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Why Did My Dad Leave Me?

By Carol Cuppy
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Dad Leaving His Family
While you may never know the reason that your father left you, there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of: You have a Heavenly Father who loves you and will never leave you or forsake you.

Doesn’t My Dad Love Me?

If your dad is no longer a presence in your life, you are undoubtedly asking these questions: Why did my dad leave me? Doesn’t my dad love me? No matter the reason that your dad left you and your family, the pain you feel is raw and real. The void that his absence left in your life seems too deep and wide to ever be filled. Yet you still wonder what made him choose to walk out of your life.

How can you ever move on from this, and hope to heal from such a loss? Let’s start by taking a look at some of the reasons that dads might choose to leave and the importance of their role in a child’s life.

Reasons Dads Leave

There are no clear cut answers for why some dads choose to leave their families. Each circumstance is different, and the reasons dads leave are numerous. But most fathers who choose to leave their families do not leave out of a desire to hurt their kids. Instead, fathers may leave out of a misguided perspective of wanting to protect their children from themselves.

Whatever the reason that your father had for leaving, know this: There is nothing that you did to cause your father to leave. There is nothing that you could have done to make him love you more, or anything that you did to make him love you less. You are not responsible for your father’s actions.

Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No human father is perfect. Many fathers harbor deep-rooted fears that can cause them to make poor decisions where their families are involved. The following are some general reasons that dads choose to leave their families.

Past Harm and Hurt

Many fathers who choose to leave their families have experienced significant harm or hurt in their own lives. A father might have grown up without a father himself. If his dad left, then he knew all too well the hurt and void left behind from that loss. He may not have had another man in his life to teach him how to be a good father. Perhaps he experienced abuse or trauma in his childhood and is afraid that he would hurt you in the same way. These circumstances may have played a role in the fear your father felt when faced with the challenges of parenting.

Overwhelming Fear

Every parent faces fear when they discover they’re about to have a child. However, for some fathers, the fear can be crushing. Fear itself is often complex and unpredictable. It can cause people to do things they think they would never do. Fear can distort a person’s thinking so that they believe they are taking the right actions.

Fathers who struggle with anger or who have been abused in their past might be terrified that they’ll abuse or traumatize their child in the same manner. They might be thinking, “I’ll just mess up my kid the same way my dad messed me up.” Fathers might be afraid of letting their kids down; that there’s nothing they can do to live up to the world’s expectations. Fear of failure or harm can drive fathers to leave out of a misguided sense of protecting their child.

Strained Relationships

Many marriages end each year in divorce. Some studies give a staggering estimate that half of all marriages will end in divorce. While the number of actual divorces is constantly in flux, one thing is sure: divorce has a tremendous impact on the kids. Children of parents who are not married can also be significantly impacted if their parents decide to end the relationship.

Sometimes these marriages and relationships end amicably, but all too often hostilities arise. A father may leave his child’s life in an attempt to reduce tensions in the home. In some cases, reports of actual or perceived instances of abuse or addiction occur and affect the outcome of legal custody rulings. A custody dispute may end in a way that limits or ends a father’s contact. The bottom line is that strained relationships between parents and limited skills or desire in either party to reconcile have costs and consequences to children.

Safety

There are times when a father leaves their child’s life for safety reasons. If the father has a mental illness, for example, he may not be able to properly care for the child. Or, when struggling with symptoms, may cause unintentional harm to the child. In some cases, fathers with mental illness are still present in their child’s life but may be emotionally unavailable.

If a father is struggling with addictions, it can create an unsafe environment for their children. Fathers may choose to leave to protect their children from their actions. The court may also order separation from his family if the addictions are severe. The absence of the father while he struggles with addictions can be critical to the safety of the children in the family, but it still leaves a deep hurt and void.

Selfishness

Sometimes dads choose their wants over the needs of their kids. They might not have wanted children at that point in their life, or were unprepared for an unexpected pregnancy. Sometimes dads will choose drugs or alcohol over their families. Dads may choose to leave their wife and kids for another relationship. Or they may leave to pursue their own dreams and desires, rather than pouring out their love for their families.

Whatever the reason a dad leaves, it creates scars on the children he leaves behind. Absent fathers were not part of God’s original plan for the family. Instead, God intended for dads to have a vital role in the lives of their children. He created a space in every child’s heart that can only be filled by his or her dad. But how does a father’s presence or absence impact a child’s life? Here are some reasons why kids need their dads to be present.

Why Kids Need Their Dads

A father’s presence in a son or daughter’s life is a contributing factor to their sense of worth and to their growth as a person. Kids can see this modeled by other individuals — such as substitute family members or role models — but the ideal and first source is from their dad. The impact of a father may be different in a son’s life than in a daughter’s life, but the influence is equally as important. Dads fill a space in each child’s heart that a mother just can’t fill — no matter how wonderful she is as a parent. Here are some ways that a father’s presence impacts the life of his son or daughter.

Fathers and Sons

Sons need a father in their life to teach them how to go from being a boy to a man in training. They need godly men who can demonstrate integrity, character, and honor. Having a father in their life will teach them resilience and will train them to be strong men and fathers in the future. Only another man can teach a son how to become a man. Mothers cannot teach this to her sons in the same manner, man-to-man, as a father can.

Fathers and Daughters

Daughters also need their dads to be present in their lives. They need a father to demonstrate what a good and godly man looks like. She can potentially see this demonstrated by others, but the ideal source is from dad. Observing these traits will help her to choose a husband that exhibits those traits. If she doesn’t have this good example, she is more likely to settle for damaged men who will not treat her as she deserves. Daughters need fathers to show them that they are loved, cherished, heard, and are valuable. They need their father’s affirmation. While a father may not be a man of many words, when he does speak, daughters take his words to heart.

The Effects of Absent Fathers on Kids

A father’s absence creates a void in a child’s life. Fortunately, there are many great ways God provides substitute role models and care to children who do not have a father present in their lives. Being without a biological father does not “doom” anyone, yourself included, to a life of struggle. However, it is true that statistically, children are more likely to struggle with behavioral problems as they try to understand the reasons why dad left. They may seek approval and attention in dramatic ways. And the heavy burden of anger and hurt may impact them as they develop or even into their adult years.

Perhaps you were one of these kids. You struggled with the absence of your father and to this day continue to feel burdened by the hurt and anger that was caused when he left. How has that heavy burden impacted you after all these years? Let’s take a look at some of the things that anger and hurt can do if we continue to carry it.

A Boat Anchor Named Anger

Thinking about your father leaving probably causes a heavy feeling in your chest; a sinking feeling. It’s not uncommon to feel angry and hurt when you think of the void that his absence has caused in your life. That would be a normal and understandable response. Imagine that anger and hurt as a boat anchor. The heaviness of that burden is what you carry around with you each and every day. It’s a difficult burden to bear and an exhausting one.

Anger Drains Our Bodies

If you’ve ever carried a heavy backpack on a long hike, you’ll know what it’s like to be depleted at the end of the day. Your body is just tired. Muscles ache, joints throb, and you just want to sit and take a load off. Carrying the heavy weight of anger and hurt impacts our bodies in a similar way. Anger can manifest as extreme stress, ulcers, digestive issues, headaches, repeated illness, or even contribute to mental illness. It can cause mental and emotional exhaustion and can hinder how we approach challenges and achieve successes in our own lives. It can have a negative impact on how we think about ourselves and how we approach our relationships with others.

Anger Sinks Our Relationships

Holding on to the heavy anchor not only hurts and hinders us, but it can sink our relationships. Anger can be especially damaging to our relationship with God.

If we harbor traits that are contrary to God’s character — such as anger, hate, or holding grudges for past hurts — we place a wedge between ourselves and God. If we are to have a good relationship with God, we must let go of those attitudes.

Every relationship in our lives flows down from the relationship that we have with God. If we aren’t in a good relationship with God, our relationships with others cannot be healthy. It’s like watering a tree. If the roots of the tree aren’t receiving water, all the branches and leaves will wilt. Without the Living Water that God provides, our relationships will produce wilted fruit.

The way we react to the world around us depends on what we are storing in our hearts. If we store hate and anger in our hearts, it will percolate to the surface and will manifest in how we interact with others. If we carry the burden of anger in our hearts, it will appear in the things we speak and how we act (Luke 6:45). This can be so damaging to many areas of our lives and will prevent us from growing and moving forward.

Toss That Anchor Overboard and Cut The Chain

I’m sure you want to get rid of that heavy boat anchor that you’ve been carrying around. The anger that you’ve been carrying does nothing to change your dad’s actions. It can’t change the past. All that burden is doing is hurting you instead. It’s impossible to carry it with you and have complete freedom in your life. If you continue to cling to it, it will always weigh you down. So what can you do to toss that anchor overboard, cut the chain, and sail forward?

Embrace the messiness of parenting and find home, faith and family with author and Focus on the Family President Jim Daly.

The Journey of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an important step in letting go of that heavy anchor. But it’s not cheap, quick, or easy. Forgiveness is not something that happens overnight. It takes time and can be a long process. You may not be ready to forgive your father right now for his absence. At some point, you’ll want to start taking steps in that direction. You will want to get to a place where you can begin to address that topic. When you are ready, you may want to talk to a trusted spiritual advisor or counselor to walk with you through the steps of forgiveness.

Steps In The Right Direction

First, engage with God. Talk to Him about your father, his absence, and how it left you reeling. You don’t have to hold anything back. God knows you better than you know yourself, so lay it all down on the table. Talk about this with Him consistently and ask Him for help. He will soften your heart and will enable you to forgive your dad for leaving. We can’t do it of our own strength. But if we allow Jesus to carry the burden, He will.

Next, consider talking with a counselor about your father. Counselors have amazing insight and can encourage and help guide you on your journey to healing and forgiveness. Remember that seeking the wisdom of a counselor is not a weakness; it can be life giving.

Another step that many people find helpful is to write a letter to their dad. This isn’t a letter that you’ll be dropping in the mail, so feel free to lay all your thoughts and hurts down on the page. Often people feel better having it off their chest.

If you know your father and he is a safe individual to approach emotionally or physically, you might also choose to do something good for him. If not in person, at least in prayer and in your heart. Human nature wants to repay hurt for hurt. It takes real courage and grace to repay hurt with kindness. Of course, any specific contact you make may require special discernment based on the history and relationship patterns. Always seek wise counsel, and if merited, even consider professional counseling before making major plans or decisions.

The Bible instructs us to forgive others, just as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). Showing forgiveness and grace to a father who hurt you might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But if you are intentional in trying to forgive your dad, God will do an amazing work in your heart and can help you to break the cycle of absent fathers in your own life and in the lives of others.

Breaking the Cycle

For centuries, kids have been asking “why did my dad leave me?” However, the number of fathers who have left their kids has seen an increase in recent decades. How can we stop this trend and the cycle of devastation it leaves in its wake?

Choose To Break The Cycle In Your Family

If your own father has left you, then you know that repeating that pattern is not the best choice. Without intentionality, some fatherless children may tend to repeat the same pattern later in life. This does not have to be anyone’s story. You can use your life story as a springboard to another path. You can make the choice for the cycle of absent fathers to end with you.

What do you do once you’ve made this choice? Start by making a commitment to love and be present with your kids. You don’t have to be perfect. Your kids don’t need your perfection, they need your presence. They need you to be a part of their lives. Next, seek out another godly man in your life to be a mentor to you. Reach out to someone who can keep you accountable, encourage you, and walk with you along your journey of being a dad. Over time, he can teach you what it means to be a dad.

Be sure to cling to God for guidance and help. Read the Word, spend time in prayer, and find a men’s discipleship group through the church if you can. The journey won’t always be easy, but God will honor it. He will teach you and bless you in amazing ways. He will be the Heavenly Father that you look to for hope and help if only you’ll let Him.

Make an Impact in Another Child’s Life

For men who want to make an impact in a fatherless child’s life, you don’t have to stand idly by. You don’t have to be a father to invest in kids. Whether you are a grandparent, foster parent, or friend, you can be a wonderful mentor to kids who don’t have a father. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be a man who loves Jesus and has the courage to step up and help fill that void.

Make a commitment to them to be present. Something as simple as showing up for a baseball game or taking them fishing can make an impact. Talking through the challenges and questions that these kids have about life can encourage them and help them grow as people, and in their walks with Christ. Mentoring a child and showing that you are present can be a game changer for them.

Mentor A Dad

You can also step up and help mentor another dad. There are many men out there who have not had a father in their lives to teach them what it means to be a dad. This is your opportunity to step in and show them. Make a commitment to consistently be present, talk through it, and walk life with them. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. God can take your willingness and make an impact for generations to come.

You can mentor another dad one-on-one or through a men’s discipleship group in your church. If a group like this doesn’t exist, why not start one? It can be a chance for you to bond in deeper ways, lift each other up in prayer, and support each other through the challenges of fatherhood and encourage each other in your walk with God.

God is Not Like Your Father

We tend to see our Heavenly Father through the lens of our experience with our earthly fathers. We often project our dad’s character and traits onto God and imagine that He behaves in the same manner. However, God is perfect, whereas we are all imperfect. He is reliable, He is love, and He will never leave you. God knew your name and who you would become before you were even born (Psalm 139). And He loved you so much that He sent His only son — Jesus — to die on a cross to save you. All you have to do is accept His gift of salvation — of freedom in Christ.

If you have never accepted Jesus into your life and want to accept His love, forgiveness, peace, and healing, you can pray something like this:

Heavenly Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus and lay my life before you. I’ve pushed you away for too long and have rejected your love and peace in my life until now. Thank you for your gift of salvation and I choose to receive it today. I believe you sent your Son to die on the cross for my sins, and that He rose again. I believe that my sins are forgiven and that you have given me the gift of eternal life through Jesus. Your words are true and I know that you love me beyond measure.

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Show me your love and your peace. Help me to forgive those who have hurt me as you have forgiven me for my sins. Help me to show them your love as you have shown it to me. Amen.

Now that you have made the decision to accept Christ, where do you go from here? Coming Home is an excellent resource on how to know God in a deeper way. Find a local church, if you don’t already have a church home. Become a part of a Bible study or discipleship group there and find a mentor who can help guide you on your walk with Christ.

Final Thoughts

You may never know the answer to the question, “Why did my dad leave me?” However, there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of: You have a Heavenly Father who loves you and knows you. God has never left you or forsaken you (Deuteronomy 31:6). If you let Him, God can fill the void and heal the hurt that your father’s absence has created. There is nothing He cannot restore.

If you would like to have a one-time consult with a licensed or pastoral counselor at Focus on the Family or you would like receive a referral for ongoing professional counseling in your area, we invite you to reach out to us at Focus on the Family through our free Counseling Consultation and Referral Service at 1-855-771-HELP.

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 

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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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About the Author

Carol Cuppy
Carol Cuppy

Carol Cuppy is a content producer for Focus on the Family.

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