Transcending The Father Wound

June is for fathers.

Dad and daughter rabbit fly and airplane - Transcending The Father Wound

When I was a child, my father took my sisters and me model airplane flying. Youngest and smallest, I was terrified of crashing them, their whining motors tugging at my grip. My father guided me, holding my hand around the control handle until I had the feel of it and then stood back ever ready to assist.

This memory is an idealized vision of fathering – Dad at my back teaching new and exciting skills!

Life, unfortunately, is much more complicated than this — and so is fathering.

Behind this ideal vision is another story — I never mastered my fear of flying. I never tried to loop the plane. I always played safe. Was I too young? Did my father push me too hard? Did he telescope his own fears? Who knows? How children respond to their father’s efforts at fathering depends on many variables.

The primary role of a father is PROTECTOR/PROVIDER.

First and foremost, fathers are supposed to keep their families safe from harm and insure their material well-being. That’s their job. It’s also a huge responsibility.

In addition, a good father ideally conveys skills to his children that insure their survival when he no longer can.

So many possibilities can undermine these goals.

If the father has a difficult time making a living or can’t stand up for himself, he will not be able to pass on very effective skills. If he is feeling frustrated and angry, he may become violent and abusive, leaving his family feeling unsafe, unprotected and unsupported.

Life happens! Even when a father is doing a good job, his efforts may be undermined by unexpected absences, crushing work demands, economic reversals, marital discords and even family break-ups.

When I was two, my father, who was in military service at the time, was suddenly called away. It could not have been more than a few months and yet it had a significant impact on my life. Two factors conspired to make this so — I was exceptionally bonded to my father and I was at the age when a child begins to develop separateness and independence. Losing my father compromised my trust in the safety of life and his dependability. Even though my father returned to his role as protector/provider, I struggled for many years with fear of abandonment.

If a relatively minor incident like that can have such a decided impact, how much more disturbing are the bigger catastrophes that children encounter?

Actually, it is difficult to predict the outcome because many variables come into play. Some children might feel powerless and at the mercy of circumstances like me, while others may become highly motivated to succeed. Some may model themselves after their fathers who have abandoned them; others may become determined to be the opposite.

I’ve known women with ineffectual, even abusive fathers who became quite successful in the world and others who struggle to pay the rent. That is not to say the father’s behavior is irrelevant, only that its effect is unpredictable,

Even when a father is a good protector/provider and circumstances have been relatively benign, teaching offspring successful skills can be challenging.

Push children too hard and their spirit may be crushed. Push too softly and they never move beyond what is safe, to excel.

A very accomplished father will inspire one of his children and leave another feeling wholly inadequate to life’s demands.

Sometimes a father’s desire for his children to excel may be undermined by his own insecurity, a need to win, to be top dog or the hero.

His children may be discouraged by his competitive spirit, or, recognizing his vulnerability, rein in their own achievements so as not to surpass him.

Shortly after achieving my Ph.D. in Sociology, I asked my father what he thought of my accomplishment. He sighed, shook his head and shared the lament of his own failure to achieve a BA. It was honest and vulnerable. However, coming on the heels of a rude comment from my boss about using the Dr. title, it had more force. I hid my Ph.D. for years, choosing a spiritual path and sidelining any career.

Sexuality is another area of difficulty for fathers.

Father’s model to their sons how to be with women and by their responses teach daughters how to relate to men. Everything they do and say has an impact.

Fathers are supposed to protect their daughters from predatory men as part of keeping them safe. Overprotection may lead to a daughter’s rebellion; laxity may result in tragedy. It’s not easy to get the balance right.

Sometimes, and more often than we like to admit, the father is the predator himself. This will not only affect a daughter’s feeling of safety it will tarnish her relationships with other men.

My father once told me that when my sisters and I reached puberty, he withdrew from us, fearful of his sexual impulses. Unfortunately for him, this only made us work hard to attract his attention. My father was a man of impeccable integrity, so his revelation surprised me. If my father could feel this way, how was it for other men?

I have considered this. What would it be like to be surrounded by youthful versions of your spouse—more adoring, more trusting, more amenable, and absent the hurtful patterns that often develop between long-term couples. Looking at the rates of incest and sexual abuse in this culture, it would seem that the temptation is considerable. This does not mean that we should excuse those who succumb, only to recognize that there is room for compassion as well as vigilance.

It is hard for fathers to get it right, to be good fathers. Probably impossible!

They are imperfect human beings whose actions and behaviors reflect the history, culture and circumstances of their own lives—their own wounds, disappointments, and conditioning.

At some point, if we are to enjoy life and be able to achieve our full potential, we must let go of the expectation of a perfect dad and the resentments that failure inspires. Blaming them for who we are, for our inadequacies, difficulties, and life troubles, ultimately does not serve us. It keeps us stuck in victimhood, unable to move and unable change. We must forgive our fathers and release their mistakes and limitations, not for them, but for us.

Holding on to our wounds only holds us back.

A practice I find particularly powerful for forgiveness and releasing blame is to change the father stories. That is, take the victim-poor-me story and change it into something empowering.

Let me illustrate by reframing the stories I’ve already shared:

  • Although I never conquered my fear of flying model airplanes, this activity with my father enabled me to move out of my comfort zone and try something new. The courage to act in spite of fears, to try something new is fundamental to achieving one’s dreams.
  • My father’s temporary abandonment taught me self-reliance. This makes it easier for me to adapt to this ever-changing life and less disappointed when things don’t go my way. It also gives me deep understanding of other women struggling with abandonment.
  • My father’s dream of achieving his college degree never diminished even after many career accomplishment without it – Major in the US Army, instructor at RCA Institute, seminar leader teaching to top experts in the electronics industry. This valuing of higher education was an inspiration to my own academic achievements. He also showed me what is possible regardless of your certifications. If you dream it, you can do it.

In celebration of Father’s Day, I invite you to reflect on your own father stories. Identify the victim stories and see if you can turn them around. Look for a way of seeing them thay leaves you feeling empowered.

Some stories may still have an emotional charge. You must release the emotions before attempting to rewrite your stories.

Once the old stories have been revised and victimhood excised, you can begin to create a new improved father withinan internal voice that encourages you to step out of your comfort zone and take risks, sends you love when you fail, prods you to keep trying when you want to give up and celebrates your success.

To fathers!



WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief, Loss and Death Expert Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps professional women struggling with grief and loss to have peace-of-mind, closure and a life worth living. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at


  1. Thank you Michelle for sharing your story of your father and transforming the imperfections of a father who did the best he could to be an inspiration to you and transform the story……to an empowering place and way to be in the world.

    • Michelle Peticolas says:

      Thank you for sharing your response to my post. May it inspire others in their own journey.

  2. ildiko h says:

    Thank you. Deeply touched my heart and invited me to take the next step on my path.

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