“Daddy issues.” It’s such a diminutive, dismissive, and quite frankly infuriating term. But, for all intents and purposes, I just need to say that I didn’t want to have “daddy issues.” And I was certainly on the path to having life-long issues if I didn’t forgive my dad for having cheated on my mom so, so much. Any time somebody cheats, our brain wants to take the easy route and simply demonize the person. It’s funny because it is, in the long run, the most painful thing to do. To just believe that people can be evil is not good for the psyche. But, it’s what the lazy brain does when we aren’t willing to dive into the complexities of why people do the things that they do. For a long time, I didn’t want to face it: I just wanted to hate my dad. And, on a very much related note, I developed an eating disorder, got into an abusive relationship, and had severe depression for a while. I eventually had to face that something was wrong with me. And, you guessed it: I needed to forgive my father. Here is how I came to forgive my unfaithful father.
I asked for his perspective
First (and this wasn’t easy), I had to let my dad talk. I asked him to tell me why he thought what he did was okay, and why I should let him back into my life. I knew that I would never see what he did as okay, but there is a lot of value in just hearing the other person’s perspective. Usually, it isn’t, “Because I’m evil and wanted to hurt you.” Usually, they somehow twisted things in their mind to see their actions as okay. It’s important to know that, so we stop demonizing the person. My dad ultimately didn’t think his actions within his romantic relationship with my mom should or would impact his relationship with his kids. He was wrong, but that’s how he felt.
I got more of the story
I heard more of the story, finally. I got bits and pieces from both of my parents. The truth is that my mom had—for reasons I won’t dive into here—sort of checked out of the marriage. The two hadn’t been intimate in years, and my mom didn’t even hug or kiss my dad. I’m still not excusing his behavior. But you’d be amazed at how just gathering more information dampens the pain, and makes it all feel less dizzying and awful.
I did some digging into his childhood
I asked my mom for some more information on my dad’s childhood—because adults don’t just appear out of thin air and have behaviors for no reason. I learned that his dad completely abandoned him—to be with his mistress aka this behavior is passed down—when he was very little, then his mom got sick and passed young, leaving him to live with his grandparents. And his grandpa apparently had similar behaviors as his father in the fidelity department.
I realized I could relate
I couldn’t lie: I could relate to my father’s experience of having your parents mess you up. I’d literally just gone through a few years of destructive behavior that was a direct result of my childhood.
I put myself in one of his shoes
While I couldn’t think of reasons why I would ever cheat, I did put myself in one of my dad’s other shoes: what would it be like to have a child stop talking to me? I knew that it would probably feel like a slow death every day. And I suddenly felt very bad for doing that to my dad—I felt more guilt around that than anger over what he’d done.
I got to know the other woman
I had to put my pride aside in a big way to do this, but I finally agreed to meet the woman who had been my dad’s mistress when he was with my mom, and is now his legitimate partner. And I learned she is very possessive, which my dad probably interprets as fiercely loving, which a man whose parents left him when he was a child is probably attracted to. My mom had been a bit more, um, let’s just say inaccessible.
I focused on what he’d done for me
I thought about the things he’d done for me, which as an adult, I was finally able to appreciate. Like the fact that he paid my college loans for me so I could graduate debt free. That’s just one of many things that I now understand are no small deal.
I really meditated on his acts of love
I also thought back on my childhood—something I’d blacked out for a while. The truth is that my dad loved (and still loves) my sister and I so much. He was so into being a dad. He claimed every Saturday as his day with us, planning a full day of activities we’d love. He read us our bedtime stories every night. He truly lived to be a father. I cannot say he neglected us. The love was always there.
Including acts of love towards others
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a more analytical mind. I started assessing my dad as a person overall. He’s always the first one to reach out a hand to somebody that nobody else will help. He’s hired many ex-convicts over the years, to whom nobody else would give a chance, and helped them get back on their feet. He has lent money generously, without question, to friends who really needed it. It dawned on me: he wants to be that support system to others that he didn’t have growing up. And perhaps that’s why he cheated with a broke woman who was just out of an abusive relationship with another man. He can’t help but want to love the broken and abandoned. Perhaps because he is broken and abandoned.
I admitted that we don’t have forever
My dad had a major health event that moved our relationship along—though the event itself (brain surgery) was terrifying. I realized that day, seeing him very weak in his hospital bed, that I didn’t have forever to sort things out with him.
I spoke to those who haven’t forgiven
I had a lot of conversations with other adults who had an unfaithful parent. I wanted to know if they’d landed on their feet and how they coped. I discovered something unnerving: I didn’t like the people who never forgave their parents. They seemed…odd. Distant. Not well-adjusted. Bitter. I didn’t want to become like them.
I let him get close to my partner
My partner actually played a huge role in my father and I becoming close again. He just provided this nice buffer. He and my dad talk about uplifting, energizing things like my dad’s amazing stories from his career in Rock and Roll. They talk about business and travel. My boyfriend made time with my dad suddenly not so serious. And he helped me enjoy it again, too.
I realized it could’ve been worse
All of these years, I’d talked about (and to) my dad as if he’d abused me. But he hadn’t. And you know who would testify to that? Children who were actually abused. My dad loved me, cuddled me, played with me, educated me, and cared for me. He never hit me. He never said a cruel word to me. And here I was, speaking of him as if he’d abused me. Honestly, it was disrespectful to children who were actually abused.
I praised him for changing
I also had to give my dad credit because he did change. He doesn’t cheat on his partner, with whom he has now been for over 13 years. Sure, their relationship didn’t have the most pure of beginnings, but he is faithful now.
I silently thanked him for my strength
I didn’t thank him to his face, because it would have sounded weird, but I silently thanked him for making me strong. He didn’t mean to, but what he did made me analytical, empathetic, deeply psychological, and more. It gave me some of my favorite traits. In the fight to become well again, after what he’d done, I made myself, honestly, a pretty freaking great person I think.