In the Spirit of Christmas: Is It Ever Too Late to Reunite with Your Father?

November 25, 2011  |  

I typically speak to my father twice a year. He calls me somewhere around my birthday, and then again on Christmas. This year, he put in a third call to make sure I wasn’t in danger of being swept away by Hurricane Irene, and in the past when his job has brought him to New York, he would reach out to me to meet up. Needless to say, we’re not close, and likely never will be. And I’m OK with that.

In an episode of “X Factor” this week, Kelly Rowland talked about wanting to reunite with her father for Christmas, recognizing that tomorrow isn’t promised. “I think it’s important to forgive people and move on, we have to,” she said. “The pain is there, of course it will be there, and it’s important to know that forgiveness is the first step towards healing it all.”

Earlier this year, Kelly’s father, who she hasn’t seen since she was 7, reached out to her publicly, hoping for a chance to right his wrong. Explaining how he began drinking heavily and fell into a depression after losing his job, he pleaded, “Kelly, I love you with all my heart. Please forgive me and let me be your dad again…I really hoped I would get to make it up to her. Sadly I am still waiting for that day. But I can’t give up hope.”

It sounds like that day has come for Christopher Lovett, 65. I can appreciate his effort to rebuild a relationship with his daughter—albeit delayed. His words are something I’ve desired from my own father for quite some time—admission that he wasn’t a father and a request for forgiveness. I know forgiveness isn’t supposed to be predicated on someone else’s behavior, but it can be hard to deal with someone who doesn’t acknowledge the absentee father elephant in the room. There have been times when my father and I have had great conversations and I’ve thought I could possibly stand to have some sort of relationship with him, but then an off-putting joke about how it must have been a breeze for my mother to raise me solo, or a discussion of school loan debt reminds me of how he wouldn’t help me with tuition and then I’m right back to where I was—not necessarily angry, but indifferent.

Indifference, to me, feels like a state in between hurt and healed. I’ve never taken my father’s absence as personal. I completely understand that having an unexpected child wasn’t an ideal circumstance and that his absenteeism has everything to do with selfishness, and perhaps even fear, and nothing to with who I am as a person. What I’ve neglected to realize is that forgiveness also has nothing to do with him. I’ve often felt like he isn’t deserving of the forgiveness he hasn’t asked for, and the fact that I still twinge with anger at some of the circumstances of my upbringing and his unwillingness to help me when I’m in need lets me know I’m not exactly healed.

I’m inspired by Kelly’s sense of understanding and her willingness to attempt to establish a relationship with her father after all of these years; and I commend her father for taking this step before it was too late. Their story makes me think twice about embracing the spirit of Christmas and forgiving my father for things of the past—not for his sake, but so I can move from indifferent to healed.

Do you think it can ever be be too late to reconcile with your father? Have you ever reunited with a loved one during the holidays? Were you happy you did or did you regret it?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

More on Madame Noire!

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • It’s after Christmas now, but if it helps you or anybody reading this in the future, here’s my take, especially after reading the comments here.

    Forgiveness is not a gift you give to your father, it’s a gift you give to yourself.

    You think I’m wrong?  Then think about this.

    Resentment, pain, vindictiveness, sorrow, anger, regret, lack, are not punishments you inflict on your largely absent father, they’re punishments you inflict on yourself.  And you may think you don’t feel it or think about him every day, but if you ever did, then it’s probably something that has soaked into your pores and comes out in not always appropriate ways when you may not even realize you’re doing it, or that it has anything to do with him.

    You’re either a better and stronger person than he is or you aren’t.  But you want to be, don’t you?  And it’s not going to happen by holding on to your negative emotions and feelings and thoughts and reluctances and letting them weigh you down or rile you up throughout the rest of your life.

    And there’s a fancy psychological term I can’t remember, but you know that some people, when they can’t resolve an issue with one person, find a way to draw other people into their lives with whom they have to resolve THE SAME ISSUE.  Sometimes again and again.  This isn’t because you’re broken, it’s because you’re stuck.

    Stuck holding on in your head or your heart to the stones your daddy’s absence added to your soul.  Or stuck with empty places in your heart or your life because of what he took of you when he left.  Maybe they’re stuck closed and nobody gets in, or maybe they’re stuck open and too many things knock about in there but don’t fill them.  Stuck in the resentment position.  Stuck in the exhaustion position.  Or stuck not feeling much of anything.

    Okay.  Now.  You get unstuck by forgiving him.  You get unstuck by loving him unconditionally, yet not making yourself vulnerable to him with that love.  Maybe he deserves it and maybe he doesn’t.  But the point is, YOU deserve it.  You’re forgiving him and loving him for what you give yourself with that, not for what you think you might get out of him in return for it.  Because some people react better to a quiet, simple, placid love than they do to resentment and distance and roiling turmoil just under the surface (or bubbling over).  But some people get themselves addicted to that bubbling, they run on those fumes.  It’s not healthy.  But if he’s gonna be that person, you don’t have to be too.

    Unconditional love doesn’t mean you put up with abuse, it doesn’t mean you don’t have boundaries.  What it means is you don’t love him from a place of need, or from a place of expectation.  If he’s never been a good father and you’re more mature than he is, then love him from there, think about what mature love is.  Love him like you’re the perfect caring parent he forgot to be, and he’s the wounded, needy child you no longer want to be.  If he’s a dog, then love him like you love a dog, without the part where you have to drop everything at midnight to run home and walk him, or where you push his nose in it if he messes your carpet.  Love in a way that doesn’t set him up to fail to be something he’s not, and in a way that doesn’t set yourself up to be disappointed.  But don’t love “down” to him.  Love him with room for you both to grow.

    But life is not some made-for-TV movie.  What you know about the true meaning of Christmas and the magical power of its traditions may seem universal and all-powerful but it’s not the perfect time to try and reconcile.  Because if the magic works in the heightened state around Christmas, it’s too easy for it to turn into a pumpkin by January, if not before Christmas Eve even rolls around.  And if he has learned to go without family and Christmas traditions, or has that now with others, he—or they—could resist even a little change to that now.  Some people “don’t celebrate”.  Some people’s new people would find Christmas the most stressful time to let him out, or you in.

    It builds up too many expectations, people expect it to come with too many trimmings.  Card?  Gift?  Dinner?  Want to come back and see the other people he hasn’t seen, your brother, your mom, your Aunt Sassy who never could stand him?  Do this again next Christmas?  That’s setting up a mousetrap, not building a bridge.

    And if things don’t go well, it doesn’t just ruin your week of the February 23rd or October 10th, it ruins your whole holiday season and the opportunity that should provide to get together with people for whom getting together over the holidays is a fun and loving thing.  Then suddenly in the middle of their Christmases, your friends and family have too many extra holiday demands on their time to stay close and be attentive enough to what you might want to unload on them about how even after all these years, he just haaaad to go and push buttons X, Y, and Z.

    Because even if you can change and heal and transcend this issue your life gave you in time for the meeting, he didn’t read this, and been a part of whatever else you’ve been working your stuff through and out of you with.  And if you can avoid that set of your mouth and that look in your eyes, he may shoot a few of the old chestnuts at you.  He may have something he’s working out—or NOT working out—of himself.  Who was his daddy, and what kind of daddies were his friends, and what did he think about that.  You’re ready for change (born ready) and you’re aware of every little signal you’re letting off (no, you’re not) and are relaxed but in control at every moment (at CHRISTMAS?  With HIM?), but even if all that is true, that could all the more remind him of what’s different between the two of you, that you’re warm but cool, happy but calm, free but collected, and how the heck does he do that?  Or that’s what reminds him of your mother in you.  Or whatever his trip is.

    But that’s not a reason not to reunite.

    Because some people do mellow.  And yeah, maybe it took until you kids paid back their college loans or until Medicare has them on six kinds of drugs—legal this time.  Don’t mock God.  Don’t say death isn’t a legitimate reason to sober you up and make you see things differently.  Don’t say the realization after wasting twenty or forty years that you don’t have all the time in the world and if you don’t do it now you’ll never get another chance is his own darn fault.  Don’t say it’s his bed he has to lie in it, he can meet his maker without any help from you.

    Because if you’re not better than to give a dying man a taste of his own heyday medicine, he’s not the only one who’s going to have to take responsibility one day for why he grew up wrong.

    And maybe he has, even just a little bit.  Maybe, just maybe, quietly, when neither of you is aware of it, having a grown daughter or son who turned out better than he will make him think, will make him mellow, will make him grow just a little bit amazed, just a little bit grateful, just a little bit humble.

    You know, deep down where he’d never let on!  But where it could make a world of difference for him, or for you, in this world, and wherever we go after it.

    And that’s where the Christmas comes in.  The hopes and fears of all the years…and a little child shall lead you…come to forgive you of your sins…faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love

    Maybe he didn’t see you were an angel then.  Can you see you’re an angel now?  That’s what forgiveness is for.  Then Christmas is any day you remember it to be.  And then, the person you reunite with when you see your father is the YOU you were always meant to be.

  • GINA

    I agree with forgiveness because no one is perfect. But I have a question for all the posters that say you should just disregard your father reaching out to you because he has not been there in the past. Can you say the same for an inactive mother. Why can we just disregard fathers but you always have to forgive and forget with your mother because “that’s your mama”? Doesn’t make sense. If your mother was a B*#tch she is a B*#ch and doesn’t deserve love either.

    • Guess

      Personally, I think people are harder on deadbeat mothers then they are on deadbeat fathers.

      • guest

        I totally agree deadbeat mothers are looked at worst than deadbeat fathers..

        • GINA

          yes that is exactly the problems in black communities. everyone expects the father to run out at some point. but if it is the mother that does something like that, you are expected to forgive her. Both parents should be held up equally. One parent is not more valuable than the other.

          for example, if both your parents were crackheads and both ran out on you. You either forgive them both or forgive neither. A mother is not more valuable than a father and vice versa.

    • FoodForThought

      You contradict yourself, and seem to have an axe to grind with your (or someone’s) mother. You say that you agree with forgiveness, but you then turn around and say that “if your mother was a B*#tch she is a B*#ch and doesn’t deserve love either.” Well, in your mind, do bad mothers deserve forgiveness, or don’t they? 

      For me, whether it was the father or the mother who betrayed their children’s trust and shirked their responsibility, forgiving and moving on depends on whether the relationship can be repaired (or at least whether the parent and child can get along). It takes two (the child and the parent). If the child is too bitter, it won’t work. If the parent is unapologetic and sees the situation as anyone’s fault but his or her own, it won’t work. If the parent is bitter or has a chip on his or her shoulder, or continues to traumatize or disregard the child(ren), it won’t work. On the other hand, if the parent is apologetic and acknowledges that they weren’t the kind of parent they should have been, and the parent wants to mend things and try and make things better to the best of their abilities, and the child is accepting of the apology and willing to forgive past wrongs, then it can work. I have no delusions about either of my parents. There is good and bad on both sides. 

  • Kconway84

    I think that is what this article is trying to tell us. The hardest thing to do is to forgive someone that has wronged you in such a way that you can not repair it. Forgiving and moving on is the only way that you and your fathers can grow and move on. My father apologized and even tho the things that he did could not be forgiven, letting go and letting god is the best step I have taken in my life.

  • Guess

    I think it’s so easy for fathers to come back or step into the picture when the “heavy-duty” work is over (school, childhood illnesses, discipline, finances, constant worry, rearing, etc.). They step in when the kids are settled and grandkids are waiting with open arms. 
    Years ago, on a radio show, a father (older gentlemen) called in to explain that him and his friends are all dying alone; without the love of their kids and grandkids.  He waited until his 60s, when he was hospitalized, to reach out to his kids who rejected him.  He said it was upsetting b/c he didnt have anyone by his side, and he then pleaded for young men to holdfast to their relationships with their kids.  Then he went on to say that he discussed this with other older men who were in the same boat.
    In my experience, those who disregard their children have miserable lives; no peace.
    But I have to say, I do admire Kelly for having a forgiving heart.  

    • Cocolicious

      Personally, the window for open embrace ended in my early 20s. For some people, their pain is resolved because they have some wonderful person tot come into their life a kid to replace that void, be it their wonder of a mother or another male figure. But when it’s the case where HE KNEW, ran, and didn’t
      contribute, and there was no replacement, and you did consider a chance (either looking for him, yourself, or just always having an open heart for it)…there’s no way. For me, he could have come into my life via the infatuation I had with the idea of having a father. But after a certain age, you either find someone to fill that void, fill it by other means, or just work around it. I’m not saying not to forgive for all cases, because each person’s situation will be different, but under certain circumstances where it’s apparent the fool was just too cheap and shallow to accept his responsibility – no. However, I understand that mental illness plays a factor in some cases. But still, I’m not taking care of no elderly mentally ill man who, while he had sense enough to find me in his most frail stage in life, didn’t have sense enough to find me at the prime of his life – when I needed him the most. Don’t need you now. Blood is thicker than water, sometimes.

  • Teez

    What if you’ve never met him

  • Cocolicious

    In the case where the father is lame, can’t sustain economically and has always been barely making it for himself, there is a high risk of him wanting to reunite with his adult child to use them financially, or to pressure them to ‘help’ out, or ask for their pity. Some parents are simply loosers and manipulative – you can’t reunite with those kinds of people.

  • guest

    Personally for me I see no reason to reconcile once a child is an adult. You wasnt around to help raise, care for, etc as a child and now that all the hard work is done, you want a relationship…no thanks

  • Sugar_Spice

    Every time I try to forgive my dad he does something that sets us back again.  He has never acknowledge any wrong doing on his part & always makes himself out to be the victim to my Grandma.  I know the past can’t be changed & I accept that, but when his behavior warrants forgiveness then I will give it.

    • FoodForThought

      I’m in the same boat as you, Sugar_Spice. 

      To answer the question posed by the writer of the article, yes, I think there is a time when it can be too late to make amends. If a person (like the father) waits until he is either ailing, on his death bed or just finds himself old, alone and lonely, it’s too late then to make amends. 

      Without actually meaning to do so, I saw my father after 20 years when I went to the state where he lives to be a part of a surprise celebration of my paternal grandma’s 90th birthday (a surprise for her). I knew there was a likelihood he would be there, and I didn’t really know what to expect, but I wasn’t expecting the best. What I saw was the worst in him–something he has always shown. 

      I know we should forget about the past and leave the past where it is, but when someone’s present mindset, attitude and behavior only recalls past offenses and hurts, it is difficult to ignore, forgive and just move on. My father has always been physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. He was that way with his children and with at least one wife (he was married to his third wife when I last saw him). He denied paternity on my younger sister (she accompanied me to the birthday party), and she and her mother had to go through a paternity test that validated him as her father. Nevertheless, he claimed his second wife’s child from a different man as his own, and reared him, always asserting that the two of them are as much father and child as are any of us. But that was the past. What about the present?

      When I was there two years ago, after the party, my sister and I were in our grandma’s bedroom having a nice, pleasant, intimate conversation with our grandma and aunt. In walked my father, and after he got done boasting about the volunteer work he does with troubled youth and how he is working on some advanced college degree, he went immediately into trashing my younger brother (biological), who sat right on the other side of the wall watching television. He talked so badly about him, I got upset and thought about just walking out of there. He repeatedly said how stupid my brother is, how he is an alcoholic, how he stopped going to school (college) and wants to do nothing but hang out and drink with his stupid friends, how he is an all-around loser, and how if it weren’t for his ex-wife (my brother’s mother) convincing him otherwise, he would have “jumped on” my brother. As I drove six hours back home, I thought about the whole incident and what it must have been like for my brother to have had to grow up with such a callous monster. It really troubled me. I hadn’t seen my little brother since he was four or five years old, and he has grown up to be a very articulate, seemingly very well mannered and very bright young man. He, my younger sister whom I mentioned earlier, my stepbrother whom I mentioned earlier and myself all sat together chatting at the party. 

      Anyway, I relate this long story to say that I don’t really know how people forgive others who have always been offensive, mean, demeaning, egotistical (did I mention woman-hating?), self-glorifying, abusive fathers who remain the same smug way even after the children are grown up and only two out of five still even speak to him (the two boys). I know that forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving, but how and why would you maintain a relationship with someone who continues to traumatize his own family members, with absolutely no remorse? 

  • IllyPhilly

    No, however it just seems fake when its after the child is famous or dying.

    • FoodForThought

      I think it also seems fake and very superficial if it is done on the crutch of the holidays.