Forgive Your Father: A Powerful Way Forward

by | Aug 14, 2023 | Latest Essays

The vast majority of men have (or had) a complex relationship with our fathers – to describe this in a neutral and objective framework.  If I had to guess, I’d wager that nearly 90 percent of men with whom I have had the privilege to interview, coach or discuss this topic struggle with the incredibly sticky residue that remains from their interactions with their fathers.  In short, men struggle with their own masculinity, confidence, direction and decisiveness as a result of the impact their father’s had on their development. 

While a small percentage of us had powerful and positive influences from this relationship, others had profoundly negative experiences – where physical and mental abuse was the defining aspect of that relationship.  If that was you, put simply, you did not deserve it.   End of story.  Full stop.  And, the power of the very nature of the father/son relationship may have convinced you that the abuse you endured might be your fault (that you somehow deserved it), but that feeling bears no resemblance to the truth – none whatsoever.  As a father, I know this to be true without doubt or hesitation.

For the vast majority of men, the father/son relationship has left us with the uneasy feeling that we simply were not – are not – good enough to be fully loved and accepted or capable enough to make our way in this world under our own power and judgment.  We were told as much – over and over again in a myriad of ways and in vast circumstances over many, many years.  This scar, the remnants of your relationship with your father, has become the one of the dominant filters in which you now assess your capabilities and prospects in life.  It’s time to let it go (because it doesn’t serve you in any way), and understand, perhaps for the first time, what really happened to the vast majority of men. 

When I sit down with a man to begin our coaching journey, I ask about his interactions with his father (among other things), because this is often a key element in understanding the perspective each man brings with him into our sessions (in this context).  Often, during our sessions, we will circle back to the father/son relationship.  And – spoiler alert – it isn’t unusual for men to discover their motivations in life are often heavily influenced by the impact of their fathers.  One of the most common themes that emerge is the perceived need to demonstrate “worth.”  

That is, to achieve (which can be a good thing) in order to confirm that a man is worthy of those things he does not believe he is – often due to the damage endured with the father/son relationship.  Unfortunately, men who “achieve” to beat back the deeply seated feeling that they are not worthy cannot ever achieve enough to break free from the developmental scar left from the father/son relationship.  

Achievement is not the answer to this predicament.  In fact, this “achievement” cycle also reinforces the natural tendency for men to be more transactionally oriented which, as a sidebar, isn’t optimal for relationships to flourish.  Why?  Because we begin to judge the people around us based on the success or failure of their most recent effort – confining our assessments of others to a sample size of one.   

So, we invest more and more in this achievement cycle – continuing to live life hoping more effort and more achievement will demonstrate – once and for all – that we are worthy.  Yet, living like this is akin to running on a revolving hamster wheel in the hopes that the view will change – but it won’t.  Achievement, no matter how much, simply cannot heal the emotional scars of the past.

What’s more likely – that you can change the past or change your perspective?  

In my coaching process, I often find value in discussing the concept of “Bad Code” in sessions.  To explain, think of the way you process information and make decisions as your Personal Operating System, and further, think of Bad Code as compromising your operating system with the intrusion of external forces (like a hacker penetrating a software program).  

In short, Bad Code (not that you are bad or to blame) is a result of the lived trauma.  We all have trauma, and we all are influenced by Bad Code.  In this context, the genesis of Bad Code is the result of the father/son relationship.  Our Bad Code shapes the way we process information about ourselves and the world around us – and (in some respects) guides our decision making process and our resulting prospects in life.  

Each man must become aware of his own Bad Code – and its influence on the way he lives his life.  Once aware, you will find that those words, thoughts and actions you took – that you wish you could take back – were often triggered by Bad Code (especially when it comes to our interactions with loved ones).  Notice this enough times about yourself, and observe how Bad Code triggers behavior that is outside the norm, and you’ll begin to understand the power of past trauma – and its unmistakable influence on the actions you take in the present.

Once you have a strong handle on this concept, understand that loved ones / family members often are the recipients of the result of Bad Code because of two relational dynamics:  

  1. Proximity: You and your father likely had a relationship where he had close and frequent access to you, and thus you were often the unlucky recipient of treatment that may have been driven by his own trauma and Bad Code.  Think about this.  Had you lived next door, what would have been different?
  2. Privacy: You likely were often in your father’s house or vehicle – where proximity meets privacy.  In private places, Bad Code is more likely to erupt and spill over.  Think back, most of your negative interactions with your father were in private or semi-private settings…right? 

To be clear, this isn’t an excuse, it’s an explanation.  I’m writing this for you – not your father.  As your advocate, I want you to consider these things objectively and in the light of new information to begin to form a new perspective about the negative interactions you had with your father.  

Isn’t it possible, even probable, that these negative interactions weren’t really about you (and whatever error or misstep you might have made)?  Isn’t it more likely that your father’s over-sized response to you was driven by his default frequency (think of this as a frequency to a specific quality of being) and intensity influenced by his own Bad Code?

As I explore these same concepts during sessions, men (more often than not) pause and seize on an idea that can set them free from the gravity and impact of their relationship with their fathers.  They begin to wonder what Bad Code and trauma their father must have been struggling with that would drive him to act the way he did.  And, in this moment, men come to see their fathers in a new and productive way.  

What men often discover is a new perspective that sheds light on deeply negative interactions that were triggered – not by them, but by their father’s Bad Code.  And, in this process, men can begin to see that the negativity they absorbed was not because of the mistakes they made – but because their father’s Bad Code and lived trauma was still impacting him in powerful ways.  Further, men see the powerful role that the issues of proximity and privacy played in their past interactions with their fathers.

Ideally, each man eventually finds the perspective that allows him to forgive his father, not through merit or favor, but because what each man needs for himself is to understand it is not he who needs forgiveness.  Rather, it is his father that needs forgiveness for his failure to address and manage his Bad Code (and the influence that brought into others’ lives).  In this knowledge, men can begin to rebuild their self assuredness and manage their own Bad Code – using their father/son relationship as a cautionary reminder that Bad Code can corrupt, even ruin, relationships.

In short, many men believe the lie that they are not worthy of love or capable of success.  But, nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth is…each man is uniquely made and uniquely suited to live out a unique purpose (and have a sense of deep satisfaction in living out that process).  

Let’s start focusing on that, because you are much more than you have believed or been told.  Of this, I am completely sure.

For more on discovering and managing Bad Code, go to – use the slider on the right hand side of the page that reads “Get on the Waiting List” and select Tip of the Spear, Hunting Bad Code and the The Red Pill (Intentional Life Design).  These courses deal specifically with the subject matter contained in this essay.

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