“Even in his death, he still rejected me.”
This sentence left me breathless, rendering me speechless and at a loss for words as my friend recounted her experience attending her father’s funeral last weekend.
Being rejected by someone who contributed to one’s very existence is a painful experience. Personally, I have never known my biological father or his family. He had been in a hot fling with my widowed mother, but quickly made himself invisible when my mother discovered she was pregnant with me.
I’ve never been sure if she knew that he was a married man when she was involved with him. I have one photograph of them together, and my mother looks so happy – she is glowing.
In my headstrong teenage years, I rejected all attempts, including hers, to allow myself to be introduced to his clan. My decision was influenced by the abundant love I received from my mother and her side of the family; I did not feel the need to immerse myself in yet another family.
However, my friend Nomfundo, who also had a fatherless childhood, took a different path. In her adulthood, she actively sought out her father and worked tirelessly to build a relationship with him. Nomfundo is familiar with my Love Legacy and Dignity work and has generously agreed to share her painful story.
“I knew of my father, but never experienced him or his love. Later, I discovered that I had a brother and sister, also born out of wedlock, who had also been abandoned like me. After I finished university and started work, I intentionally went to look for him. I wanted to start a meaningful relationship.
“I spent time with him and his wife, and for a time, I felt a sense of belonging. However, I came to realise that the relationship was purely transactional. It seemed that my love and belonging were contingent upon me buying and paying for it.
“I had witnessed him treating others in the same way, but when the warmth was first directed towards me, it blinded me and prevented me from seeing the truth.
“Growing up with parents who had left me at a young age made me believe that I had to give them a reason to want me. Money became the reason or the currency I chose to use. But as I did some soul-searching, I realised that love cannot be bought. I decided to withdraw from this transactional relationship, and as a result, it faded away.
“My father was capable of love, but he showered it only on his wife’s family. She never bore his children, but she and her children were the ones who truly mattered to him.
“On his deathbed, his final instructions were that his biological children should not be mentioned at his funeral. We attended the funeral as guests; we were onlookers, not participants. Our stepmother’s children spoke about their loving father. And finally, to add insult to injury, ALL of his belongings, which I had financially contributed to, were left to his late wife’s family, the stepmother who never became a mother to us.
“The funeral was a day filled with sadness, not for his passing, but for the rejection felt by me and my siblings. We decided to close this chapter and have said our goodbyes to a father who was never truly there for us.”
As we wind up the year, we need to reflect on our relationships and identify those that are in distress but deserve repairing and those that need to be released. Nomfundo learned that love cannot be bought or earned through material possessions.
As we examine our own relationships, it is important to understand that the worthiness of an individual does not depend on how much they give or provide for someone else. We owe it to ourselves to recognise and acknowledge one’s own value and not base it solely on the approval or love of a parent.
I still don’t know what to say or how to console Nomfundo, but witnessing and telling her story is the first act of support requested by her. That accomplishes Archbishop Tutu’s first two steps of his fourfold way of forgiveness – the importance of telling the story and naming the hurt. I hope my listening to her storytelling will help her release her resentment or anger and facilitate her forgiveness journey.
Dealing with rejection from a parent can be incredibly challenging and painful, but Nomfundo’s story has solid lessons.
1. Acceptance: Acknowledge and accept the reality of the situation. Understand that the rejection does not reflect your worth as a person.
2. Seek support: Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist who can provide emotional support and guidance throughout the healing process.
3. Process emotions: Allow yourself to feel the pain, anger, or sadness that comes with rejection.
4. Self-care: Focus on self-compassion and self-care. Engage in activities that bring you joy, practice self-care rituals, and prioritise your own well-being.
5. Set boundaries: It may be necessary to establish boundaries with the rejecting parent to protect yourself emotionally. This can involve limiting contact or taking a break from the relationship if needed.
6. Forgiveness: Consider exploring forgiveness as a way to release any resentment or anger towards the parent. Forgiving does not mean forgetting or condoning their actions, but rather freeing yourself from the burden of carrying negative emotions, interests, and passions, and work towards building a fulfilling life for yourself.
Remember, healing from parental rejection takes time. Be patient with yourself and allow the healing process to unfold naturally.