Dear Dr. Bill,
I was an absent father for 12 years from my two wonderful daughters, and I have recently re-established contact with them and their mother. I know I can’t change the time I was gone and I live with that guilt every day.
There is a hesitancy and fear on the part of my girls to meet face to face, which I totally understand. I have not put any pressure on them and I’ve told them they can take all the time they need. How would you advise me about rebuilding that relationship?
Based on your e-mail, it appears that you are remorseful about your past mistakes and that you’re serious about making amends with your daughters. But the truth is that we “reap what we sow” in life and there are consequences for our actions.
Given the fact that you abandoned your daughters for 12 years, you’ll need to earn the right to have a relationship with them. This is going to take patience, humility, and time — possibly a long time.
Ask yourself what’s behind your desire to reconnect with your daughters. Do you have their best interests at heart, or do you simply want to get rid of your own guilt feelings? The bible says there is a difference between being motivated by guilt, which is selfish, and "godly sorrow," in which a person truly feels remorse for harming someone else and breaking relationship.
It sounds as if you’ve turned your life around and you want to make things right. If so, you’re going to need to demonstrate it through concrete actions, shown consistently, over time.
Give your daughters lots of space and let them move toward you at their own pace. Let them know that you will respect their choices regarding reconciliation, and that you understand how much pain and anger they must feel.
If and when they decide that they are willing to meet with you, I suggest that these first few meetings be done with the help of an experienced family therapist.
Thanks for writing Dennis. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Culture Connection page.