to just quit fighting with him. Feeling somewhat heartbroken, I guess I wanted him to be someone he just wasn’t. My dad unfortunately was not a loving
    guy. Just a guess, he is like your dispassionate thinking “Mr. Spock” sort of guy with no interest in catering to my needs for affection and affirmation. We’re just not compatible on these levels of intimacy. These days we’re civil with each other as our conversations are never about our “feelings” rather practical matters of school, work, family, politics and the future. The way he showed love was to be a suitable provider of necessities. The whole “roof over your head,” “clothes on your back” and “food in your stomach,” but that was it. That was enough for him, not me. Being so “selfless” and pragmatic, my dad never asks for anything in return for his generosity. So on gift giving occasions, he feels compelled or forced to accept what is offered to him. “What do you want for Christmas, your birthday, Father’s Day dad?” The usual dad response: “Nothing…I don’t need anything… Don’t bother.” “Sure thing dad, nothing it is , but we might get you something anyways.”

    My relationship with God as a father I find somewhat more gratifying and personable. Like my earthly father, I am eager to please them
    both by exceling in my academic pursuits but I feel this has grown to be a lost cause. I want to be awesome for God – an awesome student. Except God the father seeks a more wholesome relationship with me and He has been there for me in my many troubling times. He is a loving, patient, tolerant, forgiving and certainly attentive provider, yet I just can’t help to desire a more tangible form of fatherhood. I strive for months in my studies to achieve high marks and receive back just simple accolade from my dad – “Good job!” That is what will have to sustain me for the next four to five months until I can pull it off yet again. Dad just loves achievement and that seems to be the only way how I get SOME KIND of love from him.

    Am I wrong here? Am I being selfish here for wanting a different kind of father? Am I asking too much? I feel rather terrible for wanting him to change who he is and couldn’t.

    • Elliott Gladwin

      Thanks Eddie for sharing! Oh man I relate to this so much. My dad was and is overly pragmatic. His version of love and care was like you said, food in stomach and roof over head. Though my physical “needs” were taken care of, my emotional, mental, spiritual, psychological, and sexual were not. My father always tries to justify his behaviors by saying that he provided for me needs and that makes him a good father. I respond by saying, “I wouldn’t care if we lived under a bridge and ate rice every day if I knew that I was loved and wanted.” Completely different priorities. I resonate a great deal with how you described your relationship with your father here.

      I don’t think its wrong to desire a better or different father. It means you are recognizing a disconnect between the way things are/was with how they ought to be. Though if becomes the impetus for bitterness in your heart against him, I would say you need to address that. It can spur you on to be a better person and push you to discover the truth about who God is, I believe. Your dissatisfaction can lead you to discover what truly satisfies – or at the very least to be looking for it so you won’t miss it when it arrives.

      • mistaken identity

        That is a tremendous answer, Elliot. I wish I had your wisdom when I was your age.

      • Eddie

        Thanks for the feedback Elliott and helping to put my heart and mind at ease. Sorry again for being so verbose. I’m can come across as obsessive compulsive (essay writing) when it comes to posting here. I’m either over the top or nothing at all.

    • mistaken identity

      As Elliot answers far better than I can, you are not wrong, selfish, or asking too much. Your dad just may not be the one to provide those genuine needs. God has provided other spiritual fathers for me in the flesh and blood as well as in literature.

      • Eddie

        Thank you M.I. for giving me some perspective in the matter. We have a tendency to lash out at others trying to mold us into alternatives that don’t fit our makeup. Yet we in the same hypocritical fashion wish to change others to fit our own ideals. My dad is hard wired and I have to accept that.

  • I grew up without a father. Yes my father lived far away in another city, and I only saw him during the summer for a few week. He loved my brother, as he was into sports and being manly. I was the weird son who like to read. I was effeminate. I was sensitive and could cry at the drop of a hat. I loved to cook. I was a major disappointment to him. Seeing how we didn’t have anything in common he pursued after my brother. I was already showing signs of SSA. His wife was ultra religious and he was easily led by her, after all she had helped him get over the horrors of Vietnam and alcoholism. Then when my best friend committed suicide, he did not console me but instead let his wife give me some religious garbage that he was burning in hell. I hated him and his wife, who I referred to as ‘the stepmonster’.
    Many years later I learned exactly what his role was in Vietnam. He had been in the medical corps and it was his job to identify dead GIs through their dental records. When I think of all the horrible things he must have seen I weep for him. I don’t hate him anymore, but I am not close either. I told him I was gay out of anger. I give him the obligatory call on his birthday and Father’s day, but I otherwise do not speak to him. Some things can not be reconciled. A couple of years ago, on the news that my brother had gotten married for the fifth time, while I am still married to my first, he lamented to me that he wished my brother was more like me.

  • george

    The reality is that, boys are SSA, not because fathers reject them, ortney grow without a father. For there are many boys grown without a father or have fathers who have rejected them, but they are osa.
    Most of the fathers reject their sons (unfortunate!ey) because, that their sons are SSA or effeminate, and they (fathers) feel it.