Learning to forgive the father who failed me

Shannon Tan // November 6, 2020, 2:35 pm


“Your dad was a good man, that’s why I let your mum marry him,” my maternal grandmother told me one day. “But he mixed with the wrong group of friends.”

My parents got divorced when I turned 3. My dad had custody of me until I was 8.

Despite living under the same roof, he was rarely around and the only parental figure I felt I had was my helper. She was the one who brought me to school, met my every need, and was there to watch me grow up.

As I matured, I realised that my dad was always out because of a gambling and drug addiction, which even landed him in jail at times.

Despite this, I still liked him, mainly because he would make up for his absence with gifts for me. The kind of love I was exposed to as a child was thus very materialistic, with my paternal grandparents and aunt giving me whatever I asked for.

When I entered primary school and started going back and forth between my dad’s and mum’s home, I began to see the difference in how they raised me.

My father’s side of the family would allow me to do whatever I pleased; I could boss them around and yet they would shower me with gifts. On my mother’s side, however, my maternal grandparents would often lecture me, beat me and push me to study hard in order to be one of the top students in class.

I hated the way they parented me, but when I reached upper primary, I started seeing who really was concerned about my future and well-being. Resentment towards my father for being absent and not fathering me grew in my heart.

Where was he when I needed help with my homework? Why didn’t he teach me things like how to be a good person or how to spend money wisely like a dad should?

Learning to forgive my absent father

My maternal grandma would openly air her grievances against him: “I don’t think he even bought you milk formula when you were a baby.” The way she talked about my father slowly stripped away any respect I had for him.

This man wasn’t just an absent father who took little responsibility in caring for me – I was now old enough to notice how he constantly asked his own parents for money whenever he was around, and this money would be spent on gambling. He didn’t even earn his own keep.

The last time I saw him was when I was 11 (I am 18 now). That was just before he was sent back to prison.

From then on, I never wanted to see him again, not even when he was released. I only visited my paternal grandparents during the Chinese New Year period, and this was only if he wasn’t there.

Eventually, I lost any love or care I had for him. 

“It feels better to be loving than to be right”: Redeeming the lost years with my father

However, just last December I had a revelation that I had to forgive my dad.

This happened at a student conference held by my church, but the thought had been stirring in my heart for months by then. It was clearly the Holy Spirit because this was something I would never have willingly decided to do.

Tell Dad “I forgive you”? I didn’t even want to see the man! So I kept sweeping that nudge aside. It was too scary to take the first step.

But then came the altar call after the first conference session. Our pastor suddenly wanted to pray for those who were struggling in their relationships with their fathers, and this wasn’t even the topic that had been preached!

It had to be from God – and it was for me.

It’s been about a year since that revelation, but I have yet to take that first step towards reconciliation.

I still feel terrified, maybe even more terrified than before. I couldn’t even bring myself to visit my paternal grandparents at Chinese New Year this year. 

But what I do know, is that my heart is softening. I’m opening up to the prospect of forgiveness. Because I know God would not want me to harbour anger towards my dad for the rest of my life.

Even though I have a broken family, they are still family. And being a Christian in this household means I have the responsibility to mend relationships with them because God still loves them as He loves me.

Since coming to know Christ when I was 14 and growing in my understanding of what it means to have a Heavenly Father, I’ve come to realise that God is faithful, unconditionally loving and patient.

I’ve experienced His love through my cell group and church, when He sent people to bless me when I was upset, and people who would pray with me and listen to the hurts I had. Over time, my broken heart was slowly filled by His love and grace.

I do not know when I will finally be able to meet my father and my paternal family face-to-face and say “I forgive you” out loud, but I take heart that the courage I need will not be of my own strength, but His grace and love for others.


  1. What does relating to God as a Heavenly Father mean to you? 
  2. Why is forgiveness necessary? What does the Bible say about it?
  3. Are there relationships that God might be asking you to seek reconciliation in?