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Natural Awakenings Tucson

The Gift of an Imperfect Father

May 31, 2022 06:30AM ● By Marlaina Donato
Father putting hand on son's shoulder, who has arms crossed and is looking in other direction


For many of us, Dad was the first person to throw us a ball, take us fishing or treat us to ice cream after a game. If we were fortunate, he was the one who made a bad day better, was a strong protector who kept the metaphorical wolves from the door and, by example, secured our place in the world. Fathers give us many “firsts”, and for some of us, that also means a broken heart.

Parents, like all human beings, are fallible, learning as they go, never quite getting it right, but doing the best that they can. Sometimes their “best” is tangled in a net of unresolved personal trauma, addiction or mental illness, and we learn to bear the bitter with the sweet. “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift,” wrote poet Mary Oliver, and her words can be a beacon as we journey through healing the father wound.

Once we come out the other side of childhood, it might be difficult to love someone that destroyed our trust and even more difficult to love ourselves. This “gift” might take decades for us to unwrap. Children of difficult dads sometimes blossom like lotuses into more compassionate beings from the mud of absence, cruelty or indifference. Perhaps with a shift in perspective, we may realize how their weaknesses might have given us survival tools and resilience. Flipping the coin to examine what they have done right and giving credit where it is deserved can also help us to open that dead-bolted door to forgiveness. Taking inventory, both positive and negative, can encourage us to become a different kind of parent.

In a black-and-white world, the heart’s gray areas can teach us how to lean into our own healing. We inherit a lot from our wounded fathers, including an energetic opportunity to change the familial emotional code, and it can be beautiful.

Marlaina Donato is an author, composer and painter.