Heart Problems: A Dad Shaped Hole

Written by H. Norman Wright

family_dadshapedholeNot every girl gets to be Daddy’s little girl. Many are missing the father-daughter relationship that is so essential for any child to have. The following excerpt is from H. Norman Wright’s A Dad-Shaped Hole in My Heart. Dads, see for yourself and learn how to help heal that ‘dad-shaped hole’ in your daughter’s heart. Daughters or even sons, consider what Wright has to say about that hole in your heart.

I’d like to begin this first chapter with June’s story. In many ways her story mirrors the cry of countless daughters just like you, who struggle with the effects of a dad who wasn’t there for them. Year after year they cry: Daddy, where are you? Who are you?

My son was born five years ago. He’s a healthy, energetic child. At least he appeared to be healthy at birth. But a few days later we discovered he had a defect. It wasn’t visible. No one could see it. But it was there, and it was serious. He had a hole in his heart. He was born that way. Within a week after we discovered it, the doctors opened his chest and repaired that hole in his little heart. He was able to go on with his life in a normal manner. He’s not even aware that he had a hole in his heart.

I wish I could say the same. My son and I are alike. We’ve both had holes in our heart. He was born that way and it was repaired. I wasn’t born with one, but over my childhood years the hole was created and it grew larger as I grew. It hasn’t been repaired, even though I’ve tried. It’s a different shape than my son’s. The hole in my heart is in the shape of my father. Physical surgery won’t repair the hole. It will take something like emotional surgery or healing for it to slowly close. I’m not sure how to go about the process. I’m confused. Is it dependent upon my father reaching into my life and somehow undoing what he did or doing what he failed to do years ago? I just want a whole heart. It’s too bad there are no heart transplants for this kind of disorder.

There are many daughters walking around with a hole in their heart in the shape of their father. They are missing something from their father that should have been given. Or he responded to them in ways that were way beyond what any daughter should have to endure. Or he simply vanished one day from their lives and hasn’t reappeared. Any of these experiences can create a hole that seemingly cannot be filled by anything else. If you think you are alone, that your pain is unique to you and your family, I hope that this book will show you that this is not true. Listen in as other adult daughters share how their dads influenced them–sometimes positively and sometimes negatively–far beyond their childhood years.

  • My relationship with my father was incomplete, guarded, confusing, and sad. He was an intelligent, funny, deep, and personally likable man when sober, and an explosive, unpredictable, abusive, angry, pathetic, destructive shell of a man when drinking, which increased as time went on.
  • My father and I have always had a good relationship. He has always held high standards, but they were never unreasonable. I hold those same standards today–expectations that people should always try their best, be polite, behave themselves, and make something of themselves, but also not to allow ambition to get in the way of happiness. I can talk to my father about anything and feel very comfortable asking his advice on things relating to finances, politics, and life in general. We have grown closer as I have gotten older because we share the same love of history and good conversation about important things, plus we both have grown spiritually over the past five to ten years. I have never felt anything but good about our relationship in general, though of course there were times when we may not have seen eye to eye, as there are in any father/daughter relationship.
  • My father was not available for me emotionally. I do not recall ever discussing struggles or problems with him or seeking his counsel. I recall asking his advice about a boyfriend once when I was in college. I had consciously decided to offer him the opportunity to give me advice because I had been thinking that maybe he hadn’t given any counsel because I had never asked. I remember his responding that he really couldn’t answer the question, and that I would need to decide, because it was my life. (It was apparent that he was not comfortable with giving me advice.) He was not available to help with homework or provide advice on anything like choosing classes, extra-curricular activity options, career possibilities, my interests or life goals, moral decisions, college options, car repairs, home purchases. Although I performed well in school (A & B honor rolls) and was/am extremely responsible, I do not recall my dad offering praise or acknowledgment other than on very rare occasions, and only as a result of my mom’s prompting. (On a positive note, I know that as an adult, he is proud of me and I do know that he loves me. I observe that he asks questions about things in my life and is trying to get to know me. I am touched by these things.)
  • My biological father was in my life from birth till I was approximately six and a half years old. I came five years after the loss of a two-year-old daughter. My dad spoiled me, carried me in his arms or on his shoulders. He was kind, loving, indulgent, and oh so strong. At six-and-a-half my dad had a breakdown, and I didn’t see him again until I was fourteen. By then I didn’t know him and was afraid.
  • The gap between my father and me is actually growing as we get older. I’m beginning to see how disrespectful and hurtful he can be and has been in the past toward my mom. I’m having a hard time reconciling the daddy I loved as a child and the man that I recognize him to be today. I’m embarrassed by some of the things he does, but I still want to defend him to the grave. It’s painful.
  • My father wasn’t there for me. Until I was thirteen, he was gone from early in the morning, after breakfast, till dinner time … to work mostly. When he was home, he retreated into a book or turned on the radio. We kids were to be seen and not heard. He played music or the news during meals. Then the summer I turned thirteen he left us, at our mom’s request. She said later that she couldn’t take his criticism and silence. I was relieved. My brother was angry. He said that ended his hope of having a dad like everyone else. I was glad that I didn’t have to pretend to sleep in on the weekends to avoid his anger. When I was engaged and brought my intended to meet him, Dad refused to shake hands with him. He stood there with his arms folded over his chest and told my fiancé that some people worked, and those who couldn’t work were teachers. My fiancé was a teacher.
  • Because my father was an alcoholic, it was almost like having two fathers. When he was sober he was loving and fun. When he was drunk I became the adult, since he became the one who needed to be taken care of.
  • It was a wonderful, close relationship. His love and respect for my mother was the greatest gift a man can give his family. Although I grew up during the Depression, I never doubted that he would take care of me. He was well respected in our community, and I felt it a privilege to be his daughter.

Father–a powerful word. A positive word for some and painful for others. What is a father? Who is he supposed to be, and what is he supposed to do? Sometimes in my counseling practice I have heard women describe what they wish their fathers would be or had been, and my only response has been, “He doesn’t exist anywhere.” He sounded like Superfather, who could bound from one building to another. Some create fathers in the image of what they want him to be rather than what he could ever be. Often we do this with God, our heavenly Father, too.

As I work with those in grief and trauma, I’m often given a window to look through into a person’s theology. What we believe about God really comes to the forefront when we are hurting. And so often what I hear is what people wish God would be rather than who He is according to the Scriptures. But we cannot create God in the image we want Him to be in order to satisfy our needs. He is who He is, whether that meets our approval or not.

In the same way, some women will never have the father they want, not because of a deficiency in their dad but because what they desire is unrealistic and unattainable. For others, what they want is reasonable, and it would be healthier for their dad if he were that way. But some fathers are so emotionally and/or developmentally challenged it would take years of work–maybe even therapy–for his healing to occur. Only then could his daughter hope to see the preferred change in their father-daughter relationship.

The book The Wonder of Girls–Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters by Michael Gurian is one of the best books I’ve seen on this topic. In a very succinct way the author describes the impact of a father upon his daughter. He said,

A father who is honest with his daughter about his own flaws becomes her confidant. A father who remains stoic becomes her enigma to solve. A father who distances himself too greatly from his daughter becomes a burden she carries into life. If a father always finds time to cuddle, listen to, toss in the air, dance with, run alongside, coach, comfort, and protect his daughter, he will give her her the gift of life he is built to give. If a father withholds nothing, teaching his daughter the life skills she needs to know, he shares an active kind of respect for variety in a girl’s developing self. If a father competes with his daughter in games, but especially when she is young, lets her win her share of races, he is showing her both his own humility and her potential. And as a father helps a daughter enter the worlds of sexuality, romance and then marriage, a man becomes more than an arm to walk down the aisle with–he becomes– in his daughter’s mind fearless…”

If you have struggled with your relationship with a parent, and would like someone to talk with about it, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.

Related reading: Why “Father” God? – Why refer to God as “Father”, especially with all the negative baggage that word can carry? Is there a better way to think about it?

Excerpted from A Dad-Shaped Hole in My Heart: How God Wants to Heal the Wounds Left by Your Earthly Father by H. Norman Wright. Copyright © 2005. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

67 Responses to “Heart Problems: A Dad Shaped Hole”

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Jo, one thing you can do is to get a hold of Norman Wright’s book A Dad-Shaped Hole in my Heart and read the rest of the chapters and Dr Wright’s ideas of how to heal. Let me also invite you to connect with one of our mentors in a private email conversation. There is no cost and I know you will find a mentor who will walk with you through the process of healing. Go to http://powertochange.com/experience/talk-to-a-mentor/ and fill out the Mentor Request Form there and one of our mentors will be in touch with you soon.

    When you

  • Jo says:

    I am struggling with this right now. How can I get help?

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Again Veraci, please do point out anything in this article that contradicts the Bible. I appreciate your desire to point people to the truth of scripture. I agree that God has given us all that we need to know Him and follow Him in the Bible. Our application of that truth has always been helped through sharing our experiences together and learning from one another. That’s why preaching has always been a central part of the church; a preacher takes the scripture and discusses how it fits into our current circumstances. Scientists have taken the revealed truth of the Bible and then looked to see how it applies to the universe around us. Parents have taken the truth of the Bible and talked about it with their children to help them understand how it fits in their life. Psychologists have taken the things God has taught in scripture and applied it to the mental and emotional situations people find themselves in. Certainly there have been those who have ignored the foundation of the Bible in all of those areas but we don’t reject God’s truth because some have left Him out of it.

  • Veraci Nullatenus says:

    I am cautioning followers to read the Bible and be careful not to follow the ramblings of psycho babel produced by an industry that is profit driven and has no mechanism of insuring the qualifications of the authors. God Bless you all. I promote returning to the Bible.

  • Francine says:

    To veraci:
    Why are you making comments in this chat on this subject? You looking for answers but then realize having a relationship with Christ takes responsibility and accountability so you take the road most traveled. What your seeking you will not find anywhere, you don’t know what it is but you will waste your whole life trying to find it. You will realize your mistake and if you don’t, God is merciful and He loves you anyway.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Veraci, while I agree that many times the answers that come from psychology can foster a humanist worldview, I would also suggest that all truth comes from God. The authors of the Bible encourage us to recognize the importance of a healthy mental habits. Paul wrote, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

    I would again invite you to share anything in this article that you think is contrary to what we have been given by God in scripture. Let’s talk about it. But lobbing accusations at the author without any substantial claim will not help move us closer to a better understanding of what Jesus wants for us.

  • Veraci Nullatenus says:

    Psychology -> Psychotherapy + The Bible = Psychoheresy

  • Erwin says:

    2 days ago I hurt my 18 year old daughter like never before: She just left home for college and this is her 2nd time to come home after – the first time we had an argument too. what i remember was about over something silly and simple that came out of nowhere. She is the oldest of 5, she is the first to leave home for college. anyway it started with actually a confusion of roles – her role as the big/oldest sister which we honor, and my role as the dad, in the care of our younger sibling. We clashed in our discussion. At any rate, it exposed my anger issues, it was messy enough for us to be out in the street yelling, her cursing me not to come near her, and for her to take a walk 2 miles through a not so safe neighborhood to sleep the night at a home where we picked up the boys of a single mom to take to youth group on sundays. Of course my wife and 4 other kids and I did not know that at the time this happened on a rainy 10pm and we were searching all night, and my daughter in the heat of anger and hurt, was nice enough to text her mom she got to the undisclosed place safe via email. See, I stripped her of her smartphone before she left to hopefully incapacitate her from leaving but she had her mac in her backpack…at any rate, we trained her to be independent and resourceful and unfortunately it came to play here. I did not sleep a wink thursday night, sent her an email to ask forgiveness, to come home and patch things up. Very relieved my wife called me at work that she picked her up and and she’s home doing homework, i came home couple of hours early from work to prepare my heart and pray to meet my daughter relieved she is in my living room studying. I see my daughter shaped hole in my heart, and the father shaped hole in her heart, and we need to fill this back with the right fillers, as now we can, before anymore time is lived in this earth, as God designed us to live.

  • Elkay says:

    Veraci, I am not sure why you are quoting those particular verses here. Can you be more specific why you have posted that “warning”? Look forward to hearing back. Sincere blessings to you today.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    HI Veraci, I am curious to know what you see as heretical about this article. It seems to me that the Bible does describe both the positive and negative impacts of fathers on the lives of their children. The Bible also recounts how God is able to bring healing and wholeness to children even when their father is less then perfect. Did you get a chance to read the related article http://powertochange.com/discover/faith/fathergod/? In it Darren Hewer gives a great defence of identifying God as ‘Father’ even when people’s earthly fathers have been less then perfect. If there is something in either of these articles that you find heretical I would hope that you can point it out.

  • Veraci Nullatenus says:

    But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. 2Pete2:1-3

  • Aldo says:

    A great article, and a much needed one. Thank you Norman. May God continue to use you mightily as you endeavor to make His Name known.

    Doris, there are many resources available on the powertochange.com website. You can do a search on them to see which are available.

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    That’s so exciting that you have written a book on such a much-needed topic! You are so right that it is a huge topic! Thank you too for the great resources for single parents!

  • Matt H says:

    Hi everyone. What a great article. I found it through a Google search to see what would pop up when I typed in the words “The Daddy Gap”, which is the title of a new book I just coauthored with a friend. It is basically on single moms raising fatherless kids and the Church’s role in it all. Look for it to be released in a few weeks! For any single dads out there, feel free to connect with me at http://www.afatherswalk.org. And for you single moms, please check out my friend Dawn’s website: http://www.singleparentmissions.org. Whether 5 or 50, there are way too many people out there still with “father wounds” and Christ is the One to start with! God bless you all…

  • Susan says:

    Hi Eno,

    How are you today? Eno, I am here to listen to you and would like to support you. Can you share with me what exactly you are going through?

    Let me pray for you.

    Dear Father,

    We thank You for this time. Lord, I pray or eno, and Lord, I ask You to guide him and restore his relation with his children. Lord, You are our peace and I ask You to fill Eno’s home with Your peace. Thank You for hearing our prayers. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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