What do you do when you cannot forgive your father?


I watched my father beat my mother for many years, starting during my early childhood. I never understood why he did what he did, especially since he was not intoxicated. He would constantly seek out small things to nag her and accuse her of doing. I received the same answer every time I cried out “Why?”, the answer was always “Keep your mouth shut”. When I was 14 years old, my father lost the deed to our apartment while at the casino and he then ran out on us. My mother and I had to fend for ourselves with nothing. After about 6 months, he came back. My mother accepted him back but I just could not do it. That happened 5 years ago. He now lives off the back of my mother. He does not work at all yet still has the nerve to yell at my mother. I am desperate. I know that I am supposed to forgive him but I cannot do it. I am overwhelmed with this situation.

This is a very sad situation and I am sorry to hear about your father’s actions. I know exactly what you are going through because a lived through a very similar situation during my childhood. My own father was an abusive man, both to my mother and to us children. In fact, my mother died from this abuse when I was 9 years old. My father then remarried and abandoned us. This caused me to hate my father and want revenge. I believed that I would never be able to forgive him for what he did. Every fiber of my being demonstrated the hate and pain of my father’s action and my inability to forgive, until I entered into the New Covenant with Jesus Christ, receiving God’s true and complete forgiveness.

You must understand that your father is a slave to sin, like all people who do not know God. The passions which control him caused him to lose the deed to the apartment at the casino as well as doing the other things that you have already described. It is not good that you have not communicated with him over the past 5 years. Lack of communication never solves any problem. You need to take initiative and go and speak with him so that he will understand why and how he has hurt you and maybe he will want to repent of his attitude and actions. First though, you must forgive him and allow God to give you compassion for your father or else you will not be of much use to him in leading him to repentance. In fact, if you try to talk to him without having forgiven him in your heart then the situation could get worse. You could get aggravated and he as well.

In order to be able to forgive and have compassion, you must begin to study the Word of God, seeking to understand what the New Covenant in Jesus Christ is and then enter the New Covenant. You must first come before God and ask Him for forgiveness for all of your sins. You must first understand and experience God’s forgiveness. Once you repent and experience God’s forgiveness, you will be born again and receive the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit will give you God’s love which is above our human understanding, but that love will cause you to love your father, forgive him, and have compassion on him. In fact, you will be able to forgive all who have wronged you and you will no longer harbor hatred in your heart.

Once, I was at an international conference for leaders and our teacher taught us a lesson on forgiveness. He read the following Biblical passage to us:

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times ?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii ; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18)

After reading the text, the teacher asked us how we would have responded to a person who borrowed such a large sum of money from us and then did not pay it back. Some said, “I would have taken all of his possessions”. Others said, “he would have to pay it back little by little for the rest of his life”. When it was my turn to answer, I said that I would have forgiven him and not asked him to pay back anything. Some of my colleagues in the group said that my answer was “too spiritual”, while others began to make jokes. I told them that now amount of money is equal to the life of my mother and my childhood which were destroyed by my father. I hated my father for this but on the day that I believed in Christ with all of my heart, I was forgiven by God and was given the power to forgive my father for his actions. I believe that if God made it where I was able to forgive my father then I believe that He would also give me the strength to forgive a person who owed a large sum of money and could not pay it back.

As I have written, you must first experience God’s forgiveness in order to be able to forgive your father. You may say that he must  first come to you and ask for forgiveness in order to forgive him and that is a good question. Ideally, it would happen that way, but, before he does come and ask for forgiveness, you must first forgive him in your heart so that you will have compassion on him and desire to reestablish your relationship with him. This will help and prepare you to be able to speak of the love of God with him which can change his life and give him eternal forgiveness.

I am not sure if your mother accepted him back because she was able to forgive him or if that is her weakness in this relationship. The fact that your father continues on the way that he is causes me to think that the 2nd reason is the truth. You must also speak with your mother about God’s forgiveness and together you can help your father understand his sin so that he can ask God for forgiveness and mercy in order to be saved. May the Lord help you in this endeavor.

Translation by: Erik Brewer