Having an emotionally distant father hurts.
For one, he gives you no idea about what he’s thinking. Is he okay? Are you two cool at this moment? Is something upsetting him?
Second, he radiates a depressing aura that tells you you’re somehow not good enough, and that each moment is a chance for you to prove yourself.
There’s even a study that posits that a relationship with a “weak father,” a term referring to a distant or hostile father, could cause male homosexuality. Gay men are supposedly looking for an emotional connection with their father through homosexual behavior.
The good news is that you can deal with an emotionally distant father. It may not be easy, but if you trust the process, then in the long run it may be beneficial not only for you, but also for the people you care about.
How to Deal with an Emotionally Distant Father
1. Know that it’s not your fault.
It’s not your fault to be your father’s child.
In a lot of instances you may have felt down, or let down, with your father. You may have banged your head against the wall in trying to figure out what could be wrong with you.
But nothing is wrong with you. The fact that you wondered about that proves that you are willing to work out the distance between you and your father.
2. Try to see him as a hurt acquaintance, instead of a father.
This may particularly apply if your father is already old. Empathy can go a long way.
Likely, his father was also emotionally distant from him, at the least. Maybe he suffered worse. He might not have settled some hurt yet for decades.
Because of that he’s unable to share his emotions—and stories—with you. He simply does not know how.
3. Challenge your beliefs.
It’s easy to get caught in regression especially when you’re with your father or family. You see and hear them and you suddenly feel as if you’re a young child again, at the mercy of their mood.
Because of this, you also revert to the old beliefs you had in your childhood. You may think you still need your father’s validation, or that he has to be in a good mood so you can be, too.
You’re an adult now. It may be time to reassess your values and understand that you don’t necessarily need your father’s approval anymore.
4. Consider talking to him.
As always, you can also email him if you don’t feel like talking.
Tell him up front about how his being emotionally distant is affecting you. He might have no idea, and you may have been assuming it all wrong.
You could also raise trying counseling work together. This not only benefits your relationship, but he could also unravel dormant memories and understand how they are affecting him in the present.
5. Don’t expect him to change.
It takes a lot of courage and will on your part to extend a helping hand while not expecting him to change at all.
But that’s the truth. No one can change anyone else. What you see is that someone inspires someone, and they decide to change themselves. Change comes from within. No one else can impose that.
This also lowers your expectations and prevents you from getting unnecessarily and further hurt. Better expect nothing than get royally frustrated.
6. Set your boundaries.
Thinking about your emotionally absent father may hurt, let alone seeing him in the flesh, with him still firing off behaviors that could trigger you.
You have to protect and love yourself. For example, if seeing him evokes the fear of abandonment, then it’s okay to decline his invitations for a while.
7. Process your emotions about your emotionally distant father.
You could do this with the help of friends, relatives, or a professional. The point is that you should not repress any negative emotions (which you probably have been doing since you were a small child).
Acknowledge your negative emotions. By letting them out and correctly identifying them, you make your way to finally healing.
At this point, it’s okay to get angry or resentful. It’s okay to blame. It’s okay to be honest with yourself. You owe all this to yourself.
8. Make peace with yourself.
Easier said than done, but this is a process, a lifestyle. You wake up each day and choose peace.
But in doing so, you first have to accept that you have an emotionally distant father, that you’ve tried connecting with him, and even if you don’t achieve what you want out of the relationship, it’s okay.
You work hard on what you can control, and those are your thoughts and actions. You can have peace in knowing that you’ve done your best even if you couldn’t be so proud of the result.
9. Be the father you needed.
I’m mainly talking about your inner child (although if you have kids, then this may apply, too).
I’m an advocate for acknowledging your inner child, and treating him right. Recognizing your inner child can make it easier to take care of yourself because sometimes you feel compelled to take care of someone else rather than yourself—you treat your inner child as if he were someone else. He’s waiting for you to give him what he needs, which he’s been deprived of for a long time.
In this age of information, you can learn how to be a good father. You may have had a dark past, but being a good father to yourself can be fun!
10. Find men you can look up to and respect.
Note, however, that you may gravitate towards emotionally distant men as well, because you’ve been conditioned like that with your father.
Finding good men can fill the emptiness your father created. This not only applies to lovers, but also to social groups and communities. Think sports clubs, the church, or volunteer groups.
11. Realize that a not-so-ideal relationship with your father may be okay.
Especially if you have friends and social groups, you can see your father as a normal, not-so-special person. When it comes down to it, it may not be that bad.
Perhaps seeing other father-and-children relationships hurts, but beware of comparing yourself with them. You have different stories and comparisons like that just don’t make sense.
We go back to the value of acceptance. Some things are neither desirable nor otherwise. They are just the way they are.
12. Be the bigger person.
If your father is still unwilling to connect with you, then don’t take it against him. But don’t think something’s wrong with you, either.
You are capable of these things:
- You can identify the root cause of some behavior.
- You understand things as they happen.
- You can think rationally and not let emotions rule over you.
- You can control what you say and do.
- You can practice empathy.
- And maybe a lot more.
You can always be a good person even if you don’t agree to what your father is doing to you (within limits, of course).
13. Try to bond with him through activities that don’t require much talking.
Chess? Watching a film? Maybe golf? Cycling? Or just invite the whole family for dinner?
It’s more like breaking the ice—of a father, quite literally—just so he could stop being too uptight all the time. See how it goes from there.
14. Take it one step at a time.
What’s sad about this is that as an adult you may be struggling to connect or emotionally express and take care of yourself because of your relationship with your father.
But the good news is that you can deal with this at your own pace. When you think you’re doing it wrong, or you feel down, remember that you’re just learning. You’re also unlearning the destructive beliefs of the childhood you spent with an emotionally distant father.
Trust the process. Everything’s going to be alright.
Image Credits: Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash