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Healing the Father Wound

By Rev. Dr. Juan Carlos Areán, Program Director, Futures Without Violence

Father's Day is a joyful event for many families, but not for all. Many people carry a large "father wound." Some people grew up without knowing their fathers, mainly because they chose to leave their families. Others had fathers who were physically present but emotionally away. And yet others experienced cruel and abusive fathering. Millions of people fit into each of these categories.


As faith leaders, what can we do to help the healing of this wound? First of all, we should support the people who have been harmed. There are many entries in this blog and other resources on how to work with survivors of violence and trauma. However, we rarely discuss what we can do to help fathers who have caused harm change and heal. It is a complex issue, and we must be careful not to do more harm. Still, research shows that fatherhood can be used to motivate people to change and that faith leaders can play a crucial role in this process.


Futures Without Violence, the national organization where I work, has invested over 40 years to end gender-based violence. We work with many professionals who interact with adult and child survivors and people who cause harm. We develop policies, conduct training, and develop materials for the field. Recently, we created a new resource that may be helpful for faith leaders who want to approach fathers who have caused harm in their communities.


How Do You Want Your Kids to Remember You? is a new free workbook directed to fathers or father figures who have harmed their partners and families and want to change. It is written in plain and understandable language, and it takes readers through practical exercises to begin their transformation and healing process. It was informed by research on children whose fathers were abusive and mothers who experienced abuse, as well as conversations with fathers who hurt their families, renounced their abuse, and repaired their relationships with their children. The workbook can be done as an independent project, but readers are strongly encouraged to seek help from a trusted friend or family member, a faith or community leader, or a therapist or counselor.


The workbook relies on various evidence-based strategies to work with fathers, including the science of hope, motivational interviewing, creating awareness of the impact of violence on children, reflecting on how men were fathered (or not) and the power of breaking the intergenerational cycle​, using the voices of children to support the change process​, leveraging culture,​ and utilizing the power of legacy.


You can download the free workbook here, print it and offer it to a father who needs help. Even better, you could offer to meet with him periodically and help him debrief the exercises.


Since its release last year, the workbook has been downloaded thousands of times, and we have heard from therapists, fathers, and faith leaders who have used it. It has been utilized individually and in group settings, including with incarcerated dads. If you find it helpful, we would love to hear from you! You can reach us with comments or questions at jcarean@futureswithoutviolence.org.


This Father's Day, let us remember that fathers and father figures can have an outsized impact on children. Most fathers are loving presences in their children's lives and create a powerful intergenerational love cycle. Others may have fallen short of the mark but can still change, heal the father wound, and be a loving and positive influence in their children's lives.


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