Why It’s So Hard For Daughters To Heal From Father Wounds
by Dr. Michelle Watson
There is a delightfully quirky poet named Shel Silverstein who many of us grew up reading. I am especially fond of his poem called Hinges.
“If we had hinges on our heads there wouldn’t be no sin.
‘Cause we could take the bad stuff out and leave the good stuff in.”
If only there was a neurological delete button or some kind of magical mental scour pad to erase the hurtful messages that so easily play on repeat in our brains. I’d sign up in a heartbeat if something like that existed, wouldn’t you?
I’ve always been a bit of an intense bumpkin, a “feeler,” I guess you could say. My dad, on the other hand, isn’t wired quite the same. You see, he grew up in an alcoholic home with harsh realities that one would expect to go along with that kind of environment. Living in extreme poverty on the south side of Chicago there were three different last names among the seven kids, which essentially translated to a survival-of-the-fittest way of functioning. My dad developed a strong work ethic at a young age while intentionally putting his mind over matter. There wasn’t time or opportunity for self-pity so after years of conditioning he learned to make the best of things without complaining.
There’s much about his stance that I respect. But there are other parts of it that couldn’t be further from how I live or the way I’m wired. I thrive on talking about the story and the backstory, the truth and the pain and the lies that are embedded in the wounds. In fact, I’m so invested in living like this that I not only function this way in my own personal life, but I do this as a profession.
Let’s press rewind for a minute. At 24 years old I was working as a dental assistant while living at home after college. It was a bit of a dreary time for me but I was trying to love and serve God as best I knew how despite my melancholy vantage point and single-white-female reality while most of my friends were walking down the aisle in white.
One particular night during the fall of that year I was working diligently on a Thanksgiving craft project, sewing two pilgrim dolls from a pattern. Things were going well as I followed the directions until the permanent ink started to bleed into the fabric and ruin the face on one of them. That was all it took for the anger to surface and the next thing I knew I was shouting at God that I didn’t know why I asked him for help anyway since he obviously didn’t do anything to help me in the least when I called.
That didn’t go over so well with my pastor dad. This was about the time he sternly rebuked me with seven powerfully impacting words that rang out like a blaring siren on a police car: “Michelle…God ought to strike you dead!”
Zing. Ouch. No room for rebuttal.
It seemed that during this season my anger became increasingly harder to keep down, especially toward my younger sisters and most powerfully against myself. I still remember times of looking at my face in the hallway mirror and literally hating what I saw, then running to my room and sobbing inconsolably on my bed.
I’ll never forget the night while laying on that same bed looking up at the ceiling when for the first time in my life I cried out these words, “God, I’m angry at you and you know it anyway . . . so there it is. I can’t hold it back any more. So go ahead and strike me dead.”
Even though I was a Bible School graduate, a pastor’s daughter, and on our church youth staff, I had somehow come to believe that it was never, ever, under any circumstance, for any reason, at any time okay to get angry at the God of the universe. To me it paralleled the unpardonable sin and wasn’t going to turn out good for me. But there it was. Out in the open. No holds barred.
I realize this probably sounds a bit melodramatic, but I’m serious when I say that I laid there without moving and waited for God to take my life. I thought that I had so crossed the line that his wrath would have to be satisfied and then taken out on me. I took a risk and was ready for the ultimate zap that would put me out of my misery. But the way God as a Father responded to me that night was a turning point. Suffice it to say the ceiling never caved in.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago. One night I was having dinner with my dad, just the two of us, and somehow we ended up talking about this memory. I said that I wondered where I got that message from that God would strike me dead. His immediate response: “Probably from me.”
It was then that I heard the backstory for the first time. Although I’d known that my dad was raised in a devout Catholic family where he served as an altar boy and attended Catholic school, the part that was new to me was that he fully believed that if he ever walked into the door of a Protestant Church that God would strike him dead. So when he converted to Christianity in his late 20’s it came as no surprise that his mom told him he would only get into heaven through the back door. She was not happy that he left the church. She was convinced that God wasn’t okay with it either.
So here my dad and I were, almost three decades later, literally dialoguing about a wound he had inflicted all those years ago with his words. But the truth is that by this time I had experienced so much healing in my own relationship with God as my Father that I didn’t sense that there was healing that needed to take place between the two of us on this one. I guess I had forgiven him a long time ago.
I’ve come to see the benefit of revisiting places of old injury as a daughter with my dad. The truth is that he and I are honestly both a bit hard headed and now that I’m old enough to use my voice, we bonk heads more than when I was younger. I’ll let you do the math on how that’s played out in adulthood! And though it’s not easy to “talk deep,” it’s vital. It’s necessary.
My point here is that as a daughter I want to speak to you dads and say that we need you to be willing to open up old wounds and talk them out no matter how many years have passed. We’ve all heard it said that “time heals all wounds” but that really couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not time that heals; it’s only that which is processed and forgiven that truly heals. And though we can heal with or without our dad as part of the process, it makes a positive difference if and when fathers are willing to listen, engage in dialogue, admit to harm, and ask forgiveness.
So why do I believe it’s extremely hard for a daughter to heal from father wounds? Because there is a significant, powerful spiritual component that is tied to a dad’s role, influence, and impact. And when coupled with dark spiritual forces that want this relationship to stay unhealed, it does a royal number on destroying or cluttering a daughter’s relationship with God as her Dad.
I promise you that I’m not one to look for a demon under every rock, but there is benefit in calling a spade a spade, especially when Jesus modeled the importance of it. In fact, there are two things we read in the Gospels that Jesus did everywhere he went: he healed the sick and cast out demons. And because the enemy of our souls is the father of lies he loves to reinforce and even magnify wounds from our earthly fathers while feeding us a pack of lies about ourselves, God, and others that correspond to those injuries. Those beliefs (lies) then easily get projected onto God as our Father.
I want to say this to you dads because you are the ones who shape our understanding and perception of God as a Father. I know you already know this, but it bears repeating. The way you respond to us as your daughters influences the way we forever respond to Abba Father God. If our horizontal relationship is damaged and unhealed, it makes it nigh to impossible to respond with openness vertically.
We need you dads to live out the truth of Psalm 103:13 where your compassion for us as your daughters is a true reflection of the compassion the Lord has for us as his kids.
Let me close with this. Whether or not you (dad or daughter) had the best dad in the world, we all need more than our earthly father can give. And the truest truth that you can take to the bank is this: you have an Abba Father who adores you (John 3:16), has your name tattooed on His hand (Isaiah 49:16), has chosen you (Ephesians 1:4), calls you by name (Isaiah 43:1), and who delights in you (Zephaniah 3:17). For him to respond otherwise would be to deny Himself.
Your Father in heaven can heal you from your father wounds as His love drenches you with unconditional, restorative, life-giving love. Now that’s a forever relationship to celebrate!
Michelle Watson, PhD, LPC is the author of Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart (Harvest House, 2014). She is also the founder of The Abba Project, a ministry to help dads connect with their daughter’s hearts, and has a full time counseling practice in Portland, Oregon. Visit her at www.drmichellewatson.com or connect with her at www.facebook.com/drmichellewatson or @mwatsonphd on Twitter.
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