(This is the second episode in my father wound series. For an overview of the father wound, click here for the first episode.)

My father was 6’2, handsome, successful, and emotionally unavailable. 

Growing up, my mother, my sisters, and I were all afraid of him. 

I didn’t think either of these things was a “big deal” until I connected the dots in therapy and realized how much I was playing out my father wound in my romantic relationships. 

Many of you say you think you have a father wound. By sharing my own story, I aim to illustrate a few of the different ways it can present and impact your life. 

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

My Parents’ Backstory

My parents were high school sweethearts. My father was a basketball star, and my mother was a cheerleader. They both grew up pretty poor. 

My father got a full athletic scholarship to Union College, while my mother worked at the GE factory for a year and a half to save up for tuition. Just months into her first semester at Oneonta, she discovered she was pregnant with my oldest sister over Thanksgiving break. 

My parents quickly got married in the back office of a Methodist Church in Glens Falls, NY, and went on to have three more daughters in six years. 

My parents’ experience influenced my perception of everything, especially love and work.

My mother was pregnant during a time when abortion was not an option and people judged unwed mothers harshly (1958). She was always grateful my father married her. 

It is not surprising that she was very clear I should get an education and make my own money. 

As for my father, he was not a “number one girl dad” like you sometimes see on social media. He was a workaholic, a high-functioning alcoholic, and at work more than he was at home.

I always had this feeling I was a disappointment because I felt like he wanted a boy and I was his last chance to have one. 

I believed this until my mid-30s when my mother told me my father never said anything about wanting boys or being unhappy with daughters. 

I created this narrative as a child because it was much less painful for me to believe there was a reason my father wasn’t interested in me (because I was the wrong gender). But the truth was, he simply wasn’t interested – in me or my sisters. 

As Elie Wiesel put it, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it is indifference. 

It was painful to feel like my father was indifferent. It’s not like he wasn’t physically present. He lived with us until my parents got divorced when I was 13. But while he was around, he wasn’t present

Additionally, since my mother and all of my sisters and I were afraid of him, we avoided him as much as we could

How My Father Wound Impacted Me

It is difficult to live in a house with someone you are afraid of, who is also unemotionally available.

As a result, I grew up comfortable around women because they were safe, and men were not. (Men were scary!) 

I’ve had the same six female friends since childhood. Groups of women have always been my jam. My mastermind is for women, and most of my content is focused on women. 

It’s not that I am anti-male or anyone who identifies as a man. It’s just what my childhood experiences brought out in me. 

I no longer feel this way- I’m not afraid of my husband or my children (I have three sons). 

But growing up, the only way to get my father’s approval was to do well in school. If we got good grades, he rewarded us monetarily. There were never any heartfelt conversations. 

I grew up feeling like I had to over-function, over-perform, and over-give to prove my worth to my father. 

Over-functioning and over-giving alleviated the feelings of lack that the early “wrong gender” belief inspired. Being the best friend, best employee, or someone other people could count on gave me the positive feedback I sought.  

How I Played Out My Father Wound In Romantic Relationships

Growing up, I attracted emotionally unavailable people. 

Once I figured out the emotional piece in therapy, I began having long-distance relationships with men from Europe who were warm and affectionate… but not physically there. 

My therapist pointed out that long-distance relationships still create a longing for connection, attachment, and physical affection. She was right – they led to the same outcome as being with emotionally unavailable men…a feeling of longing. 

In romantic relationships, I was also controlling, needy, and demanding. 

I’ve handled these things in therapy, but wanting control is still in my nature. It takes conscious effort and recovering from codependency, father wound, and attachment stuff to not play it out in my life now. 

I wanted a sense of control because I couldn’t control my father or what happened in our house growing up. 

Initially, I was also drawn to the broken-winged bird relationships- someone I could help “fix,” or someone who needed something. 

When I met Vic, he was a widower raising three sons on his own. In a way, he needed something, too, but it felt like a healthy exchange. I found my family, and he found a willing partner to help raise these kids from their early teens. 

If I hadn’t worked on healing my father wound before I met Vic, I don’t know if I would have recognized him for the amazing partner he has been all these years. (27 🎉)

Vulnerability was required to be in a relationship with him, and I did not want to be vulnerable in a romantic relationship at all. It took a lot of work for me to feel comfortable sharing my most tender heart with Vic. 

Expecting I had to do it all came from having a father wound, too, because I didn’t feel like I could emotionally count on my father. 

However, he was fiscally dutiful as he paid for college, for which I feel incredibly blessed and privileged. He was ethical, he was just emotionally stunted. 

But when you want an emotional connection and someone constantly gives you a different connection, it’s difficult to reconcile. 

What I Learned From My Father Wound

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I learned that men are people to manage. 

Additionally, within my family system, more with my extended family, there is a decent amount of male bashing and, “Well, that’s just the way men are.”

So I learned men are not people with whom you can share your highest truth or have a heart connection. 

I learned to let men think they were running the show, while I was the one actually running it behind the scenes.

In therapy, I eventually got to the point of saying, “I don’t want to subscribe to this limiting and demeaning identification of male.” 

I believe a lot of men are great! I found this with my husband. He is wonderful, has had a lot of therapy, and has an emotional IQ. He’s my best friend, without a doubt. 

But again, I’m not sure I would have recognized this before I worked on my father wound and, subsequently, my high-functioning codependency. The relief I experienced when I realized it was safe to be vulnerable and to let someone do something for me was enormous.

I Changed How I Related to My Father

After I began working on my father wound in therapy, I decided to change how I related to my father. 

I share this story in Boundary Boss, but in case you haven’t read it, the major turning point was my graduation from NYU. 

I was proud of myself for getting my Master’s, and I wanted to invite my father, but I knew he’d say no. He did not like NYC and had already retired to Florida. 

My therapist, Bev, told me to invite him: “It is not about whether he will come or not. It is about you being honest about how you feel.”

With this “homework” assignment, I visited my father for three days in May to ask him to attend. 

I didn’t get the courage until he was literally driving me back to the airport. 

“Hey, uh, dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Uh, I have an extra ticket to graduation, at the end of May, if you’re around and want to come…”

“I really can’t, Terr. I can’t deal with New York.”

“That’s okay. It’s not a problem.”

“Ugh, here comes the guilt.” (Dude, I haven’t guilted you a day in my life!)

“No, Dad. I understand it’s a lot. I’m not taking it personally. But you’re my only father. I want you to know my relationship with you is important. You are important to me. Mom will be there, my sisters will be there, but nobody can replace you. You’re my only father.”

“Oh…okay.” This was the most honest I had ever been with him and I was shaking and sweating profusely!

At the airport, he hugged me goodbye longer than usual, and our relationship shifted afterward. He started sending cards like, “Happy Spring! Love, Dad,” which had never happened before. 

I knew him to be a man of very few words, but we began having deeper conversations. 

And that hug in the airport would be the last time I ever saw my father alive. Just months later, in November, my father died suddenly from a massive coronary. 

I am so grateful we had the conversation about my graduation when we did as I had no regrets. 

Bev told me my healing was in the asking, and she was right. There is something profound about realizing you need to (and can) negotiate for your needs, regardless of what the other person will say. 

This is why I am passionate about helping others heal their father wounds.

To help you begin, you’ll find journal prompts in the guide, but if you want a deeper dive, sign up for my free three-day training about the father wound! It’s happening on May 29, 30, and 31 from 12 – 1:15 pm Eastern each day. You’ll learn: 

  • The origins of Father-Daughter wounds and if you have one
  • How having a father wound can impact your life + relationships
  • Approaches to improving relationships + overcoming a Father Wound 

Let me know: did anything in my father wound story resonate with you? Would you like to share a bit of your own father wound story? Have you integrated and honored your childhood experiences with your father? Let me know in the comments or on Instagram (@terricole).

I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.

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  1. I have always known on some level how blessed I was with the Father I had. It was never more apparent until after I read your story above. In a very working class, one salary family, my Dad never had less than 3 jobs at one time, as my Mom was home with the three of us. Even with those work hours, he was fully engaged with us in every way possible. He was, in the mind of a young teenager, excessively protective. To him, he just never wanted me to get hurt. Once when I was trying to get permission to go somewhere that "everyone else" has already obtained permission, I screamed at him – "You are just trying to keep me in a glass cage." He smiled and said, "Now, you are starting to get my point." Three days before he was admitted to the hospital for treatment of what became his final illness, he was hauling bags of groceries from the car into my house. In his view, a woman with 3 small children was way too frail to carry heavy packages without assistance. The man I married was as close to this example of husband/father, as I possibly could get. Not perfect but on the other hand neither am I.

  2. I had a Dad that was present. He was 6'2",handsome, ARMY, and loved us. But there were some years that were terrible. First, the unhealthy isolated life we led as a result of/and oppression of my mom's mental illness. I found out later, that my Dad had molested my younger sister for a few months. He confessed it to my mom and stopped it. I also remember during that time period,catching him watching me bathe through a crack of the door. I locked it from the then on. He asked me if I wanted to know what sex was all about and see what a man looks like. I refused. He never forced the issue, but it creeped me out. He lay in bed and exposed himself while we were together in my parent's room. Mom was right next to him on their bed. He arranged blankets so he hid what he was doing from her. We're watching a movie on TV. I didn't look after I realized what he was doing. I was 13 then. He never knew that I was aware of his actions but refused to give him any reason to believe that I wanted anything inappropriate with him. I found out recently that he did the same with my one daughter that's the spitting image of my sister when she was younger and my parents were helping me with tutoring in reading and math skills. Imagine my rage after he had supposedly had stopped after I had confronted him about what he had done to my sister. While I was in college and sought therapy after my mom told me about my sister being molested. It sure explained a lot of the things that mom did. But she turned against my sister and I as the guilty ones as well as our father. She became obsessed with our being covered and acting as if we were seductive to guys. Later she assumed that I was seducing and sleeping with many guys in my group of friends. She told me if I got pregnant at college, to not bother coming home. That really ticked me off. I determined that I was not going to be in HER home if I could possibly help it from then on. I took jobs between semesters that I didn't have to ever live with my parents from then on. That's just a small picture of what malfunctions and abuses happened in my family of origin. I am so grateful that I met my husband after being friends with him for a year and then he wrote me a letter asking me to consider deeper relationship with him with possible marriage. I am so thankful for the almost 37 years of a loving marriage that I had with him. It is a story of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Love that He brought me through and is still healing me the wounds of my past. As you can imagine I needed a lot of therapy of great friends that are my chosen family and resources that you are making available. ❤️

  3. Hello Terri!

    Thank you for the vulnerability in sharing your story about your father. I started to tear up reading how difficult it was to ask your father to your graduation. What courage it took to ask him to attend & you did!!! That self-validation in the expression of your needs is so healing. ❤️‍🩹

    I know without a doubt I have a gaping father wound. My father was emotionally & physically abusive & emotionally unavailable when not working. Living in that environment during my formative years most definitely affected my ability to love openly & speak up regarding my wants & needs. Till this day, I avoid contacting him & the few conversations we do have are surface & superficial. Part of me wants to keep the status quo yet another knows I could go deeper & even find healing. Truthfully I’d rather go clean a toilet than speak to my father! But with this intense level of fear & hurt that surround my relationship with him I know in my heart there is work to do. It’s going to be difficult, scary & uncomfortable. Yet, at the age of 44 I feel it’s time to do so. Thank you Terri for creating this 3 day father wound series & being the person you are in this world I’m looking forward to the insights & healing that are to come!!!

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