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Deep disappointment with your father

After yesterday’s semi-humorous blog, I’m back on the serious side today. But bear with me; I’m writing about an issue that we all face at one time or another and many of us need to deal with once and for all.   One of the most dangerous promises we fathers can make our children is, “I’ll…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
After yesterday’s semi-humorous blog, I’m back on the serious side today. But bear with me; I’m writing about an issue that we all face at one time or another and many of us need to deal with once and for all.
One of the most dangerous promises we fathers can make our children is, “I’ll be there for you.” It’s a great promise if you can live up to it, but if you fail to show up at their band performance or game when you promised to be there, you can count on it: your child will be deeply disappointed.

I’ve seen so many dads whose failure to follow through on their promises turns their trusting child into an adult who is gun-shy about relationships. We dads may really want to treat our daughter as a princess, but sadly, life and its complications may get in the way and cause untold pain. And in places like southern Africa, it can get so complicated that children are left to raise children.

Alcoholics are the worst. Unable to control their addiction, they continually make and break promises. If your father was an alcoholic, you know what I mean. You probably knew that he loved you, but his actions continually betrayed his good intentions. When push came to shove, he loved the bottle more than you. And if he was a belligerent or abusive drunk, then you may still be working through the consequences. Deep disappointment is just one of many complicated emotions that you have about your father.

Even life-giving, affirming words can backfire on a father if his actions don’t back them up. The words, “I believe in you, you have great value,” are words that every child wants to hear their parents speak. But words like those raise your child’s expectations. They can’t help thinking the thought, “If I’m worth something, then my dad will show up in my life.”

We dads don’t even have to say words to disappoint our children. Children somehow know that it’s a dad’s job to provide for and protect them. They look at other dads and compare. We get set up for failure by doing too much or too little relative to some paternal gold standard. I know I let down all my children at one point or another.

And when you get busy and don’t show up in your child’s life, then deep disappointment is inevitable. If it develops into a pattern, this letdown can crystallize into a brittle cynicism in your child’s spirit.

We all get disappointed when our hopes are inflated and then not realized.  It’s the repeated, unaddressed disappointment that turns into exasperation.  I remember reading Eph. 6:4 when I was a kid, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children…”  We children all get exasperated from time to time with our parents. The issue of poor character, life circumstances, and bad decisions get in the way.

Poor character – A person who lacks discipline may have the best of intentions but lack the follow thru to make good on them. If your dad is impulsive, then following his impulse may mean that he forgets your birthday.

Life circumstances – More and more dads are losing their jobs during the current economic downturn. If you’re one, God bless you, it’s a terrible place to be. You start feeling poorly about yourself and may even find yourself depressed. Circumstances weigh you down.

Bad decisions – To err is human. But some of errors have a more profound impact than others. A bad financial decision can end up hurting the whole family.

So what do you do when you’ve become an adult and still struggle with a deep disappointment and possibly bitterness with your father?

First, realize that most dads are pretty poor fathers at times. It’s no excuse, but we continually fail to live up to our children’s expectations, let alone God’s standard. So many things that you dads never intend can happen during the course of raising your children.  If you could take back just a few bad decisions, you would. But how do you make it right once it’s gone wrong?

A good place to begin is with a letter of apology. Let me encourage you dads to set your children free. They need you to be brave and just take ownership for some things.  A couple of blogs on how to do that here and here.

Comments (20)

  • My Dad is a great Dad, but he screwed up some things too. Those things have caused me a lot of pain, but I’ve been able to work through them and forgive him over time.

    When I was first working through forgiveness, I really wanted him to own up to his mistakes. I didn’t really care that he had made mistakesI just wanted him to admit it to me. To himself even. But he’s not there yet, and so I had to do the big girl thing and forgive him anyway. I think someday he’ll have an emotional moment and be able to say those things out loud. That day will be a great day, but I think more for himto be able to get all of that out. I think on some level it eats him up inside, but he’s not ready to face it yet.

  • Here’s some encouragement for you dads who aren’t the most eloquent of writers, able to express everything your child needs to hear. As a teenager, I had a huge blow up fight with my dad one afternoon. He was angry at me for something that had happened, and for once, I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. There was lots of yelling and eventually it ended with both of us storming out of the house. That evening there was a small note on my pillow: “I’m sorry we fought. I didn’t listen to you like I should have. -dad” That one note changed everything. I bragged about it to my youth minister, there was immediate forgiveness, and my dad was my hero again. A big long letter is always nice, but even one short sentence that says “I was wrong” can change worlds.

  • Brittany DiSalvo


    Your pain is important to God. He knows and was there every time. Ask Him to redeem your memories of your earthly father and show you how He treats you as your heavenly Father. He is greater than even the best, most healed version you could dream up of your earthly father. I am praying for you. I know those things cut so, so deep…but grace goes deeper. I am praying He reveals this to you in a very real way.

  • hi there, i dont really know how to start this, and I havent thoroughly thought about what i wanted to say, but here goes. I have so many troubles with my father I couldnt even list him, and he his the archetype of the wise mentor that just was never really around and never came to anything I was ever invoved in, like gymnastics or just schoolwork. my parents divorced while i was still very young and th diorce lasted about five years, and within that time I never saw my dad bcause my mother took stol my brother and I away and went to lie with my Grandmother. Now I have never really gotten the whole story because everyone seems to have their own variation , but my mom claimd that my dad had abused her ( allthough i find it hard to believe since she has schizoaffective disorder, my dad does have a temper though but not a physiclly violent temper, not that Ive witnessed myself, only stories that come mostly from a highly unreliable source) my mom also accused him of cheating on her, which i later found out copuld have been the truth because after my mom left with us he started seeng the woman my mom to us about….

    for many years my mom, brother and myself would be living like gypsies, driving from one town to the next, thiswas all in efort to prevent my father from being able to find us, and dspite the awfull accusations and stories my mom told us, I wanted my dad. I wanted to know him, and being the youngest, and a girl, You need the firm reassurnce that your dad is there for you. He did later find us and we were reunited and after years of struggle obtained custody of my brother and i. BUT, by then he was allready engaged to be married to another woman, and being a confused 8 year old girl, coming from such vast chaos , and into a cold neglegent atmosphere were i was mostly ignored, and or blamed for big-adlt-world problems. And on top of that, I needed my dad. i understand that he had a hard time finding us, that he had a alot on his plate, and being remarried to a woman with wo children of her own, for him, being the head of the household is tough. now take into mind my dad is very much an intellectual, very logical ( sometimes) or sometimes he would do or say things to hurt you. Like for examle, when i was little and in this new step-parent,step-sibling alien atmosphere, the only person i ould really turn to was my dad. but if i cried, I would be told to ,stop being so dramatic, or stop being like that, or you remind me of your mother. These things, if said to a child can be very damaging, And I hjave been deeply hurt by these things. I recently turned 21, and I have studies journalism whih isnt going nywhere because i lack the motivation or confidence to break into such a competative market. Ihave tried asking for help from my dad, and trei to build a relationhi wth him, but it feels like i am still, after so many years, just not valud or loved my him, It doesnt help me just to tell him how I feel, because he puts me down, and brings up issues or things i did wrong in the past because then Im feeling too guilty or embarrassed to go on, and in the end it seems to him like i have nothing to say… I dont know whgat to do, or how to do it, And my life is suffering. Im 21 and i still dont have a drivers licence or a job, I wantd to get those sorted out a long time ago, buit I never did, bcause i lack certain skills, dicipline and traits that i should have been taught by my dad, but he was too preoccupied with his work, his moviemaking hobbies and his brand new wife, top take notice of the fact that he had fathered children who needed his love, and still do. Im sorry for the long whiny Bs rant, but i just cant take it anymore, What do i do? I just wish he would say ” I love you ” sometimes Instead of just being a provider, because he could just as well have been a stranger, I have treid talking and spending time with him , or sitting with him while he works in his study , but it seems to irritate him when Im around, and if it doesnt, my stepmom is usually with him so I dont get any time with him without there being some kind of issues or a heavy atmosphere, please please help, Anyone with sound advice!?

  • Sorry for all the grammar mistakes ans spelling and so forth, Im using an ipad and a wireless keyboard for it, and theres something wrong with it in addition to the buttons being close together

  • It is good to move on in some cases, even if you love someone. And in your case the relationship you had with your father is damaging you, I am glad you have the courage to let go. Wish i had the courage to do many things I want to do. So God bless you.

  • My father is an emotionally abusive alcoholic. I’m a middle-aged adult and sometimes it still gets past my armor. Thanks to therapy and a lot of deep thought,I’ve been able to build a happy life filled with love. The first step is stop caring about his opinion. Let me repeat that-STOP CARING ABOUT HIS OPINION. You can’t imagine how FREE you’ll feel. I let him in only as much as I’M comfortable,even when he tries the guilt trips. It’s not my job to make him feel better or give him what he needs. The next step is to forgive him inside yourself. Telling him that is unimportant and may only open yourself up to further abuse. Finally, live a life you can be proud of,create the love you lacked. I’ve done all this and now I just pity my father. He missed out. It must be horrible to be inside his head.

  • Nina, I feel for you. Wish I could give you a hug. This is an exciting time for you. You can lay the foundation for the rest of your life. Don’t waste this time seeking something from him he is unable or unwilling to give. You are no longer a child. YOU can fill the void of love within. Tonight look in the mirror-see the pretty,intelligent and soon-to-be capable young woman there,tell the little girl inside yourself,”Sweetheart,I’m going to take care of you!” Start studying for your license(driving means freedom). Move forward from there. Take the time to ask YOURSELF what YOU want for your life,not what others want. This isn’t a dress rehearsal,this is IT. Make YOUR opinion be the deciding factor in which direction you see your life headed. School,marriage,children,job? What do you? Write your own script! It will all start with looking into your eyes and saying,”I love you and you’re going to be alright!” I’m pulling for you!

  • My father lost his long time job about 15 years ago and hasn’t worked since. After losing his job he got very depressed and felt like a failure, even after putting 3 kids through college and being the main bread winner in the family for most of his life. To this day he is still very depressed and doesn’t do much of anything except watch TV. He’s overweight and takes 30 pills a day for his various health ailments, but nothing that would preclude him from exercising or doing anything outside of the house. As his son, I try to do things with him: movies, golf, lunches, casino trips, but he just doesn’t want to do anything to help himself. He’s very old school and relies on my mother for everything. He has admittedly become very old-minded, crotchety, and extremely sensitive to every critique or comment and was never that way before. I find myself being very disappointed in him and it really kills me to do so. He was once a strong, proud, and funny man, husband, father, and friend. But now, he’s anything but that. Is it wrong for me to disappointed in my father and sometimes angry with him?

    • No, Mike. You are right to be disappointed. It is a good thing to have expectations that help call a person to better living.

      You’re also right to live out an attitude of grace that loves him no matter what.

  • Hi Mike,
    Actually, your story sounds so very similar to mine. I grew up with who I thought was the best father in the world. I aspired to marry someone like him when I grew up. My father also lost his job and since then it has been a downward spiral. Everything came to a boiling point last summer when my dad became extremely financially irresponsible, making major decisions like buying a house and car and other things that we didn’t have money for, without telling my mom. He asked my mom for a divorce and said he didn’t want to be in this family any more. Anyway, he screwed up and was basically bankrupt. Now I believe he realizes all he has done but is too proud to admit it. My mom, siblings and myself are still trying to pay off his debts. We are trying to show my dad that we still love him. But he is so depressed. He stays locked away, watching Netflix all day. He is full of potential but it’s like he has given up. I am so disappointed because if I am honest, he is nothing like who I would want to marry. It hurts me to even think that way, but it’s true. More than anything I am often angry and hurt at what it is doing to my mother. So no, I think you have a right to be disappointed and angry. Also, thanks for posting this. You have no idea the comfort that it brought me because even tonight I was dealing with an issue with my father and I was praying to God for strength and I stumbled across this page, and it just helped to know I wasn’t alone.

  • This post really helped me. I think myself, along with many other people out there need to realize we don’t need anyone else to lean on so long as we have self-confidence. Thanks Jeanne

  • Guess all walks of life same issues. My dad was military and hit me all the time. I know it was him unable to control his emotions. He didn’t want to be married to my mom anymore and I suffered the. Pain. Now he is dead and one final hit. He left everything to my stepmother. Nonthing to me. I over looked beatings so my son could have a relationship with him. Crappy one it turned out to be. My dad put forth no effort. The only ones that mattered are his new family. He had been remarried 1 year when he wrote me iff, yet kept telling me I had an inheritance. Stepmothers everything. Old kids nothing. I find this betrail unfrgivable I suffered for 20 years, they got all the love.

    • Katherine, I pray God’s blessing over you. I pray that you can find freedom through forgiving your Dad for how he failed you. You are a present that he failed to unwrap. That doesn’t make you any less valuable.

      You still have your life to live. You can take the rejection and use it to help others who suffer as you do.

      Let me encourage you to read some blogs on the subject of identity: https://www.sethbarnes.com/?category=Identity+issues

  • I’m 70 years old. My father died when I was 12. My father never yelled at, or hit me. He did
    what seems like nothing. I have no memories of my life with him in it. As a result, my personal worth is that if my own father was not interested in me, I am not worth the air I breathe and
    the space I take up. That has translated into I’m the only one I can depend on, and I don’t need anyone else, including God. I cannot seem to get past that, praying faithfully and attending services faithfully, but feeling empty and colorless. I am feeling so desperate about this. I feel like a poseur, when all of me does not match up to how it looks. I feel like a fraud.
    Why didn’t men in the 50s realize the impact their disinterest could have on a young daughter?

  • These stories are heartbreaking. Instead, my father was older and not interested. I think my mother got pregnant because SHE wanted another baby. My father was not interested, and it showed. Sometimes I think that’s worse. It’s hard to consider that you are important, when you’re actively shown you are not. I’m 71, and it’s still with me.

  • my dad sucks. he beated us children and our mother and humiliated us.
    i am an adult woman and i moved to another country to run away from him. my mother had cancer and i invested a lot of time and money to stay with her in her last years, and he was still hitting me and swearing at me (i am 32). after she died, 6 months ago, i tried to get closer to him cause i thought he would change. he seemed so desperate in the beginning. i called him and he told me that he’s fine, doesn’t miss my mother, couse all women are whores and my mother was the first one. i will close the communication for good.

  • i am bitterly disappointed in my father. i am 15 years old and a refugee and i just realized what my father have done. it has been a while, and i see i will give him another chance, but he keeps doing terrible things. he is a thief (was) but if he has the chance he will steal again. and he is trying to do so with my aunt. and those are nothing. he cheated on my mother back in my country syria, and he had many women he would go and sleep with, and he would treat her terribly. always disrespect her, and always stealing. now my mother found the freedom and she left him, but since we are refugees we still need to stick together. so he can’t really do anything right now, the law helps my mother, but at the same time he is trying to get back to the old days where he has all the money. my mother won’t let him.
    he does love us and i love him, but i am bitterly disappointed. i wish he would at least not steal. i can’t believe it…and he was trying to change the country when he was young so the government would stop stealing, this is how my parents met, when they were in that forbidden party… i am just so sad…

  • it is hard. i hate it and i feel so sad whenever i think of it. political jail (because he was trying to voice his opinionS) surely broke a part of him, but that isn’t a reason for why he should steal. my mother faced the same thing. why didn’t she steal too???

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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