Life Musings

The Beauty of Abandonment


I spoke with my father today, for perhaps four and a half minutes. After a bit of courteous small talk that revolved around the weather and summer plans, he rushed to get off the phone.  I’m not sure why.  I didn’t ask.  Perhaps he had company, an appointment or something pressing on his mind.  He might have been in physical pain.  As a survivor of a traumatic accident, my father has multiple health challenges.  Walking is profoundly difficult. Even sitting isn’t easy for him.

I’m not sure what reason he had for getting off the phone so quickly, but I can’t say I was surprised.  Our last call – about six months ago – was similarly brief.  I felt so many things in those four and a half minutes. Concern about his health. Happiness at hearing the warm, deep tones of his southern drawl.  Guilt over waiting so long to call.  Anger that he hadn’t called either.  And all the while, an anxious awareness of the awkward space between us. 

“Alright, well you stay safe,” he says, in a way that sounds vaguely fatherly. As though I know what fatherliness sounds like.

“Okay. I’ll try.”  The conversation could end now.  I pause.

“It’s nice to hear your voice,” I add, quickly.

“You too.”

“Take care.”

I glance at the phone. It hadn’t even been five minutes.  There was a mix of relief, sadness and irritation — the familiar feeling of being pushed away, shut out, barely acknowledged.  And just as familiar was the mildly pathetic joy of being granted those crumbs of recognition.

It was better than nothing.

Those four and a half minutes would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.  The story of his twenty year absence from my life – followed by my tracking him down under rather dramatic circumstances – is an epic of Finding Forrester proportions. It’s also a story I won’t be telling tonight.  Suffice it to say that I tried and failed to find him many times. Then the stars aligned.  We finally spoke when I was a senior in college hoping for a long-awaited reunion with my father.

It would be a decade before he decided he was ready to meet in person.

So much of the turmoil of my twenties was the emotional hell of alternately suppressing and suffering my anger and sadness.  The degree of alienation and fury I felt over his recurrent abandonment was something I could not put into words — though I tried.  I wrote a lot of angry letters — to him, his mother, his wife.  Mostly? I was met with silence, left to work out my own peace, without him.

Life eventually found fit for us to speak again, first by phone and then face to face.  For a while, we kept in regular contact, but then the calls became less frequent.  I tried to accept the relationship as it is, without wanting or needing it to be different. I reminded myself that I love the woman I am, and I wouldn’t be the woman I am without walking the path of abandonment.

There are times when I feel pangs of jealousy and pain, seeing young girls, or grown ass women, receiving love, care and attention from their fathers.  In the past, I was loathe to acknowledge these feelings — worried that admitting my father pain was an affront to my mother’s love.  Now, I’ve come to acknowledge and embrace all of these feelings. Although, old habits die hard.

In this case, my old habit is pushing the pain away.  After those four and a half minutes today, I paused to contemplate my sadness and ambivalence over him for few moments.  Then I moved on and tried to forget about it.

Later, I offhandedly mention the conversation to my girlfriend.  It’s the kind of thing I’d normally keep to myself.  In the past, it was the kind of thing I’d keep from myself — buried under layers of unacknowledged pain.

“He rushed to get off the phone with me,” I said.

“I’m so sorry to hear that.”

Later, she again expressed sympathy for the painful experience.  The remarkable thing? I’d already faux-forgotten — pushed the uncomfortable feelings underneath a pile of work and a mountain of to-do lists.

I was so grateful that she didn’t brush off the comment, or take for granted the vulnerability it took for me to share my father pain. Her query helped me remember to unveil, honor and tend to this emotional wound.

I used to think that feeling abandoned by my dad was a terrible burden, a bottomless pit of sadness and fury.  But bit by bit, Life has taught me to embrace everything about my past with love and gratitude. The anger I used to feel toward my father has mostly given way to compassion.  Anger still arises on occasion, but it no longer consumes me.

The beauty of abandonment, as a dualistic experience, is that it slaps us into the nondual recognition of that which can never be abandoned. On the relative level, I’ve learned that abandonment is just the way it is.  The principle of impermanence shows that from one perspective, everything is constantly abandoning us.  Nothing lasts.  No one stays.  But on the absolute level, there is nothing to abandon or be abandoned, because the Universe is One.

Four and a half minutes. Enough time to connect, send positive vibes and express compassion. Enough time to extend even more awareness to my own pain. Enough time to remember my inalienable wholeness. Enough time to wake up.


186 thoughts on “The Beauty of Abandonment”

  1. You are a stronger person than I. It’s been close to 20 years since I last saw or heard from my father and I have made no efforts to contact him because, goddammit, he hasn’t either! I don’t know if I could now, after all this time. But you did and I’m glad it was a good experience for you.

    1. I understand. Follow your heart. If you decide to stay out of contact, that’s fine. If you decide to get in touch, that’s absolutely fine too. Every situation is different.

  2. P.s. I was referring to the heavens in the photo for this blog. They look like a peaceful escape. I am a left over refugee from the family court systems. I was stripped of decades of income, and then after five years of nonstop litigation, I was stripped of my daughter too, when a had to move away=because they don’t let you take them with you, and I (couldn’t afford to stay in CA with declining health on what disability pays). Hardest thing yet, is what her father tells her. He tells her this was my “choice”. I didn’t want to be homeless and hungry-my other “choice”. He, by law never should have gained custody in the first place. The 3044 family code law burden was met for establishing evidence of violence. It is just that they lie, and refused to implement that law, citing the mediators orders with no legal accountability or oversight.

    1. Gosh, losing your daughter sounds so traumatic, on top of all of the other difficulties you describe. Sending warm thoughts to you and your family

  3. It is fascinating how many grown ass women (myself included) share this tale. Although my Dad stayed, he bailed in other ways but I’ve learned that if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did on my own. I too am aware and awake.

  4. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt piece. Just as we experience abandonment and grow from it, it can only be hoped that the other becomes aware of the impact of their actions and experience the grace of forgiveness.

  5. I can relate and appreciate your post. Specifically the acknowledgement or affirmation from your GF after sharing. Friendship…true friendship is very powerful. Beautifully written post.

  6. Like so many others, I can relate. To me, those minutes mean something in that moment but as the day unfolds and the people who are willing to invest in me, offer more, I unconsciously forget that spec of time. We focus on our goals and hopefully don’t give that conversation another thought until we remember to call after another six months have passed.

  7. Men are generally terrible communicators: I have not listened to the video below because I read the book, it’s neat that it’s available in audio, though:

    1. I usually balk at talking about my “daddy issues”, but it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in feeling those pangs of jealousy around girls with doting fathers. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Well.. Let’s not over-generalize .. Some men are great communicators and some women are ineffective with expression. Thanks for sharing the vid

  8. Beautifully written piece! I appreciate your bravery and high level of spirituality and understanding. This has made me appreciate and value the relationships I have with my single mom and family more.

  9. You’re not alone. I too receive 4 minute phone calls. Maybe 3 times a year. There’s always something pressing that he MUST do. It’s hard but I have a step dad who is my father. You’re not alone.

  10. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and emotional story . It helps to ventilate those strong feelings. It’s avery good piece very well written very moving.

  11. This feeling is very familiar…my path to it was different…it makes me a better writer, therapist and artist….and keeps me single….luckily I am blessed with wonderful friends.

      1. Thanks Crystal (o: you can’t be good at everything I suppose…I have some learning to do still….well done on your article very honest…good to know how others have similar experiences…best wishes…(o:

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  13. I have had a very similar experience with my father. I won’t go into details but they include saying he’ll call me right back and not talking to him for another four years… I have been hurt over and over, but still I value my relationship with him. Other than being a selfish asshole I found out my father is a mentally ill drug addict, which doesn’t really excuse any of his former actions, but they make it less personal. Long story short don’t blame yourself, and keep your heart open to that relationship, I hope it will become as rich and healing as much as it has been painful; as in my own experience. I know that anger, betrayal, that sadness of not being worth a phone call or a few minutes of sincere concern, a card, a note, a thought. Maybe not as much as yours; but in my own sphere.
    Your post was beautifully written and hauntingly familiar.

    1. Gosh.. mentally ill drug addict? You’re right – it doesn’t excuse actions, but helps you understand that it really is NOT personal. That was one of the most important “aha” moments for me – I even wrote/sang a song about it called “Nothing Personal” .. it’s HIS stuff, his struggles, his pain – a child is not responsible for a parent’s abandonment. Took me my whole life to figure that out.

  14. Reblogged this on Christy-Lynn Adams and commented:
    My Father’s abandonment caused many hardships and insecurities in my relationships with men. It is a tough journey to overcome. As of today, I forgive him because he only knew what he knew. I’ve managed to reprogram my thoughts and views about men… it’s a constant battle with my mind to believe that I’m good enough for somebody…. hard to know what a good role model is in a man when your own Father isn’t one. Thank goodness for Stepfathers, Grandfathers, Brothers, and other men who know how to be.

    1. YES – yes yes – thank god for stepfathers, grandfathers and other men in our lives who step up and take care of us. I had wonderful relationships with my grandfather, my godfather and other father figures along the way. You are also right that parental abandonment has all kinds of implications for our connections with men.. an important step in my healing was coming to accept and recognize how my perceptions of men had become so distorted due to my daddy issues. Recognizing those distortions was a prerequisite for moving beyond them and coming to truly understand that all men are not the same, that they aren’t all like the image of my father — and that even my father is more complicated, more human, more multi-dimensional, than the hurt and pain that clouded my understanding of who he is and what he’s been through.

      I also identify with you in having to do intentional work on self-esteem, to feel “good enough” – but not just for someone else.. good enough for ME! 🙂 That’s what my whole journey over the last few years has been about.. reclaiming my Being, coming to more fully embrace my inalienable wholeness.. also, Susan Anderson’s book on Abandonment was a real eye opener.. therapy has also been very helpful.

  15. This post is just beautiful. It takes some years to turn the abandonment pain around, I think. I am sure your Dad give what he can but the truth is at times you needed more from him than he was capable of giving. I’ve had a similar journey with my Mum. It was so wonderful you had a true friend to acknowledge the feelings you had were natural and valid. This is a beautiful piece of writing.

    1. Exactly. He gave what he could. I have learned a lot about the concept of “emotional capacity” — in my view, we all do our best and give what we can depending on where we are in our own development and on our own path.. I’m glad that you have experienced healing in your relationship with your Mum. Appreciate your comment!

  16. This rather sad story is so moving that I couldn’t stop reading. Personally I have both parents but sometimes I wish I didn’t. But reading your article has made me realise that I ignore what people like you crave to have.
    A lesson learnt. Thanks.

    1. If this article has helped you appreciate your parents, that’s a beautiful thing.. It’s important to note that I do not crave your parents, though — I didn’t even crave my father — I craved a made up idea of who I thought my father was, or could be.. Someone might think it’s sad to hear that you wish you didn’t have your parents — but I’m sure many, many people can identify with that, too. I hope you don’t walk away from this post with just “Oh, what a sad story” .. it’s bittersweet, but, gosh.. what isn’t?

  17. What a wonderful post. True and honest. Made me ponder on my own relationship with my father.

  18. Really beautiful! Well written and poignant and vulnerable. Thanks! And congrats on the Freshly Pressed.
    Growing up with an alcoholic father, i, too, was abandoned, except that he was in the house. I almost wish he had left. But of course I also don’t. As you say, dualism and ambivalence. I’ve found in my middle age that the compassion I’ve developed for him and his illness and for myself as an emotionally abandoned kid has spilled over into the universal realm and made me a very empathetic and compassionate person all around. Thanks, Dad! 🙂 Thanks for doing the emotional work on yourself that will make the world better for everyone.

    1. Yes to everything you wrote.. what a beautiful and thoughtful comment! I’m so glad that you are also “doing the work”.. and I fully agree — building compassion for him has opened my heart universally – to others and also to myself. I’ve come to appreciate both his existence and his absence — because both have contributed to making me who I am 🙂 My warmest wishes to you

  19. My father has been absent from my life since I was 3. While I have come to terms with it at the age of 20, if I dig down into my psyche, I can relate to the feelings you describe going through on some primal level. Perhaps I haven’t come to the wise, kind place of forgiveness that you have yet, but I’m sure it’ll come. Your post was beautiful and yet wise, and I’ve shared it with people who I know will find it relevant. Thank you!

    With Sincerity,

    1. Hi Whitemowgli – and warm thanks for your thoughtful comment 🙂 I haven’t come to a place of perfect forgiveness yet.. it’s a work in progress.. but I feel that I have opened up in my ability to have love and compassion for myself and for my dad. He was also absent in my life from about the age of 3. For me it really helped to acknowledge how much pain this caused.. to really allow myself to fully experience and express the anger and sadness.. and then finally, to understand that his behavior had NOTHING to do with me. I wish you well in your path.

  20. I found this post randomly and it struck me deeply. I can relate. But thank you for staying so optimistic about this as it probably can be hard to. Beautiful post.

    1. I really appreciate your comment. I was really surprised with this post became freshly pressed — I wondered: Who would care about/relate to this? Little did I know that it would strike such a chord with so many others.. thank you for validating my feelings.

  21. Just enough time to have that connection and hang up with your heart intact. Love your post! Thanks for sharing!

  22. I was abandoned by my mother and it has taken me over 30 years to come to terms and be grateful for the experience that has made me the woman I am today. Your piece hit home, I admire people who rise above life’s challenges and grow from the experience.

    1. Thank you. I haven’t written much about my father, but I’m glad that this piece crystallized these difficult emotions in a way that could resonate with others

  23. A sad story, beautifully expressed. I never knew my father, so I know what it feels like to grow up not having a strong, loving bond with a father figure. My parents divorced when I was a baby. I met him once when I was 5. He was with his new wife and adopted daughter and wanted to take me from my single mom. She wouldn’t let him, of course. We exchanged a few letters as I was growing up. He showed off his airplane, his boat. Then the letters stopped. When my first child was born I wrote him. He never wrote back. I learned he had a new young wife and a son only a few years older than my child. I never tried to reach him again. I can’t say I miss him or even wonder about him much, or my half brother. They don’t seem real to me, no connection. I may have been better off without him in my life. I wonder if the same might not have been for you too.

    1. Yes, you may be better off without him — in fact, my philosophy is: if you need something or someone in your life, they will be there. If they leave, then you don’t need them. That might be a harsh philosophy, and I’m not saying it applies to everyone in every circumstance, but it works for me.. If I’m supposed to have a relationship with you, then Life will push me in that direction, or push you in that direction (or both) and it will happen. If it’s not happening, then I presume it’s for a very good reason. We are not meant to stay in relationships with everyone who has ever been in our life. Our primary relationship is to our authentic Truth..

      I’m sorry to hear that your dad did not respond after the birth of your child.. I can only imagine how hurt you might have felt.. but I also hope you embrace the possibility that maybe both you AND your child are better off without him..

      As children, we need caretakers. But as adults, we need to take care of ourselves. We do not need people who treat us poorly.

  24. What a fantastic piece of writing. This has really opened my eyes, both on general and personal levels. Your attitude is refreshing and this piece is both haunting and beautiful. Thank you for posting. Laney

  25. Choosing compassion and observing rather than reacting will bring you peace. Well written.

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