I was so excited! My dad and I never spent that much time together — he was busy working constantly. A large family requires hard work; he had a lot of mouths to feed.

But now — my dad wanted to take a special car ride with me. Just he and I.

We got into the family car and began driving around. We chatted, though our conversation was filled with awkward silences. He and I didn’t have a lot in common. I took on the burden of leading the conversation. I went on with stories of school and friends and church. My dad listened quietly and responded when apt.

Then, he decided to speak up.

“So, Dean, how is music stuff going?”

Now this was a treat for sure! I had just started playing flute and I was loving it! I was actually really good too! I joined the band at school and was gearing up to join the orchestra at church. I was reaching the point of needing my own flute (I was borrowing one at this point) and was looking at options for it.

I began going on and on about flute and music and everything it could mean. This was a crucial time for me — I was 10 years old and I finally had an interest that was mine, my own, and I was excelling at it.

As I excitedly went on, my dad interrupted me. “Dean, how much will a flute cost?”

I had been bracing myself for this question. Instruments could be expensive. But I knew how to do this. I had practiced this over and over again. I gave my spiel to him and was determined to win him over.

“So it would only be a few hundred dollars,” I summed up, “and that would last me for a long time, Dad. It could be my birthday and Christmas gift for this year and maybe next year too!”

I was satisfied — my case was made, my point made clear. My dad had to agree. We stopped at a light and then he looked across the seat at me.

“Dean, I will give you any amount of money you ask for…if you promise never to play flute again.”

Wait. What?

“That is a woman’s instrument and I cannot believe you would ever consider playing it.”

“But, Dad,” I whispered, “I really like flute and I’m actually good at it. Please let me play it.” I don’t know why I was now so determined to play this instrument. But I just couldn’t let it go. I begged and begged. My dad took us home without speaking until we pulled into the driveway.

“You can keep playing flute,” he said, “but know that I am disappointed in you, son. I am disappointed that you would play a woman’s instrument. And I will never feel any differently.”

Years later, he would apologize for this; sadly, you can’t undo that kind of damage.

Our relationship would never be anything but completely fractured, even to this day.

Have you experienced a fracturing moment with your father? How did you deal with the hurt, and has the separation healed?

* Photo courtesy Javier Boelle, Creative Commons.

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  • Wow, Dean! That is heart-breaking. So sad.
    I had one of those moments when my Dad invited me to go with him to dip the cattle – just me and him. I recall the moment sitting on the high pole fence in the dipping yard, watching the cattle emerge dripping wet, enjoying the hot sun on my skin, and reveling in the fact of me and my Dad spending some special time together. It was a magical moment in time. It never happened again, sadly. Our interests mostly did not meld. I loved art and he regarded that as something only women did, like your dad with the flute, so he never affirmed me in something I did well.
    And then I recall a negative experience which stays with me still today. My older brother (only 14 months difference but still older) and I were at the barns where Dad had his workshop. We got up to some sort of hijinks – can’t remember what it was – and my Dad lost it with us and sent us home. He made us walk. It was a short distance – probably less than half a mile, but it seemed a long way to our little frames (not sure how old we were, but probably still primary school so perhaps 9 or 10). My brother was mad at my Dad for sending us home and making us walk so he hauled a log out the bush and dumped it across the road so my Dad would have to stop and remove it. When my Dad got home he was spitting mad and hauled us both into his office, took off his belt and whipped us both soundly. I strongly protested that I had nothing to do with it, but he told me I should have known better and done something to stop my brother. I thought that was so unjust, but it didn’t stop the whipping. I never forgave him for that, so it set a huge barrier in our already estranged relationship. It was the only time I ever got a physical beating from him.
    It was only in his last years that our relationship improved. My wife and I had the privilege of ministering the gospel to him and leading him in a prayer to give his life to Jesus a few years before he died. And then I had the privilege of comforting him on his death bed and reassuring him that we could look after Mum and he could go in peace to be with the Lord. There was a healing in that. A restoration of sorts that has brought peace for me.

    • I am so sorry for the hurt you experienced, Jeremy. But I am so glad you got some restoration before your father passed. That was definitely a blessing from the Lord.

  • Dean,
    Very sad – so painful!
    My big “father wound” also happened when I was 10. My father sat down with my younger sister and me, and told us that he was leaving. Divorcing our mother and moving out. This was quite a shock as they had seemed to be spending more “happy” time together – and time with me.
    I asked him one question: Why? He refused to answer. So I was left alone in my bedroom to cry my eyes out. “I didn’t even deserve an answer”, I thought. This was THE preceding event to my SSA, disassociation and substance abuse. Fortunately he got custody of me and my sister six years later – which likely saved my life. But that WOUND and the subsequent traumas have never fully healed, even after counseling, EMDR therapy and reenactments at men’s retreats.
    I did talk to him about all this a few years before he died. He explained the reasons he left my mother and said he regretted not answering my question. It made us closer and I am glad I opened up. But “the wound” is still there.

    • Thank you for sharing, Jim- I understand what you mean by the wound still being there even after forgiveness. I am glad you’ve been able to draw closer to him though.

  • This was heartbreaking to read. I’m glad your father has since apologized, but you’re right: those kinds of words don’t just heal overnight. I’m sorry you had to experience this conversation with your dad, Dean. Prayers for continued healing and growth in yall’s relationship.

  • Dean, I cried over your hurt, and I am glad your father apologized. I have real hope that further healing can still occur between you and your father. Even though it is difficult, keep building that relationship. It will be so worth it to you!

    • Thank you Marshall- it’s a long road but he and I have made headway. Appreciate the encouragement!

  • The thing about saying hurtful things to people (and I’m learning this more and more by being a husband and father) is that, even after apologies are made, the damage remains. When someone says something awful like what your father said to you, and then later apologizes for it, we may forgive them, but we still remember what they said and that they probably still feel the same way. They just regret having said it. So then it’s much more difficult to connect with them in any meaningful way, whether apologies were made or not, because from then on, we know that they don’t actually like us and they’re just going through the motions of being nice to us. Unless the Lord supernaturally changes that person’s heart and feelings about us, it’s impossible for true healing and reconciliation to take place, I think.
    I haven’t had any particular fracturing moment with my father, but rather multiple mini fractures due to him remaining silent when he needed to speak, skirting issues that needed to be addressed, and leaving me feeling neglected when I needed him the most. This, too, has taken years for me to forgive and come to terms with by God’s grace.

  • Just as an aside about the flute being considered “a woman’s instrument,” last night I went to a concert given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. One of the pieces they played was a concerto for flute and harp by Mozart, and the flute solo was played by the principal flute player, who is a woman. But the second flute player is a man, Clint Foreman. Since the principal was soloing in one piece, Clint took the first chair position in the other two pieces the orchestra played, including a Beethoven Symphony. So it’s not unheard of now for a man to be prominent as a flautist.
    Also, I noted that the first time the BSO played that concerto, in 1884, both the flute and harp soloists were men. Back then, symphony orchestras were all-male institutions, so the flute players were men, the same as everybody else.
    As for a moment of bitter disappointment — I don’t recall anything like yours with my father. But I do recall that in high school my brother, who is 2 1/2 years older than me, and whom I admired deeply, told me, “Stop following me around,” when I joined the school paper, which he was on. I don’t think my feelings for him have ever been the same since then. I can’t feel close to him.

  • Dean–this story moved me. I just hurt for this falling out. I guess I had one of those moments with my dad, but in general I just knew that I disappointed him because he was a star athlete and I wasn’t athletic at all. His idea of manliness was good athlete, and so I never felt like he felt I was masculine or affirmed my manhood. The defining moment that hurt the most for me, was the day that he called me a pimp. He meant that I was feminine and not masculine–not that I had prostitutes working for me. I can remember the shame I felt . Tough day. Tough memory.

  • The earliest defining moment for me was when my dad took me fishing when I was about 5. We went to a stream and I wouldn’t touch the worm or the fish and fell in. Then, the next year, he took me ice fishing (which was asinine at that age) and I fell in the ice hole, lost my boot and he left me in the car for hours, wet with the heater on while he continued to fish. Those two moments made me realize I was a disappointment to him and that he would probably give up on me.
    Skip forward to a week ago. Last year, I came home for a month because I was homeless and needed money from him to start over again in Denver (he lives in Michigan). A week ago he found out from Facebook I was coming home for about a month. He called me and before asking any questions, said he’s not giving me any money, said I shouldn’t have had gastric bypass surgery if it meant I would lose my job and that if I still decided to come home, I shouldn’t call him or come visit because he doesn’t want to see me. He was already yelling so I said, “Okay” and hung up the phone. He called my aunt and told her he doesn’t want her to see me either, which she agreed, then called my other aunt on my mother’s side of the family (the real person I was coming to see) and told her not to let me stay with her. She refused; I heard all about it last night. He told her I hung up on him and that I called him back but he wasn’t going to talk to me at all.
    So, is there a happy ending? Yep. I’m only a little disturbed by this as opposed to the past where I would be both angry and heartbroken. It is sad that I’m not that affected though because I would rather that there had been something there to lose. Sadly, I lost it when I was five.

  • I don’t remember any specific time my dad openly expressed disapproval, it was just a fact of life. As sure as I knew the sun would rise and set I knew my dad was disappointed and didn’t like me because I was different. The really sad part is we could have had a lot in common, but he never had the patience to teach me anything, I learned to learn by watching only, because he would get annoyed and angry if I asked too many questions. Time and living on his own has chilled his rage, but there’s still an awkward void between us.

  • My moment of fracture with my father occured because of something his wife said. The previous year, my best friend comitted suicide. I loved him, but was afraid to admit it. I was going through some serious depression over this death and realizing the very real possiblity I was gay. He and his wife were my only source of anything spiritual at the time. I trusted them.
    I went to visit them after summer school was over (i had flunked EVERYTHING). i made the biggest mistake of my life. I asked them if I would get to see my friend again in heaven. His wife blurted out, “Sorry, but he’s in hell for killing himself.”
    I was stunned. Why would she say this? Why didn’t they comfort me in my loss, even if they believed this to be true? I wept bitterly over the prospect of never seeing him again. In the mean time I was having dirty dreams about guys, and was told by Chick Tracts that I would go to hell for looking at a girl (This Was Your Life). I was masturbating and needed him. But his wife said my friend was burning in hell. He was fourteen.
    My father was holy and righteous. I was his weird f@*&%T son, who couldn’t even keep from bawling like a baby over his friend. I went home from Mississippi and had virtually no relationship with him for thirty years.

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