What I Learned From My Father Leaving

Unsplash / Caleb Woods

When my father left me at 6 years old, I was left with a wound that reopened again and again. A wound that would sting every Father’s Day, which always reminded me of the first one after he left. Every year, I had flashbacks of the gift I painted for him in school that sat on the mantel far too long before I realized he wasn’t coming back. Every time I heard my friends exchange an “I love you” with their dads. Every time I saw a father give his daughter away at her wedding or a father-daughter dance. Every single time I heard someone say the word “dad,” I was achingly reminded of what I didn’t have.

I would lay awake at night, harboring the few joyful memories I had. As I got older, the memories faded until I couldn’t visualize his face or remember the sound of his voice or the feeling of his arms. Yet I continued to replay them anyway, memorizing them, determined not to lose them like I’d lost him. I tried desperately to understand how we had gotten from those memories to the day he left. I agonized over what I could’ve possibly done to make him leave. He left me with the belief that I was defective, that in some way I was broken because my father didn’t love me. He left me with a relentless need for male attention and validation. He left me with the belief that my worth lived in the hands and hopeless hearts of men just like him. As he ran from his demons, he gifted me my own.

It took until I reconnected with him at 19 years old to learn that him leaving had nothing to do with me. When he was a child, he was hurt in a way that sinks your soul. While I won’t ever really know for sure, I believe that nobody taught him how to love. I believe that every ounce of strength he had left was only enough to help him survive. It pains me to know I’m not the only heart that was broken with his absence, but I believe he thought leaving would hurt less than him staying. I believe that people who have been hurt sometimes let their hurt spill onto others. If he had stayed, it could’ve led to just as much heartbreak and disappointment.

I’ve learned by having him in my life that people show love in different ways. I have learned you must choose how much you are willing to give and what you are open to receiving. I have had to learn the importance of adjusting and communicating my expectations. I have learned it is my choice if I am willing to pull the weight in the areas he lacks and allow him to love me in the ways he knows how. I have learned that loving is not just a feeling, but it is also a choice.

I have learned that writing these words have helped repair my wounds. I have learned that despite the fact I have questions that may never be answered and he has pain he hasn’t faced, I have the choice to forgive. Forgiveness is for my own freedom, not anyone else’s. I forgive him for the hurt he caused me because I learned that him being in my life did not fill the hole he left.

Up until recently, I was pouring my heart into dead ends, chasing a love to fill the space he left. I was offering my body in exchange for meaningless, fleeting moments of being held, that I was starved of in his absence. While that wound may have opened because of him leaving, I learned it was always my job to fill it. It was always my responsibility to find my own strength to make different choices, to stop repeating painful patterns. In reality, my worth doesn’t live in the hands of my father, men, or anyone. My worth lives in my own hands, my own hopeful heart. In the absence of his love, I learned to find love for myself. TC mark

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