How do we “honor our father,” or “honor our mother” when they were destructive parents?
People who have had even the slightest exposure to the Judeo-Christian worldview and broader Western culture, have heard the Biblical saying, “Honor thy father and mother,” (Exodus 20:12, and Ephesians 6: 1-2).
There are so many people for whom the thought of this brings about a nearly physiological revulsion. Why is that? Having worked professionally in the field of Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention for over 16 years, I lost count of the number of women who have shared with me that they were molested by their fathers. Does it make sense to honor a child molester, especially if one was the victim of their heinous crimes?
Having worked with at-risk youth for over 16 years, most of the young men and women I worked with had horror stories about their father or mother. Many fathers were considered “absentee” fathers, due to substance abuse (my personal background.) Many have been physically, emotionally, and verbally abused by their father or mother. I have heard so many women share that their mother’s boyfriend was molesting them, the mother knew, but did not want to end the relationship. Does that mother deserve “honor?” Let’s get real.
One of the worst cases was a fellow spoken-word artist whom I became friends with at Los Angeles performances. She shared with me that as a four-year-old girl, she watched her father blow her mother’s head off with a shotgun blast, then turn it on himself. All of this in front of his four-year-old daughter and her little sister. Does this father deserve “honor?” That is not only ridiculous, it is profoundly offensive to the basic instincts of one’s morality.
In my opinion, having worked in social service for numerous years, I believe parental abuse, absenteeism, and molestation leave the deepest scars on a human being, regardless of their gender. Why is that? It is quite logical. If one is abused, abandoned, or rejected by those responsible for your being born into this world, that means (in our childlike thinking) that we do not belong here.
If the one who gave me life rejects my life, rejects my welfare, rejects my mere existence! — then logically, I do not belong on this earth among “normal” humans. I do not belong at all. I do not deserve the basic respect and love that all humans deserve and need.
That is some cold-shit if one’s parents abuse, neglect, abandon, or hate them. Yet, for those of us who have (or try) to move past and through that to healing, it is not an easy task. On a subconscious level, we ask ourselves this question; “If my father (or mother) was so evil, and I come from their biology, does that not mean that I am also evil? Or, at best, genetically “damaged goods?”
This can subconsciously can eat at the souls of even the most healed and matured adult survivors of such parental abuse. How can we address this? How can we move past such a hostile beginning in an already challenging life? How can we learn, if not to honor our father and mother, at least honor the building blocks of our DNA?
Here are 2 tools that have assisted me in healing from parental scars:
I was told by a counselor once to write all of my anger, sense of loss, and every sad memory I had about my alcoholic father disappearing from my life at five years of age. She told me to write this heart-felt letter, take it to the beach, and light it on fire. Then imagine that the rising smoke reaches the recipients (if they are dead or alive). A few weeks later, write a note of forgiveness to them for whatever they did. Make it clear in the note that this is not “for them,” but for your own healing and progress.
This forgiveness is not a validation of their behavior at all! It is a validation of YOU, and YOUR right to exist on this earth in peace, love, and happiness. So you can take that written letter to the beach, burn it, and imagine that the smoke brought those words to them. Then leave that hatred (which under the deep waters is a form of self-hatred) in the dust. Kick the dust from off of your feet when you leave that spot. Let the dead bury the dead. Move on in newness of life.
The counselor told me that once I did that exercise, not only would I feel a shift in my thoughts and spirit, there would be a shift in my relationship to my children. At the time, I was going through a lot of struggles with my oldest son. Though I loved him dearly, our relationship had become almost adversarial due to some challenges in his life and some behaviors that I did not approve of. This exercise not only help me internally, it shifted the energy in my relationship to my children to a more positive and accepting space. We were free.
The other practice I began was to honor my genetic ancestors, for having preserved long enough in their lives that my life (and my children’s lives) were able to come into being. I “intuited” a ritual of sorts, perhaps from influence of the Chinese population I was living among. Confucianism, Chan Buddhism, and Taoism place a great emphasis on honoring one’s ancestors. Every family in my neighborhood had an alter where they would light incense daily to honor their ancestors.
So, I began doing this, and in the process began daily thanking my father — simply for being the conduit of my life coming into the world. NOT thanking him for being a “wonderful father,” because like the old Tupac song, “Dear Mama,” says “my anger wouldn’t let me feel for a stranger.” Yet, he was not a stranger to me subconsciously. His strengths, intelligence, his wit, his creativity, AND some of his weaknesses were inside of me genetically. They made up my very flesh. My father contributed 50 % of my D.N.A., so his imprint was on my physiology, mind, and soul.
Both of these “rituals” have helped me feel more at home in the world, more at peace with myself and others, as well as more centered. As a martial arts, Tai Chi, and Qigong instructor, I know a lot (and teach a lot) about being “centered.” In Aikido and Tai Chi, though all physical hell is breaking loose around us, we remained centered, like the eye of a storm. But it is not just a physical thing, it is an energetic, subconscious, and even spiritual thing.
Do yourself the gigantic favor of “honoring your DNA.” Your parents, good or bad, were the conduits used by God and Creation to bring you into existence. Even if they were terrible parents, that does not mean that each and every person in your ancestral line was terrible, or that you are “cursed” with bad genes, or do not belong on this earth.
My belief is that regardless of how we got here (most of us were not “planned”), or who brought us here, and what they were could deliver to us as parents, we all belong here. We al deserve to be loves, first and foremost by ourselves —especially by ourselves. If we bear active or even subconscious hatred for our father/mother, on some level, we hate ourselves.
We must free our minds and spirits of such a bondage. We can use the power of forgiveness to set us free, so that even abusive parents can no longer torture us from their graves or in our memories. We can clean the slate. We must accept, honor, and love our personal DNA. In doing so, we free ourselves and our descendants from the shackles of life-damaging baggage.