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Can reconciliation allow me to move on?

  • Asks ...

    My father left us (abandoned the family) when I was 8 and I went more than 30 years with only the occasional letter or phone call from him. Now he is back in Chicago and he wants to make amends and be a part of his grandson’s life. He says he just couldn’t handle the pressures of being a father and he says he is very regretful for leaving us the way he did.

    I thought I was no longer angry, since it had been so long, but seeing him again has released a lot of old emotions and I am resentful of him for coming back into my life after I had finally moved past him and once again causing me pain. I wish he had never come back.

    He wants me to go to some sort of reconciliation counselor with him. I told him where he should shove his reconciliation, but now that a few days have passed I realize that now that he lives just a few miles away I am thinking about him all the time and it really sucks. I was perfectly happy until he showed up and now I’m angry and upset half the time once again. I don’t want to have any kind of relationship with him. But if I go to reconciliation counseling with him will it help me to shut the door on that chapter of my life for good?

  • Art Matthews Says ...
    Art Matthews

    I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but the answer is a qualified yes. The factors that determine if you can move on relate to your motives, your father's motives, the ability of each of you to be honest with each other and yourselves, as well as the skills and expertise of the counselor.

    In situations like this, one party is often ready to approach reconciliation before the other. For true reconciliation to occur, both of you must take responsibility for the outcome and each of you must have a desire to heal the wounds and repair the relationship. But for you to reach a level of forgiveness that allows you to carry on, your father need not be involved at all. (See Colin Tipping's "Radical Self-Forgiveness")

    It's very understandable that you would feel this way right now. What you believed you had dealt with may have simply been repressed or deflected in other directions. Believing you wouldn't have to deal with him again, you were able to let go but now you have been traumatized again by his request to be forgiven and to reconcile. I think what you must decide is which of the many definitions of reconciliation fits your goals. The various meanings of "reconcile" are:

    To reestablish a close relationship between.

    To settle or resolve.

    To bring (oneself) to accept: "He finally reconciled himself to the change in management."

    To make compatible or consistent: "reconcile my way of thinking with yours."

    To reestablish a close relationship, as in marriage: "The estranged couple reconciled after a year."

    To become compatible or consistent: "The figures would not reconcile."

    The goals the two of you have may be very different. And that's O.K. Notice that to reconcile can mean to settle or resolve or to come to accept. It may be him and not you that needs to reconcile things in his head. Through this counseling, he may come to understand that he needs to let go of you. Or maybe you come to learn that you aren't ready to really say good-bye if he takes responsibility for himself and understands your relationship may never be as he idealizes it.

    Reconciling does not mean forgiving and forgetting. You will never forget how his leaving affected you. It doesn't mean giving him access to you and your life without reasonable boundaries and expectations. You have a right and a responsibility to take care of yourself and your family. You hold all the cards. In this situation, you have a lot of power. But you need to yield it wisely and compassionately.

    Much of what I have seen billed as "reconciliation" counseling is Christian in focus and based in scripture. That doesn't mean I value it less. When the therapist, the modality and the client are a good match, great things can happen. If in this situation your father is suggesting a faith-based approach, make sure you can fully accept the perspective of the counselor and the foundation of the approach. If you have had issues with your faith or church in the past, those are likely to come to the forefront in therapy too. If your faith and your father's differ or you prefer a more secular approach, you may consider seeking a non-faith-based approach with a licensed therapist skilled in family counseling as an alternative.

    As with any counseling, check out the counselor and agency closely with the appropriate state regulatory agency in Illinois. If you decide against reconciliation counseling, consider individual sessions for yourself to help you put this away for good. That may involve your father being in a few sessions, but doesn't require it.

    Remember that your father's choices have never really defined you.

    Best of luck.

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