Friday, July 20, 2012
Author of Splashing in Puddles: How to Be a Father to Your Daughter
We’re going to make mistakes as dads.
What should we do?
We could pick any of a variety of unhealthy options:
• Deny or minimize our mistake
• Change the subject
• Blame someone else for our error
• Fall back upon unhealthy patterns of dissociation
• Become unnerved and engage in further missteps
Or we could do the right thing: apologize.
Apologizing is the right thing to do because it lays the foundation for transforming your relationship with your child. Apologizing opens the door for healing. The hurt and pain have already occurred. Any of the aforementioned unhealthy options only serves to accentuate the pain. But apologizing honors your child, validates her experience, opens the door to healing, and empowers your child to forgive you.
In their book Daddy, Do You Love Me? Aril Allison and Shelby Rawson make this astute observation, “There is no going back. But we can begin again, and I want that more than anything.” Whatever you’ve done to your child, you have hurt him. Interviewing many dads for her book Do Men Mother? Andrea Doucet quoted one dad, “Where there are wounds, they do heal. But there are always scars.”
By apologizing to your child, you insure that you help to begin the healing process. You begin to insure that you are not creating a deep wound by killing your daughter’s spirit. Conversely, your apology can ignite the fires of your daughter’s heart by reconciling both your misdeed and your relationship. Apologizing can inspire your daughter’s zest for life.
After decades of some of the worst acts of inhumanity by the South African government to its own people under the horrific policy of apartheid, white oppressors faced their black victims under the auspices of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In some of the most dramatic scenes of reconciliation in the past quarter-century, some of the white officials cried as they asked for forgiveness from their victims. In the act of forgiveness, oppressor and oppressed embraced, and in a foretaste of the second coming as described by the prophet Isaiah, the victims paid homage to their oppressors.
You have the opportunity to experience and engage in healthy parenting with your child. You have the possibility of shaping your child into living in such a way that forgiveness seems normal, healthy, and right. As humans, we will continue to mess up. We don’t have to stay in the unhealthiness of the pain and hurt. We can begin to take active steps towards restoration. By asking your child for forgiveness, you not only begin the process of healing now, but you start shaping your child into healthy practices that can last a lifetime.
After “I love you,” there is no more valuable statement than “I’m sorry.” It holds the potential to transform your relationship with your child.
The next time you mess up, would you consider saying, “I’m sorry”?
David B. Van Heemst lives in Kankakee, Illinois, with his wife, April, and their five daughters. Maggie and Ellie are ten years old, and Anni, Libby, and Jessie are four years old. They enjoy bike riding, going to the park, reading books, and playing games.