By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 29, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Why did my father abandon me?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 29 Mar. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/why-did-my-father-abandon-me. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, March 29). Why did my father abandon me?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/why-did-my-father-abandon-me.

Dear Alice,

My father left my mother before I was born. They had a good relationship and were happy, but then my mom became pregnant with me. She had trouble telling my father, who was only eighteen at the time, and said she didn't expect him to play a role in my life. So, he left.

I've never seen him or spoken to him in my life. I have no idea what he looks like or who he is and he seems to have no desire to have anything at all to do with me. In fact, he ditched town the day after he found out. I'm mad... I'm mad at my mother for making it so easy for him to leave and I hate that man for what he did. I'm still young and even I can't imagine deserting a child and leaving them without a parent for their entire life. But then maybe that's because I know how it feels and I would never put anyone through that kind of pain. As a girl, I suppose it's hard to understand. Perhaps you can help me to understand his reasoning?

Dear Reader, 

While your father may have left for a variety of reasons, it may not be possible for you (or anyone for that matter) to fully understand why. That said, as you grow older and have more life experiences, you may better understand the circumstances surrounding your father's departure. What is possible is developing a better understanding of how his leaving has affected you. By doing this, you may find yourself in a more peaceful place. 

While your father’s decision to leave may seem like it was just because he didn’t want to be involved, there may also be other reasons that may have contributed to his decision to go. While it may not erase the pain you feel, you might try thinking through his perspective to find some closure. One factor that could’ve contributed may have been his relationship with your mom. Although you say they had a good relationship, maybe they didn’t always get along well. Maybe he didn’t have the same view of the relationship as your mother did, or he wasn’t ready or willing to be a parent even if your mother was. You mentioned that she had told him she didn’t expect him to play a role in your life. He could have taken that statement as a chance to pursue his own goals. He could’ve also been going through other struggles, like mental health challenges or financial hardships, which made him unable to stay or support a partner and child. 

While mulling over potential reasons for his departure, it may also be helpful to reflect on how your experience with an absent father may have affected your view of your parents, yourself, and others. 

  • Could your mother have withheld information about your father and the circumstances that factored into his decision to leave? Are there other reasons that could have caused him to leave? 
  • Have you always felt anger toward your father for leaving? Or maybe at your mother for letting him leave? Do these feelings intensify at certain times (such as holidays, weekends, or family events)? What strategies have you used to cope with these feelings in the past? 
  • Have you spoken with your mother about your feelings towards her and your feelings towards your father? 
  • What other feelings do you experience when thinking about your father? Do you feel any shame or guilt, or a fear of abandonment? 
  • Do you want to contact your father, or have you in the past? Do you think contacting him might improve your feelings towards him, or worsen them? 
  • How do you think your perception of parent-child relationships or romantic relationships has been affected by your experiences? Have they affected your ability to form relationships

No matter the reason, it’s understandable that you’d feel a range of emotions—everything from sadness, to grief, to anger, and back again—at him and your mother for the questions left unanswered. While it’s common to have these emotions, holding onto certain emotions can have adverse effects on your physical and mental health. In an attempt to find some resolve in what you’re feeling, consider chatting more with your mother about the situation or you might try some individual level strategies. For example, some strategies to control anger might include relaxation tools, cognitive restructuring, problem-solving, communication skills, humor, or changing your environment.  If you’re looking to discuss this with your mother, using effective communication skills might help let her know how you feel without placing blame or saying something you don’t mean. 

If you’re experiencing intense feelings that are interfering with your daily life, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health professional. They may be able to provide tools or treatments to help you process your emotions or start to heal and recover from them. You might also consider suggesting family therapy to your mom if that’s something you’d be interested in exploring. While you may not be able to get to the bottom of why your father left, there are things you can do to try and understand him, cope with his absence in your life, or move on from the pain he has caused you. 

All the best,  

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