Do I Have to Forgive My Dad for Leaving?


My dad abandoned our family when I was in elementary school. A week after my birthday, actually. At 8 years old, I was man of the house.

My mom was already bringing home all the cash, since my dad never worked. Money-wise, our family’s situation didn’t change. But when my dad left, there was no more babysitter. I had to step up and be the parent for my own brothers, microwaving their dinners, teaching them to tie their shoes, and so on. This was back when kids could still play outside without the neighbors calling child services.

At the time, I figured my dad had rejected us. I got a whole inferiority complex about it in my teens. I looked for role models in all the wrong places. Therapy helped me get my act together, but it didn’t make the hurt go away.

Later, my mom told me my dad was an alcoholic. He didn’t abandon us for another family. He was just getting drunk in a bar somewhere. Instead of hating myself, I started hating him. I mean, it was bad enough to choose another kid over me, but to leave me for booze? It didn’t make sense.

I’ve worked hard to move on. I have my own children now, and I raise them as best I can. But a month ago, guess what happened? The prodigal father returned. He said he’s gotten sober and he wants to be a father again. He wants to meet his grandchildren.

My little brothers forgave him instantly. They were toddlers when he left, so his absence didn’t hurt them as much. They pity my dad for having an addiction. Now they’re pressuring me to invite him to my daughter’s baptism.

I told my brothers that I refuse to let that man back into my life. If they want to spend time with him, that is their business. But I spent my whole life learning to get along without my dad. I see no reason to restart a relationship that only brought me pain.

Do I have to forgive my dad? I feel like I’m chained to this person who almost ruined my life. Am I a bad person if I want to leave my deadbeat dad in the past? —The Abandoned Son

Dear Abandoned,

You are the only one who can decide what relationship, if any, you want to have with your dad. If you choose not to engage with him, that does not make you a bad person. Simply being related by blood does not require us to sustain a relationship, particularly if that relationship feels hurtful or harmful.

I would encourage you, however, to work on forgiveness. Not for your dad’s sake, or so you can build a relationship with him, but for your sake. Holding on to pain, anger, and resentment winds up being toxic. It casts a shadow over our lives and our relationships in sometimes significant ways.

Holding on to pain, anger, and resentment winds up being toxic. It casts a shadow over our lives and our relationships in sometimes significant ways.

Your father was not able to be there for you when you were growing up. That was painful and confusing. His limitations prevented him from being the dad you wanted or needed. Nothing he does now will change that. You can, however, change your understanding of your experience if you choose to. Your dad’s addiction prevented him from showing up for his family. It must have been a powerful force for him to miss out on so much.

It might help you to find other grown children of people with alcoholism to share your feelings and experiences with. They may be able to share their stories and their struggles in ways that help you clarify your own. There are usually groups and meetings you can attend to meet others who might have similar stories to tell. I also encourage you to reconnect with a therapist to work through how you want to handle the family pressure you are feeling to invite someone who hurt you back into your life.

It is possible to have compassion for your father and to recognize his struggles and limitations without choosing to allow him into your life. Whatever you decide, leading with anger or resentment may cause you more pain and regret. If you are able to release yourself from that hurt, you may be more likely to find peace with your choices.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Southgeorgiaboy

    January 13th, 2019 at 8:49 PM

    My dad left when I was 5. All I have to remember him by is the few memories I have. A few years ago he wrote me from prison wanting to reconnect. I worked back wanting answers about why he left and all he would write back was lies or atleast what I’ve been told was lies. Now he has nothing to do with me again. There are times that I can hear a song or see peers with their farthers and it throws me into a depressed state to where I wanna lock myself in my room and cry. What can I do to help me get over this?

  • Brian

    December 14th, 2019 at 11:58 PM

    I have been divorced for 10 years. She divorced me when my twins were only 2. Through the years I saw them like many men- every other weekend and Wednesday. Now that they reached 11, the mother told them they don’t have to sleep over anymore. I didn’t want to force them to sleep over. So I only see them Wednesday and a few hours on Saturday or maybe Sunday depending on their schedule. Now I barely see them. And the worst of it is that I live 4 miles away. I live in California but all of my family is in New York. I feel like I am wasting my life. Now that there is a stepdad in the picture, I have lost even more time with them.
    I feel that I am being selfish. But I am 53. I have to do what’s best for ME. Am I being a bad dad/person?

  • Emi

    May 22nd, 2020 at 10:41 AM


  • Nina

    June 21st, 2020 at 11:21 PM

    be with your kids.

  • Jolynn

    October 26th, 2020 at 12:14 PM

    my real dad left me when i was only 2-3 yrs old and I chased him my whole life and my other sister and my lil brother gave up on him and didn’t care abt him but I did he always get back with my mom and stuff abuse her when my mom was pregnant he would hit her on her stomach throw pennies when my sister was in there and throw rocks when I was in there and throw stuff when my bro was in there and my mom has 5 kids and I’m one I am the 4th one to be born the 2 that were born first are my half siblings and we love them but my dad has 7 kids abt to have 8 with my step mom being pregnant and she has me blocked and stuff so I really don’t care but I just want to see my sibling that is abt to be one yrs old I miss her and btw I have 1 brother and 1 half brother my step mom has 10 kids abt to have 11 I’m in rush sorry for my spelling


    November 30th, 2021 at 3:56 AM

    My dad abandoned my pregnant mother. I was born raised with my mom before she passed at 9th year. I have struggled to be where i am today. I tried connecting up with him after learning some hints from Family members but he’s still not interested with me any more. I really need the peace of mind and atleast knowing the truth, why it happened that way. Don’t know how,.

  • Emma

    February 3rd, 2022 at 7:16 AM

    I never saw my dad’s face when growing i’m 16yrs now but have seen him only ones,life is hard for i and my family my mother also not having has abandon me,how i had wished my father was here.Now i have to struggle to get something eat and to take some to school.Life is hard.Because of this I have lost majority of my friends and now im lonely.I don’t even know what to do.

  • Chris

    August 27th, 2023 at 3:57 AM

    My dad left when I was was a year old, he came back and got my mother pregnant with my sister a year later. It wasn’t until he got into some gang trouble that he left again. I have the opportunity to keep contact with him, but I’ve always had this nagging question on how he was able to move on so fast. A year later he had two other children, and I felt like I was the past. Now I have the opportunity to ask him and am going to look for answers. God bless

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