Dear Dad: You Abandoned Me, But I’m Only Stronger Now

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“My hands are shaking as my fingers hesitate over the letters of the keyboard under them. I can feel my heart beating in my chest and my breathing grow quicker as I allow my mind to go back to the place I have worked very hard to bury deep into the recesses of my past. The truth is, no one wants to admit something hurt them as much as it actually did. I think it has to do with pride, or not wanting to give that thing power over you or your life.

That is exactly what I deal with whenever I think about my biological father. I just cringed at the word ‘father,’ because he has not once ever lived up to that title. If we’re going to do this, I have to start at the very dark and gloomy beginning. I promise though, this story has a positive outcome.

It’s safe to say I came into this world not being wanted. My mother (we’ll call her Maggie, for the intent of telling this story) loved me, and still does. But it’s fair to say I was not exactly what she wanted or needed at the time she got pregnant with me. She already had two children with an abusive man, my biological ‘father’ who we will call… Tony. She had gotten married very young, and had her first two children also young and close together. When Maggie got pregnant with me, she had already unofficially separated from Tony.

When Maggie finally reached her final, abusively horrendous straw from Tony, she left him once and for all. I will always commend her for leaving him, no matter what has transpired after that. It takes courage, a LOT of courage and faith that things will work out eventually, to leave an abusive or unsafe relationship. When she left him, I can’t imagine how afraid she was, how she probably felt the weight of the world on her shoulders and the judgement from family and friends, no doubt. But she left him, with her two toddlers and one baby (me) still baking in her oven.

She married my step dad (we’ll call him Peter) when she was four months pregnant with me. Peter swept her off her feet quickly and Maggie, wanting to believe in love and people again, took a chance on Peter. Fast forward four more very abusive, tiring years with Peter, and my little sister was born. In all this time, Tony developed the reputation of not caring a single bit about myself or my two older sisters. He denied I was even his because of how quickly my mom got remarried. He never called, never visited, and never wrote us a single letter.

That doesn’t make it sting any less, because it isn’t as if he was a father to my two older sisters either. But it did help my mind develop the complex it would go on to have of not fitting in anywhere. He was using it as a cop out, I am certain. But, my step dad and my mom did their best at the time. Their best wasn’t very great, to be honest, but they both acknowledge now they had no business getting married when they did. They eventually got divorced when I was eight years old.

Father takes a photo with his four daughters before church
Courtesy of Krystal Dodge

Being so young, I didn’t yet understand the gravity of not having a solid father or father figure around. We bounced from apartment to apartment, and then eventually to my grandparent’s house. All the while not getting along with each other, and dealing with a mom who was trying to put herself back together.

I was a rambunctious child with a strong will and a stubborn heart. I grew up hearing things like, ‘Tony didn’t want any of you, he wasn’t good for you or for me, he was abusive, he was messed up in the head, he would never be the father you deserve any way.’ I don’t blame my mom for how candid she could be about Tony’s disdain for us. She didn’t know how to navigate these waters and really, who does? There’s no handbook about parenting, let alone a handbook about how to handle one parent deciding to be an abusive and absent one.

I used to tell myself it didn’t matter if Tony was a part of my life. I would say things like, ‘It’s his loss. I don’t need a dad. Who needs a dad? I’ve grown up without a good example of one, so what am I really missing out on?’ I wouldn’t let myself feel any emotion about the situation. They would try and sneak up on me sometimes, but I became very good at pushing them away almost as quickly as they came. After all, it was his loss, right? Well, it is. We all know it is when a father or a mother makes the selfish decision to leave the children they’ve created. But the reality of the matter is that it DOES hurt the children. It does break their heart. It does impact the way they view the world and things like dating, or the respect they have for themselves. It does HURT.

I started dating at the tender age of 15 and now, almost 10 years later, I can admit how much it influenced the people I took a chance on. My first REAL boyfriend (we’ll call him Ben) was the epitome of everything bad for me in the end. I didn’t give up on Ben for a year and a half, until he literally left me crying on a driveway while he drove away in his red truck like it was a scene from a movie. It was after that relationship I realized why I hadn’t given up on someone so toxic for so long… I just wanted to be loved by a man. I wanted to feel acceptance from a man.

I hadn’t ever felt that in my whole life, and I was looking for it in the wrong places. I dated a few more Bens as a teenager and young adult. I became frustrated with myself eventually when I couldn’t convince my mind to let go of these people until after they had already crippled me. Didn’t I deserve better? I wondered if it were even possible for a good man to love me. This is one of the many ways my pain and confusion over never having a father impacted my life.

My self esteem had taken many hits by this point, from both boys and friends. I let the wrong people stick around for too long and I didn’t know how to accept the good people into my life. I was a self sabotage master and I was on a journey leading to nowhere positive. I tried therapy here and there, I tried depression medication, I tried talking to my few good friends and my mom about everything. I tried to find comfort and understanding from any resource I could. It wasn’t fair my biological ‘father’ could have this much influence on a life he had never been a part of. How did it make any sense he was able to continue on with this life, forfeiting any of the responsibility you inherit when you have a child? It wasn’t right he could fall asleep at night and not have any worry about his children. It wasn’t right he left all of this to Maggie and her family to deal with.

I know, rationally, he would have never been the father I needed to begin with, but dang it if he didn’t even try. I will never be able to understand how he could choose not to even TRY. I’ve been plagued with questions like, ‘Doesn’t he wonder who I am? Doesn’t he want to know who he created? Doesn’t he want to be a part of ANY of this?’ I know those thoughts and feelings will never be able to completely escape my mind. After all, your parents are the people who created you. They’re the voices you should hear and the warmth you should feel even before you come out of the womb. They’re the people who are meant to guide and protect you, to comfort you and love you. They’re the people who are designated to be on your team and in your corner backing you up and telling you gently when you’ve made a mistake. How do you honestly cope when one, or both, of your parents fails to live up to any of those things?

When there was a father-daughter dance, or anything involving needing a father, I was always alone. Whenever any of my friends talked about their father’s, I couldn’t relate. I had never felt the blessing of a father in my life. I’ve never been able to hug my father, or have a father threaten the man I was dating that he better treat me correctly. It was my mom and my older sisters who had to confront them and protect me. It was my uncle who walked me down the aisle when I got married. I had never felt the strength of a man guarding me and my heart. I had only felt disappointment and betrayal, even before I was born.

Tony never had my best interest in mind. He only ever had any interest that served himself. He never paid a dime of child support, he never changed a diaper or rocked one of us to sleep. He never bought us a birthday present or attended a recital of ours. I’ve tried to contact him twice, and both times were a disappointment that only led to more pain.

Woman healing from childhood trauma takes a confident selfie
Courtesy of Krystal Dodge

I have felt like an outcast from the beginning. I have felt confused and frustrated from the start. As I said, I didn’t fit anywhere. But I wanted to. I wanted to feel like I mattered, like I belonged. I wanted to one day marry a man who would be everything my father was not. I wanted my children to know the love of a father, to have their own super hero who could go to each one of their soccer games.

That became my goal. I decided to focus on myself. Refining my rough edges, picking up the pieces of my heart, watching the pain disintegrate into something that could no longer torture my daily life. I decided to love myself. I chose to forgive myself for my short comings. Above all, I chose to live in the present and not in the past. I didn’t want this person, or any person, to have so much influence over my life and subsequently the decisions I would make. I wanted to be the best version of myself. Obviously, I haven’t been perfect at it and I never will be. I accept that. But man, it does feel good to TRY. I am PROUD of the person I am today, I am PROUD of how far I’ve come and I look forward to who I will continue to become. I know I am worth it. I want everyone to know their worth, and that is my new mission.

I’ve been through many things, things I will find the courage to write about and share just like I’m sharing a part of this story. But the message I want to leave today is that no one person can define our worth. Even if they’re a part of why you’re on this Earth. I promise you, you’re a separate being than they are. You can do anything you desire, be anything you desire in this life. You matter, you have always mattered, and I swear you always will matter. I know it hurts so excruciatingly much to not have that parent, or parents, in your life. I will never say you should forget that pain, but I will say that you should use it as your fuel and your fire. You should let it engulf you in such a way that it becomes a force for you to do GOOD and be BRIGHT.

Sisters smile together on one of their wedding days
Courtesy of Krystal Dodge

Let it flow out of your body and touch others in a positive light. Let it become your ammunition to be a wonderful person and an even better example. We are 45% what happens to us, 55% how we handle it. The scale should never tip so far in the other direction that it makes it impossible to be ourselves. If your scale is tipped right now, I only pray you’re able to own your pain and not let it own you one day. There are many cliches and statistics about situations like mine. I know I’ve succumbed to some of them. But whether you’ve also fallen victim to some or all of them, you aren’t your parent’s mistakes.

Whether you have personally been through this or know someone who has, I hope you realize how special and wanted you are. If you can’t relate to this specific situation, I hope you can apply the message to many other situations you’re potentially dealing with. My final message is this: You are bright, you are powerful, you are not your history. Use the fire of your pain and turn it into something meaningful and positive, use it to reach out to the world and envelope others into a hug of peace and comfort.

For those who have experienced this pain, know that I am using my pain to do the very thing I’m preaching about. You aren’t alone in this. It really IS their loss, never forget that.


A Slightly Experienced Me

Young woman healing from childhood trauma takes a selfie in black-rimmed glasses
Courtesy of Krystal Dodge

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Krystal Dodge, 24, of Utah. Subscribe to our free email newsletter, Living Better—your ultimate guide for actionable insights, evidence backed advice, and captivating personal stories, propelling you forward to living a more fulfilling life.

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