The F word

I just read a friend’s very sweet blog post written to her father and it made me smile a wistful smile. I do not know what it is like to have a father in my life because mine left when I was just eleven years old. I’ve seen him four or five times in the intervening 26 years, but that’s it. I do not know him. He emigrated to the other side of the world.

As I sit here trying to write this post I feel so many emotions bubbling in my chest and I have to wonder if i will ever feel okay with what happened. The 11-year-old was bewildered; the teenager was angry; the twenty-something was needy and clung to a relationship, the thirty-something was blindsided by bereavement, hurts from the past following in its wake. But here i am, three years from forty, and i still don’t feel i have healed this hurt; I am still angry about it, more on behalf of the 11-year-old me than me now – me now can look after herself. Me now is an independent woman who feels more fully herself with every day that passes. But there is a little girl inside of me who hurts and i don’t always know how to help her. She will never understand why she was left; she will never understand why he didn’t want to be in her life. As an adult I understand how flawed and fallible we all are, and how becoming a parent doesn’t make you an invincible being who does everything perfectly. I see how the screw-ups of past generations are passed down to each of us, and how we do the best we can with the tools we have; I see how not everybody is cut out for parenthood. But as I near the age he was when he left, i have to wonder how he was able to turn his back on his daughters so easily, choosing to leave the country with another woman.

I guess I will never know the full story, and really it doesn’t matter any more. I worked through a lot of questions with my therapist, but even though i moved through my grief i never fully healed the hurt from so long ago, and i wonder now if i ever will. I do not forgive him. I am still angry in so many ways, more so now when i think about how he missed out on getting to know my sister, and now my nephew. But it is his loss, and the person needing attention from me now is a little blonde girl who’s awkward and unsure of herself; who’s wary of men and yet as the years pass she’ll long for love, long to be ‘looked after’, to be protected. This will never truly manifest, and she’ll discover that the safety she looks for she will eventually create herself. To this day she will not trust the idea of ‘father’ and will not understand the bond a father can have with his daughter. There is a part of my heart that has hardened – I hadn’t realised until this very moment, typing these words.

I don’t wish for a relationship with my actual father, or have any desire to get to know him. I needed a father back then when i was trying to find my place in the world. Now I just wish to find peace in my heart.

Some day.

38 responses
  1. Jill Kane

    Hi Susannah – beautiful post, thank you for sharing it. I hope your wish for you :) Relationships with fathers are indeed layered and complex. While physically present in my life, my dad was/still sorta is emotionally distant from me. I didn’t want to buy into the idea that women often choose men that are like their fathers (how clique, right?), ugh – but I so have. . . a few times. Here’s hoping accepting the reality of my past actions has set me on a new course. . . and other women who have done the same :) xoxo, Jill

  2. holli adams

    I can’t tell you how much this post meant to me. It was like a breath of fresh air. I do not have a relationship with my mother…and I find myself feeling so many of the things you described despite many, many, years in therapy. There is a an unrootedness and deep pain that comes with being abandoned by a parent. I feel so much pressure to “forgive” but I can’t. I’m hurt and I know my life would have been very different had she not been so selfish. Thank you for your honesty. ((hugs))

  3. susannah

    hugs to you, Holli xox

  4. susannah


  5. woolf

    hi susannah
    i’m sure you’re there though, at the peace in your heart, in a way. i don’t think you would be able to create in such a way as you are doing, if you hadn’t created some peace there.
    ha, flaws.
    my dad died when i was seventeen, and for twenty years i was convinced that he left me behind. so silly of me, to relate his accidental dying to my state of (well) being. he died. that’s what happened.
    i’m 47 now, and can now say that his ‘going away’ was a simple fact of life (and death of course).
    (i realise a father leaving is not the same thing though.)
    i wish you luck. and although i’m not a catholic, i wish you forgiveness. i really do.

  6. Tor

    Having both listened and now read about what your Father did to you and your sister when you were so young, it truly breaks my heart. My Dad my have been a dreadful husband throughout his marriage to my Mum and a complete shit of a father later in my life, but one thing I’m eternally grateful for is at least he was there during my childhood and teens; something that sadly and tragically you and your sister didn’t have. Big hugs to you Sus on this shitty Hallmark day, xx

  7. Tor

    Also, loving your red flares and Postman Pat’s cat sneaking into the photo above :)

  8. amanda

    this post resonated deeply and brought tears to my eyes. my father left when i was three, my mother was emotionally detached and unavailable and now at 38, i’m a mama to four littles and i’m still aching over the lack of relationship with both. i’ve poured myself into my kids, give them my all on a daily basis in an effort to stem that generational curse but it’s hard to find peace. in lieu of finding peace i’m really hoping for continued close relationships and bonds with my children as they get older…i think that may be enough.

  9. Gwen

    What a raw and honest post. Thank you. I am divorced, and my teenage daughter, emotionally estranged from her father. He lives in another country and hasn’t seen her for five years. (He has been faithful about providing financial support, though, and for that I am grateful.) She feels angry and hurt, and I do what I can to help her acknowledge and work through her emotions. My hope is that someday, the two of them will be able to meet, get to know each other, and have a real relationship. But ultimately, that will be up to them.

    Anyway, thank you.

  10. charlane

    my mom lived through this too – a father that abandoned her not only once, but twice. once when she was young and she was raised until her teens by a grandmother and the again, he abandoned his second family right after she came to live with new wife and two stepbrothers. he was never heard of again.

    i can’t imagine that feeling – my mom tried often to explain it to me. but to steal a phrase, it’s like trying to describe colors to a blind person.

    all i know is to send big hugs and warm thoughts to you. i know it’s not enough, but at least it is something that shows i care.

  11. Emmy van Swaaij

    Dear Susannah,
    This post touched me tremendously and made me aware how blessed I am to have my father around and to have the bound with him that I have. A hug from the Netherlands

  12. Star

    Thank you for this post, Susannah. I grew up with a father I adored only to find that he was a pretender all his life (and all mine too). My mother shared his true colors when he got Alzheimer’s disease, just a few year before he passed away. Makes me feel my whole life has been a sham. Your forthright words help me feel not-so-alone on this day. Love to you, strong one.

  13. denise

    i love how you titled this “The F Word”.

    i am with you on this, still pondering all these questions about how or why he left since the moment you told me almost 5 years go. i sit here with my heart swelling at how true you are being to yourself and how gentle you are with the little girl within. i sense a letting go of needing to know, perhaps realizing you’ll never understand even if a thousand excuses are handed to you. and i think you’ll never understand because you are not made up like him. your heart loves and commits and conquers her fears so differently than he did/does. you love fiercely and i think because of this experience, you are so extremely loyal to those you love. this, is one of the many things i love about you and learn from: your loyalty.

    brave you. always so brave with the tender bits.

    mr. wobble is SO going to know commitment and love because of those surrounding him. just watch.

  14. Elizabeth

    Hej Susannah,

    Totally understand. It’s been more than 25 years since the last time I talked to my mother, more than 35 years since I talked to my father. The time spent with them was living in a warzone.
    The little girl inside of me is always longing for parents, the big girl knows this but is unable to forfill that longing.

    Hope that the comments to your beautiful post today will help your little girl not to feel so all alone

    Have a lovely evening.

  15. stacy

    Hi love, thank you for sharing your heart. I can’t bring myself to write about my father(s) even after years of blogging as it will bring up a lot of past issues. It’s even hard for me to try and understand how incredibly lucky Isabella and Mia are to have the daddy that they do.

    My biological father left my mom and I when I was three. Although I have a wonderful relationship with him now, it didn’t happen until I was in my twenties. There is that part of me that will always be hurt because he wasn’t there when I was the little girl who needed him. Now he is more the one I share recipes with, although I love him deeply and have forgiven him.

    My stepfather left my mother after 22 years together and completely vanished from my life. I have no idea if he is dead or alive.

    What this taught me about men at a young age is that men leave. Of course I know that’s not always true. I know this is why in my past relationships with men that I would make sure I was the one to leave first as a way to not feel that hurt again.

    There is a line in that John Mayer song daughters that says “Fathers be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do.” It gets me every time.

    Sending you love today and a hug filled with understanding. xo

  16. Lee

    Beautifully written.
    Many thanks.
    – Lee

  17. jesse

    I got chills when reading this.

    I looked to relationships to find the father I never had, only to end up marrying the same man, who couldn’t/wouldn’t be there.

    I am realizing, late, that what I need from those relationships I have to find in myself.

    Is feeling sorry for them the same as forgiving them? I don’t think so, but it’s the best I can do, right now. I feel sorry for my dad because he doesn’t know me, or my wonderful kids.

    It is his loss. I won’t let it be mine, anymore.

  18. Mel

    Sweetie, I so get this. You know I do. xoxo

  19. Karen

    Sadly I can relate all too well. While my father was an awesome father, my children’s father (and my husband) abandoned our family eight years ago.

    The devastation that I along with our three children (ages 13, 15, and 16 at the time) felt was heart felt and long lasting. There will always be issues surrounding the abandonment, subsequent lack of any support, breach of trust and disappearance of my husband.

    That said, I feel that I should share with you a helpful quote concerning forgiveness. “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you”.

    I wish you peace as you continue through your journey. We are granted only today. Peace!

  20. donna

    susannah, i feel so terrible for you. i am now 50 and had a very different father experience than you, and yet there are similarities in our emotional damage and outcomes. my dad stayed with us but was verbally and emotionally abusive a good deal of the time. he completely controlled my sweet mother, brother and i, through yelling and fear. we “walked on eggshells” when he was around. i only could stand up to him and disagree with him after i graduated from college and had been working a few years. we then had about 10 ugly years of yelling at each other, every time i visited them.

    i have come to understand that he, like your dad, is a deeply flawed and damaged individual, who was probably abused as a child. he is so fearful of his long dead parents that he will never talk about them in any truthful way. i know his mother was a very unhappy woman, probably a terrible mother. my dad is very insecure and, basically a scared, little man. i didn’t understand this until i had matured myself.

    but i want you to know that good did come out of my having him as a father. by the age of 12, i remember making up in my mind a list of all the traits in a man i would never put up with. basically, most of what my dad is. i managed to find and marry (for 18 blissful years, now) a man who is everything my dad is not. generous to a fault, kind-hearted and supportive of me in every way, and, a terrific father to our 2 daughters. so in a weird way i have my dad to thank for my ridiculously happy marriage and family life, now.

    the other thing i would like to share with you is that i finally managed to forgive my dad for being so horrible to my childhood self. but it didn’t happen until i was well into my 40’s. and i guess what i forgave him for was not for all the abuse, but for being such a flawed human being. he is now fearful in old age. he has no friends. he is lonely. he is getting payback for how he has led his life. my forgiveness came, by the way, not for him, but for me. forgiveness just means that you have decided to move on, and leave the bitterness behind. it’s for you, not for your dad.

    i hope some day you will be able to forgive your dad, because you deserve that. he is the one who messed up. he is the one who has missed out and will pay in the end. as i mother i understand that being a parent is a great gift and a privilege, but the most difficult challenge, as well. he probably felt that he wasn’t up to the task due to his own shortcomings. his leaving had nothing to do with you or your mother or sister. it was all about him, you know.

  21. susannah

    yes, that is the one thing i know. thank you for sharing your story with me, Donna – sending big hugs to you xo

  22. Rhonda

    I have never sent a comment before, but I regularly visit your blog, as I wait excitedly for your “Blogging Beautifully” workshop, and Unraveling class (missed the last sign up).
    My heart goes to you today. I feel the sorrow in your words today, but from a different perspective. My father was ever present in my life while growing up. He provided well for his family. Above all he was the rock that held our family together. Not a perfect family, not without flaws and trials and upsets. But we held together. I lost my dad when I was 21 years, and then I married a man very much like him. I am incredibly thankful for the husband he is to me and the dad he is to my children…also the rock that holds us together.
    But when my dad died, I was angry. It was so personal to me. I felt abandoned and left behind. I felt sorrow, smothered by hurt. I spent more than 10 years trying to understand why he would leave us, as though it were his choice! I was so comsumed by my loss that I did not see the grief he was suffering from the loss of my mother the year before.
    I just want to say that I know your pain is real. Part of me wonders if, after all these years, your father is also suffering the pain of losing so much in his life? I have no way of knowing that, but one thing I do know is that forgiveness is a vital healer. Not forgetting, not “letting it go”, but just a forgiveness that comes from a heart that says, “I understand that there may be pain in your life as well, Dad.” That’s all.
    Karen, above, sent a quote that reminds me of one my close friend uses all the time: “Unforgiveness is the poison you drink hoping someone else dies.”
    I hope that each Father’s Day for you, could be one of rejoicing for the man who gave you life. Forgiveness for the shortcomings in his character. And joy for the freedom you have to love. A love, uncompromised, by unforgiveness.

  23. Lucia

    you are a brave woman, I know you will find peace in your heart. Know that lot of people around the world is wishing you the best. Sending a big hug to you from the south.

  24. Susan

    Thank you for writing it & saving me from doing it this year. Not ready to. It is very difficult to be around all the hoopla surrounding both “parental” days when one (along with three sisters) were treated so very poorly that it verged on criminal. (See? Even now, I’m making it sound not-so-bad.)


  25. jane

    this is a heartrending post Susannah… that man missed something truely wonderful by abdicating his fatherhood…

    i have mother crap i am contending with and i am in the process of painting myself a mother – the one i want, which makes me feel like a weirdo but it names my loneliness for that love and hands back my power to nurture myself to safe hands…. mine

    <3 to you

  26. Roxanne

    A poignant post. The hurts we harbour with and against our parents stay with us ~ we seem to carry them around with us, toward and thru each and every relationship. Forgiveness is often really the “F word,” isn’t it? It’s difficult, painful, often feels un-easy, almost wrong. It’s a surrender, and who among us survivors likes to admit surrender?

    Wishing you peace.

  27. Bea

    I love you both more than I know how to type in this comment box. Anything I write will just look like words on a page.

    I wish I could hold you, Tor + Sus.

    Dads can be utter disappointments and failures, but look how brilliantly we turned out despite it all.

  28. Barbara

    This are so touching so much emotion. hope you find the peace you need soon.
    take care dear

  29. Louise Naomi Best

    Some of us are like cakes that don’t get enough time in the oven; you didn’t get cooked enough before he left. You end up having to cook yourself.

  30. Alanna

    Thank you for this post. While I talk to both my parents I was estranged from my Dad for 9yrs (age 9 to 18). I also went through a period where I did not see my mom for nearly 5yrs. I have since forgiven my father. He apologized. A meaningful apology. He stepped outside his old self into what I consider a whole new person. Rarely does that happen in this life I think. My mother however is incapable of apology. We have a restricted relationship. Each year that passes. I view them differently. I worry if I never forgive my mom I’ll suffer the consequences – but because she can’t apologize truly for the abuse and the heartache growing up I think it’s no longer a matter of forgiveness. It’s a matter of me moving on and healing.

    I always ask my husband when the tidal wave of emotions my childhood and teens takes over – “where do you put it all?”. I too have that little girl in me who I just can’t figure out how to heal on the bad days. Thank you again sharing and much love.

  31. Cheri

    Susannah – this is a very touching post and I can feel your pain, but in a very different way. My own father was an abusive alcoholic who finally was out of my life when I was 13 – my siblings all younger (the youngest being 3 at that time). Life with him was hell and I was happy to see him gone. He has not been a part of my life since. I was left in the care of the woman I knew as “Mom” – my wonderful step-mother Susanne. She was the rock. The glue that held our little family together. And the most attentive grandparent that ever lived. She died of cancer when my children were very young (12 years ago) but at least she had a chance to know them a bit and to have an influence in their lives. In my 30’s I finally “forgave” my father for his sins and released the hold he had on my life. Forgiveness was not about condoning or accepting what he did to us. Or about wanting a relationship with him of any kind. It was simply about being ready to live for myself, without his influence. And now I have only pity for the shell of man who is no doubt in a VA hospital somewhere suffering the long-term effects of alcoholism on his liver, and never having known his beautiful grandchildren (8 in total between me and my siblings). I am happy to say that I broke the cycle and married a wonderful man who is a great father. We celebrate our 25th anniversary in August.

    I hope for you that someday soon your forgiveness will come and you are able to release any impact this man had on that little girl who so desperately wanted a father. I have no doubt it is a piece of your own Unravelling that is yet to be accomplished, but will be so freeing when you get there. {{{hugs}}}

  32. Karen D

    My heart goes out to you, I know this was hard for you and you are so brave to share your story.
    I feel similiar in some ways regarding my father, though he was in my life, he had so many secrets I often feel he has a whole other life I did not know about.
    My gentle to yourself and know you will find that security in yourself.

  33. Brandy

    I completely understand. My father chose alcohol instead of his children when I was three.
    I have never been able to understand his decision or give him the excuse that alcoholism is a disease. It has been hardest on me lately because I’m engaged and he isn’t around to be a part of this step in my life. It brings up ALL the daddy issues and I have wondered if I should talk to someone about it.
    I don’t think the hurt will ever go away and abandonment is a weird feeling that I can’t explain.
    Hugs to you Susannah, I understand and share your pain. Thanks for the post it makes me feel less alone. xx

  34. Shell

    My father and I never were really close. It’s whole saga with me and him I can relate with your own feelings with your father.
    Only after he died when I was 33, was I able to begin to make peace with him. It took me a lot of 41, I’ve made peace with him and his influence in my life.
    I know one day you will came gradually for me.

  35. Jan

    Your post was so moving that I had to let it settle overnight before responding with a comment.

    Your transparency will help others uncover and recognize areas of pain and blockage. Trailblazing truth-tellers are inspirational and encourage a similar awakening in others.

    Forgiveness is often a multi-faceted, multi-layered, and often tortuous process. I truly believe that you may be on that path. Sometimes it takes our hearts a (much) longer time to embrace what our minds initially comprehend.

  36. avelottes

    susannah, thank you so much.
    i often feel like the only one who struggles with this, who is left by her dad. and sometimes it feels like i have to repeat it endlessly, to be left, be left be left.

    my father left when i was three years old, and when my daughter was three i got this very nervous, i almost left my husband.

    we’ll never have a dad who dances with us. but it might have shaped us in a good way, too. it shows us how we’re able to stay. we’ll never leave our little girls.
    and for sure you’ll never leave your nephew, whatever happens.

  37. Avatar Koo

    I read this quote on a website:

    “In the long run, it’s not a question of whether they deserve to be forgiven. You’re not forgiving them for their sake. You’re doing it for yourself. For your own health and well-being, forgiveness is simply the most energy-efficient option. It frees you from the incredibly toxic, debilitating drain of holding a grudge. Don’t let these people live rent free in your head. If they hurt you before, why let them keep doing it year after year in your mind? It’s not worth it but it takes heart effort to stop it. You can muster that heart power to forgive them as a way of looking out for yourself. It’s one thing you can be totally selfish about.”

    Wishing you peace…

  38. Ellen

    Although my father did not walk away from me, my parents did fight a bloody divorce battle on my back which took seven years. Afterwards, my father wouldn’t talk to me for 18 months.
    Although I live my life now and can understand most of what happened, this was my childhood and whenever I talk or write about it, I can feel the hurt return – the hurt of my being 8 – 16 years old, the hurt of not being loved enough, but also anger and all kinds of other feelings.

    Until today, I still feel deeply afraid of being left alone in that dark place inside me where all my pain lives, of my partner suddenly dying or whatever. There are many situations in which I call him just to know that he’s alive – and this fear just cripples me. I’m afraid of so many things, but most of all I’m afraid of that dark place.

    Why am I writing this?

    Because I absolutely admire you for what you have done, what you have accomplished and what you continue to give through your courses, your blog. Seeing that somebody can survive my deepest fears and grow so much during it – that’s… WOW.

    As soon as I can afford it, I will definitely take part in one of your online courses (“Unravelling”), and I’m looking forward to your book.

    Thank you soooo so much for you blog.

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