On Fathers, Love, and Being Real

God has interesting timing. Friday night, a friend of mine talked to me about needing to mentally and emotionally deal with being abandoned by her father. And Saturday morning, I walked into the Josh McDowell Conference at work and listened to him talk about fathers.

Dr. McDowell said that one’s relationship with one’s father is the single most important relationship of their life. He gave sobering statistics about how the majority of convicts, mentally ill people, and people with chronic health problems are people who didn’t have fathers or healthy relationships with their fathers when they were growing up.

Dr. McDowell told a story about Michael Jackson. How a few years before his death, he was invited to give a graduation speech at a prominent university. As he was speaking, he broke down and said, “All I wanted was for my father to say he loved me no matter what and that he was proud of me no matter what. But he never did. When I was five years old, he told me that he was manager, not my father, and to never forget that. And I never forgot it.”

Above all, our fathers teach us about love and intimacy. When we don’t get unconditional love, acceptance, affection, and intimacy from the very ones who are supposed to love us the most, it wounds us more deeply than nearly another other wound we could receive.

Dr. McDowell says, “Intimacy is the capacity to be real.” And that’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. My father is a perfectionist. Demanding. Particular. And I’ve always felt that I had to live my life in a way that would please him. At times it has suffocated and paralyzed me and made me afraid to be anything less than completely perfect. It has made me feel that I have to earn love and that if I’m not the smartest, wittiest, most charming, and THE BEST, that I couldn’t possibly be loved.

On Saturday, I sat in the back of the auditorium and wept. Not just for me, but for the girlfriend I talked to on Friday night whose father abandoned her, and for all the people I’ve ever known who haven’t felt loved or been loved by their fathers.

This weekend, Dr. McDowell asked who knew what love really meant and nobody could answer him except me, but in my need to hide, I refused to raise my hand.

“To love is to nourish and cherish. To provide and protect.”

When I needed to be protected most, I wasn’t. Not being protected over and over again in my life has made me feel unloved and unworthy of being loved. I know this isn’t true, but it’s truly how I’ve felt. And I cry for the others I know who have felt and do now feel the same way.

This is not “hate on my parents” day. This is me being real because I need to be. And if there are others who need to be, too, I’m giving them the gift of going second. I’ll go first.

I don’t promise to have all of the answers. If I had all of the answers, I wouldn’t have been weeping in the back row on Saturday morning. I do realize that God’s been giving me little bits of the answer all along. And one of those answers came last week with what He told me about intentionality. I know I’ve been wounded and now, I get to choose what to do about it. I get to choose whether to remain a victim or whether to admit it, move on, and heal. Some days, the choice will be harder than others. Today, I choose to admit that I’ve been hurt, but to allow forgiveness to soften my heart. And to allow God to flow into my life and change me.  To acknowledge the truth and let it slowly set me free.

About Sarah Salter


  1. Thank you for sharing this. For giving a voice to those of us who have had to deal with the pain, loss and confusion of being abandoned or unloved by their fathers. Having always assumed I was “ok” with my relationship – or complete lack thereof – with my father, now I have to face that I may not have been or am now. Now that he’s gone, I have no choice by to confront my true feelings, whatever they may be, and not allow the hurts of being a “victim” to infiltrate my intimate relationship with my significant other. As my journey down this road begins, I am both anxious and very nervous to find out just exactly how I feel about my father and the fact that we never had a relationship. I could delve into some specifics, but that requires a blog of its own. Let’s just say, whatever it is, I am now ready to face, accept and forgive. That is the best journey of all.

  2. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing this post. There are a lot of kids, young and old, who need to read these words and consider how they will respond to the void of relationships with parents. Tough words to write and read, but ever so necessary! love & hugs to you!

  3. It is so hard to be totally transparent–especially when it comes to our parents. Love you, girl!

  4. I know I had a wonderful father. He loved me for who I was. He came along side me to help me succeed. He took joy in my accomplishments. He knew how to laugh, even at himself. I wish he was with me now. I wish he had had the kind of father that I had. I wish he’d been told as a child how amazing and wonderful he was, so as an adult he would have known his value.

    Love you so!

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