Do you remember the song “Every Breath You Take” by The Police? It reminds me of my father. He would routinely look me in the eye and say in a monotone voice, “Every move you make, every breath you take, I’ll be watching you, Seku.” My father has always been strict, stoic, and aloof, but he’s also someone I can depend on. I’ve worked with countless clients and learned that family dynamics can be wonderful, but they’re often messy, complex, and sometimes emotionally unhealthy.
Our societal views on parent and adult-child relationships are changing. More adult children are deciding to limit or terminate communication with their parents. Family estrangement is on the rise, and at first glance, it may be viewed as a negative trend. But cutting off a parent who is emotionally abusive or has values that differ vastly from ours can empower our physical and mental health.
Holidays can be tricky for those who are not in contact with their fathers – either by choice or not. Negative feelings may take hold, and people become unsure how to manage them. I have worked with countless clients who learn to overcome unhealthy relationships to understand themselves and their needs better. I hope my advice can help you healthily reclaim this Father’s Day.
Above All, Affirm Your Feelings
If a friend was abusive, refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing, ignores boundaries, doesn’t align with your values, and hurts your mental health, you would cut them off, right? Unhealthy relationships are unhealthy, no matter who they are with. For some people, ending a parental relationship is the correct answer. This can be particularly true for parents raising children who want to set an excellent example of healthy family dynamics.
At the root of unhealthy relationships with others is the relationship with oneself. This is an opportunity to self-reflect and gain a deeper understanding of who you are. An excellent exercise to process your emotions is to ask yourself, “What am I feeling? Now, what am I feeling under that? What am I feeling under all of it?” It’s good to identify how you feel, figure out what triggers are causing the feeling, and question whether you’re making negative judgments about it. The sooner you can slowly (not rip!) the bandage off, the better you’ll be able to clarify your emotions.
“Remember that fatherhood is not a person but a set of ideals.”
Black families are at an increased risk of intergenerational trauma due to historical events. Perhaps disregarding how we feel is a way to protect ourselves, but if left unchecked, it leaves its mark on our children and their children too. Seeking professional help from a psychologist or mindset coach is a great way to learn healthy coping mechanisms and break abusive patterns.
Celebrate Father’s Day In A Healthy Manner
We all have masculine and feminine sides. Masculine energy is proactive, responsible, organized, and compassionate. Those qualities don’t necessarily mean being male – you can still celebrate people in your life who have those qualities. Fatherhood is flexible. You should ask yourself: who are the surrogate fathers in my life?
It could be a trusted boss, close friend, uncle, or aunt. You may be surprised to find that people in your life fill this “masculine” role quite well.
And although being estranged from a parent can feel lonely, you’re not alone. Families are changing, and the “traditional” nuclear family is not the norm anymore, single-parent households, same-sex parents, and even platonic parents are increasing. Research suggests that strong friendships are the most significant indicator of life expectancy and happiness.
Remember that fatherhood is not a person but a set of ideals. Even though I grew up in a “traditional” household, my mother put different men in my life who displayed attributes my father didn’t have (i.e., soft skills). Those other figures in my life closed that gap.
Deal With Feelings Of Guilt And Shame
If you’re estranged from your father, you may have feelings of guilt, anxiety, and shame. These feelings can go into overdrive during the holidays. You may ask yourself, “Was cutting him out of my life a good thing? What if my father dies and I don’t know about it? Will I have regrets?” Or perhaps your father was never in the picture. Father’s Day can bring childhood traumas you’ve been carrying to the surface.
When you have children of your own, you may feel even more guilt for not giving them a “traditional” grandparent and grandchild relationship. These feelings are normal, but they are not always rational. If not addressed, feelings of guilt can be detrimental to your health, causing sleep problems and depression.
Writing a letter or text message to your estranged father can relieve some negative feelings. You can include anything you’ve always wanted to say or reiterate frustrations you’ve said in the past. You’re not going to mail the letter or send the text, but it’s an opportunity to affirm your feelings. Emotions carry a substantial energetic weight – they need somewhere to go, or they’ll get trapped in your body, which can lead to poor physical, mental and vibrant health.
By embracing your truth and accepting your boundaries, you’re living a life you can be proud of. Fatherhood is not a one-size-fits-all mold. Embrace the people in your life who support you, and celebrate the kind of father or mother you are becoming.
Dr. Seku Gathers
The founder of ConnectMD, Dr. Seku Gathers is a concierge physician, podcaster, teacher on Insight Timer, and a mindset coach. Having dedicated his life to refining healing techniques to serve humanity, he provides a living example of how embracing inner truth unleashes one’s full potential, both professionally and personally.