Bad Father

December 03 2017 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: Usually fathers are a blessing in the home. Besides being the ones who make ends meet, they provide emotional security and tend to be the stabilizing influence in families, or at least they should be.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same of my father. He was a violent alcoholic who physically and verbally abused my mother and ourselves: my sister and two brothers.

Peace only came to our home when he finally left, and when he was found dead five years later, I have no guilt in confessing that we all breathed a sigh of relief.

I have been so terribly influenced by this negative role model that even now, when I pray or go to Mass, I have great difficulty in worshipping God as ‘the Father’. I find it much easier to pray to Our Lady, the saints or even to the Holy Spirit. Also, I can only relate to an effeminate image of Jesus Christ. Should I be worried about this? Is my spiritual life in jeopardy?


First of all, I want to thank you for your faithfulness despite the challenges you have faced because of the poor witness of your own, earthly father. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is working mightily in your life and, whatever struggles you may have with him, God the Father is unquestioningly reaching out to you with his love through every possible means. I want to encourage you to keep up your prayer life in whatever way you are capable of. God loves you so much, and I can promise that he will always bless whatever ways you find you are capable of reaching out to him. Let your prayer life evolve naturally, through your continued fidelity and God’s grace, and trust that, step-by-step, God is leading you, the entire time, into deeper communion with him.

That said, I also believe that God wants to heal your ‘father wound’. No doubt it will take much grace on God’s part and consistent, faithful effort on your part. But if you are willing to open your heart over time, I am confident that God the Father wants to calm your fears and fill every part of your aching heart with his abundant love. To that end, here are some things you might begin to do to cooperate more effectively with God’s love and grace.

Ask for help: You say that you have a strong devotion to Our Lady. How Wonderful! Ask her help to get to know the Father as she knows him – as her beloved caretaker. Your own father was a terror, but scripture reveals that the Heavenly Father watched over Mary constantly. Reassuring her when she was scared. Protecting her from danger. Giving her good, loving parents in Joachim and Ann, and a good family to support her with Elizabeth and Zachariah. He gave her Joseph to love and protect her. He gave her a safe place to give birth to her son. He kept her safe when Herod threatened her family. Sometimes, when you are sitting in the lap of your Blessed Mother, ask her to help you know the Father as she does.

Confess your fear: It is okay to tell God that you are afraid of him. Perhaps your own father could not tolerate this kind of honesty from you, but God can. Tell him that you are afraid of him, that you struggle to trust him. If you are angry that he didn’t protect you from your father, tell him. If you struggle to believe he is real at all, tell him. Whatever it is you are feeling about God the Father, give yourself permission to say it out loud to him (while you imagine sitting in the Blessed Mother’s lap if you like). Concentrate on the fact that even though you are saying these things to God, that God still loves you and, rather than pushing him away, he is drawing closer to you for having said them. God loves you, and he will wait as long as it takes for you to let him in. He will always respect whatever boundaries you need to put up to feel safe. But if you are honest with him, you will find that his peace will begin to fill those walled-off parts of your heart much more efficiently.

Seek assistance: If you have not yet done so, I strongly encourage you to seek professional psychological help to deal with the emotional and relational wounds caused by your father’s inexcusable behavior toward you. You will find that as you heal and become stronger emotionally, you will be more open to having authentic experiences with the love of God the Father as well.

In short, please be confident in God’s love for you, and know that in his time, he will lead you into a deeper relationship with him.

Updated on December 03 2017