Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Cope Now That Dad Has Left Us?
“Growing up without my dad was hard. I just wanted a little attention.”—Henry.*
JOAN was 13 years old when her father left home. Caught in the grip of an addiction to alcohol, he made few attempts to contact his children after his departure. Sad to say, Joan is not alone; many youths have been abandoned by their fathers.
If this has happened to you, you may very well find it hard to cope. Feelings of pain and anger may overwhelm you from time to time. You may sometimes feel sad and depressed. You may even be tempted to rebel. As the Bible writer Solomon once said, “mere oppression may make a wise one act crazy.”—Ecclesiastes 7:7.
James ‘acted crazy’ after his father left home. James said: “I didn’t listen to any authority, not even my mom. I got into a lot of fights. I was always lying and sneaking out at night because there was no one to discipline me. Mom tried to stop me, but she couldn’t.” Did rebelling really improve James’ lot in life? Hardly. James says that before long he was “experimenting with drugs, skipping school, and failing at school.” The misbehavior soon escalated. “I stole from stores,” he confesses, “and I mugged people too. I was arrested twice and put in prison for a short time, but that didn’t stop me.”
When asked what made him so rebellious, James said: “Because my father was gone, I had no discipline. I really didn’t think of how much I was hurting my mom, my little brother and sister, and myself too. I wanted the attention and discipline of my dad.”
But rebelling only makes a bad situation worse. (Job 36:18, 21) James, for example, brought problems not only on himself but also on his mother and siblings, who suffered unnecessary stress and strain. Even more serious is the fact that rebellious behavior can put one at odds with God himself. After all, Jehovah commands young people to be obedient to their mother.—Proverbs 1:8; 30:17.
Getting Past the Anger
How, then, can you deal with the anger and resentment that you might feel toward your father? First of all, you may need to remind yourself that your father’s leaving was not your fault. Nor does it necessarily mean that he no longer loves or cares about you. Granted, it can be painful when a father makes little effort to call or visit. But as the preceding article in this series showed,* many absentee fathers lose touch with their children, not because they do not love them, but because they are overwhelmed with guilt and shame. Others, like Joan’s father, are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and this impedes their ability to function.
Whatever the situation, try to remember that your parents are imperfect. The Bible declares: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23; 5:12) True, this does not excuse hurtful or irresponsible behavior. But recognizing the fact that we are all inherently imperfect may make it easier for you to let go of destructive anger and resentment.
What is said at Ecclesiastes 7:10 can help you deal with the anger and the resentment that you may feel toward your parents. Notice how it warns against focusing on the past: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’ for it is not due to wisdom that you have asked about this.” Thus, rather than dwelling on the way things once were, it’s better to focus on making the best of your situation.
Taking the Initiative
For example, you might consider taking the initiative to make contact with your father. True, he is the one who left you and you might rightly feel that it is his responsibility to make the first move. But if he has failed to do so and the lack of contact with him is making you sad and unhappy, might it be worth your while to try to improve the situation yourself? Consider how Jesus Christ handled things when some of his friends hurt him. On the last night of his human life, his apostles abandoned him. Peter had bragged that he would stick with Jesus no matter what. Yet, Peter denied Jesus—not once but three times!—Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:54-62.
Even so, Jesus continued to love Peter in spite of Peter’s shortcomings. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus made the first move to reestablish their relationship by making a special appearance to Peter. (1 Corinthians 15:5) Interestingly, when Jesus asked Peter the question, “Do you love me?” Peter’s response was “Yes, Lord, you know I have affection for you.” In spite of his shameful actions, Peter still loved Jesus.—John 21:15.
As was true in the case of Peter and Jesus, the situation with your father may not be as hopeless as it seems. Perhaps he would respond if you took some initiative such as making a phone call, writing a letter, or making a visit. Henry, mentioned at the outset, recalls: “I wrote to my dad once, and he sent me a letter back saying that he was proud of me. I framed that letter and kept it on my wall for years. I still have it to this day.”
Joan and her siblings likewise took the initiative to visit their alcoholic father. “He wasn’t in the best condition,” Joan admits, “but it was still good to see him.” Perhaps taking the initiative will work for you. If there is no response at first, you might want to let some time pass and then try again.
Coping With the Pain of Rejection
Solomon reminds us that there is “a time to seek and a time to give up as lost.” (Ecclesiastes 3:6) Sometimes a youth must face the painful fact that his or her father does not want to have a relationship with his children. If this is true of your father, perhaps one day he will realize how much he has lost in failing to maintain a relationship with you.
In the meantime, though, be assured that his rejection of you does not mean that you are worthless. The Bible psalmist David stated: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.” (Psalm 27:10) Yes, you still have great value in the eyes of God.—Luke 12:6, 7.
So if you feel down or depressed, draw close to God in prayer. (Psalm 62:8) Tell him exactly how you feel. Be assured that he will listen to you and comfort you. Another Bible psalmist wrote: “When my disquieting thoughts became many inside of me, your own consolations began to fondle my soul.”—Psalm 94:19.
Warm association with fellow Christians can also help you to cope with such rejection. Proverbs 17:17 says: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” You can find such true companions within the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It may be particularly helpful to get to know some of the congregation overseers. Joan’s brother Peter gives this advice: “Talk with the older ones in the congregation, and they will help a lot. If you have been abandoned by your father, let them know how you feel.” The congregation overseers may also offer some practical suggestions on handling some of the responsibilities that your father formerly cared for, such as home repair.
Your mother may also be a source of support. True, she may be suffering emotional distress herself. But if you respectfully express your feelings, she will no doubt do her best to respond.
Support Your Family!
Your father’s absence may impact your family in a number of ways. Your mother may have to take on a job—perhaps even two jobs—to make ends meet. You and your siblings may have to shoulder more household responsibilities. But you can cope with such changes if you cultivate unselfish Christian love. (Colossians 3:14) This can help you to maintain a positive attitude and to squelch resentment. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Says Peter: “Helping my family is the right thing to do, and I get a good feeling knowing that I am helping my mom and my sisters.”
Without a doubt, a father’s leaving home is a tragic, painful event. But you can be sure that with God’s help and the help of loving Christian friends and family, you and your family can cope.*
Names have been changed.
See the article “Young People Ask . . . Why Did Dad Leave Us?” in our issue of November 22, 2000.
[Pictures on page 26]
Some youths have taken the initiative to contact their father