Monthly Archives: June 2024

Rejected fathers: Living beyond estrangement

Rejected fathers: Living beyond estrangement

rejected fathersby Sheri McGregor, M.A.

Judging from the emails I receive from rejected fathers, there are a lot of good men out there suffering estrangement. Men of substance, heart, courage, and grit. Dads who sacrificed their hearts, their bank accounts, and sometimes even their beliefs to support their children …. Only to be ignored and abandoned later. Many of these men say they long to impart their wisdom to the offspring they hope will make the world a better place. Beyond the loving and fun parts, that’s the crux of fatherhood, isn’t it? Leaving a legacy of wisdom for the next generation?

Rejected fathers: You can still make a difference

I’m amazed at the fathers who tell me that, despite the sorrow of what’s happened in their families, they’re making thoughtful, strong choices, and getting on with their lives. And they’re doing great things, leaving a legacy of love and support in places and with people who appreciate their time, effort, and wisdom. Here’s a sampling.

Curtis, whose daughter was alienated from an early age by his ex-wife (I hear this frequently) updates me after nearly every newsletter. He tells about all the good he’s doing in a poverty-stricken area of the world. There, whole villages of children and adults appreciate him. He provides material help and is hands-on in restoring historic buildings alongside the people he serves. He has also remarried to a local woman who is equally community-minded, and says, “There’s joy in it all.” Curtis has decided he won’t be leaving money to his daughter. He’s too busy leaving a legacy of fresh water, food, medical supplies. “And besides,” he explains, “we spoke a few times after she graduated college. My daughter made a lot of promises about us getting together, took any cash I’d give, and mostly just blew me off.” Curtis decided he could sit around and be angry or get back to doing something useful. He chose the latter.

Another rejected dad, Mike, says that his sons look down on him. “I crawled under houses to replace old plumbing and snaked out clogged pipes my whole life just to send them to college,” he says. “They’re both in tech and snicker at my frugal lifestyle, which afforded them the education that got them the fancy living they now enjoy.” Mike and his wife are debt free. Meanwhile, he sees his sons living in “a house of cards.” Now, Mike helps people who appreciate him. He started an interfaith food pantry, distributing groceries to those in need. He sets aside cash to buy food staples for the pantry each month. “It’s being there at the site that makes my day,” he says. Mike is as generous with the food as he is the hugs he shares with struggling parents or older people whose kids often don’t make the effort to help them.

Other dads write memoirs to impart their knowledge, or they volunteer at everything from train and aerospace museums to wildlife and conservation efforts. Some have launched late-life businesses, are involved in political activism, have started churches, or serve on their local community boards. Many are content to spend time with sons and daughters who remain loyal. These dads enjoy their grandchildren, putter in the yard, or help neighbors who are less able. While they miss the grandchildren they aren’t allowed to see, and wish they’d have known then what they know now, these men still strive to be good, giving human beings. They care about the world and the people in it.

Rejected fathers: In their own words

There are plenty of rejected fathers doing wonderful things with their lives. In this blog post, I’d like to honor some of these fathers by allowing them a public voice to share what they have learned from estrangement to help other rejected fathers and mothers.

To that end, I’ve combed through more than 21,000 emails looking for notes from estranged dads and have chosen those representative of the most common themes and messages. So, without names, with unique details changed to protect their privacy, here are their heartfelt thoughts.

“In my estranged son’s eyes, I’m only useful for one thing. I don’t learn all that fast but I’m in my seventies now and have come back to an old Beatles truth. Money can’t buy me love.”

“Two years ago, I set up an agreed upon meeting with a family counselor for myself and my daughter. She cancelled at the last minute. I have left the door open and tried to connect via voicemails, emails, and texts…. My thought going forward is to stop any such attempts since it is falling on deaf ears. My daughter will have to make some indication that she has some interest in moving in a different direction. If this were anyone else, I would have stopped trying much earlier.”

“I pray for them every day. And also for myself, for help to focus on where I can best be of service.”

“I’ve done all I can. I plan to write a final letter, asking for us to talk. If nothing comes out of it, I will wish her a happy life, say good-bye, and get on with living. She may talk badly about me and blame me for this rift, but better a horrible end than an endless horror.”

“Yeah, this hurts worse than anything, but I’ve had lots of other disappointments and heartaches in life before this happened. I’m down but not for the count.”  

“At 74 and with heart trouble, I know my days ahead are fewer than those behind me. I’m done torturing myself, trying to convince them I’m worthy of their time or love. Fact is, I’ve tried it all. I will always remember the way they came running to me, calling me ‘daddy.’ I gave most of my life up for those kids, years beyond the end of mutual caring. Now, I’m keeping good company with myself. I’m thinking good thoughts, seeing lovely things, and enjoying my life without them. It was their choice.”

“Sheri, thank you for helping us parents see that our lives have value beyond raising children. I can’t fix these grownups who are now in their late thirties. Their lack of character isn’t my fault or my responsibility. I can still be a dad to the one son who didn’t desert me, and I can honor myself and stop chasing what amounts to wind.”

Your legacy. Your heart.

Rejected fathers and mothers sometimes respond to estrangement differently from one another. To read another post that addresses that, click through to A gift for estranged fathers. I’ve included a few past Father’s Day postings under “Related Reading” below.

To all the rejected fathers out there, do assign yourself some honor. It’s your day … Maybe even your era.

Hugs and Happy Father’s Day,

Sheri McGregor

Related Reading

Father’s Day when adult children turn away

Father’s Day 2023 and estrangement

A gift for estranged fathers


When adult kids show no interest: Parents, it’s time to take charge of your life

adult kids show no interestWhen adult children show no interest:
Parents, it’s time to take charge of your life

By Sheri McGregor, M.A.

In the last 20 years, one simple question posed to clients becomes one of the most powerful:

  • What’s stopping you?

After fumbling a little for an answer, usually one of two responses occurs.

Often the person will smile and say, “Good question,” realizing immediately that they’re getting in their own way.

Others will start in with a list of reasons why they haven’t been able to change, or even can’t change. They may have ideas of how they’d like to shift focus to themselves and their future now but continually swing back to all that should be happening at this point in their lives. Often, that’s an old vision that no longer fits. Some lament the things they wished they’d had the chance to do … but won’t entertain the idea of alternatives. Others say they don’t have the energy, don’t know if they can, or don’t know how to start. Some say they’re content to give up on people entirely, yet they complain of loneliness. Frequently, they’re continuing to keep company with those who hurt them. Endless thought loops keep the past, and those relationships, alive.

I get it. In the early daze of estrangement, I worried about ending up alone, how I’d be judged by others, and whether mustering the strength to pick myself up and move forward was even worth the effort. How could I, a loving mother, just go on in life without my son? What would life even look like if a child I’d poured my heart and soul into could up and dump me? And sometimes, keeping the pain in front of us feels like a shield. If we don’t let anyone get close, they won’t disappoint or hurt us.

The reality is that all of us have grief, experience loss, and wish some things hadn’t happened or were different now. In my role here, I don’t talk much about the trauma I’ve suffered in addition to estrangement. I know what it’s like to suffer narcissistic abuse, have people I love be addicted, mentally ill, or make me their target. And I work with people every day who know these sorts of troubles as well as (or as a feature of) estrangement. Many are all alone now yet gathering the gumption to embrace each moment and carry on. People who are grieving the past, treasuring today, and still working on tomorrow.

Where do you fit?

When you think of that question—What’s stopping you?—how do you respond? If you’re like the ones in the first group, bravo. Close your eyes, imagine slipping a Team Your Name jersey over your head, and get ready to work. You realize that to move forward requires steps … and you’re willing to lace up your boots, fuel up your stores of energy and resilience, and get moving.

If you’re in the second group, use the exercise in the first chapter of Done With The Crying to get a better idea of where you stand. You may not be prepared yet to move forward for yourself. We all move at differing paces and need various levels of support. Get the assistance you need.

You could join the Done With The Crying peer community where members who have been there and understand will embrace you like a comforting shawl on a chilly day. They’ll witness your unique pain and offer their own experiences as a guide to getting unstuck. If you haven’t yet, at least sign up for my newsletter (free).

You may find therapy useful. And don’t forget your physical health. Taking care of the body also boosts mental and emotional wellness. And when we’ve been through the trauma of adult kids’ rejection, our health can suffer. Do what’s necessary. You count.

When adult kids show no interest: Go “all in” for yourself

Some of you won’t feel comfortable with that sub-heading. Going “all in” for you might sound like giving up on your kid, but it’s more like giving in to the facts. And it not selfish to stop sacrificing your own well-being when adult kids show no interest or are abusive to you. You can hold out hope that one day things will be different, but if holding out hope for them to change is all you do—then you really are giving up—on yourself.

Whether our adult kids show no interest or we’ve experienced other betrayal, trauma, or distress, it’s up to us to take charge in our lives. Otherwise, we can fritter our days away in wishful thinking, unhealthy hope, or even bitterness that does no one good.

Adult children who show no interest may never change. Even if they do, wouldn’t it be nice to have done or learned something interesting in the interim? Places you’ve seen, causes you’ve contributed to, or friends you’ve enjoyed?

There’s a great big world out there, with people and ideas at our fingertips. Even if you’re not ready or able to physically mingle, the internet becomes a lifeline. Interest groups and classes meet and converse in real time via computer (no driving needed)—and can be the start to more in-person activities (if you want and when you’re ready).

Your mission (if you choose to accept it)

Whether you’ve been estranged for one year or ten, I invite you to recognize the situation as it is. Your adult child has set you aside. For now, or, possibly, forever. Take up the torch for yourself: your care, your interests, your development and vision for your life without them. Don’t worry, you can always choose to chase after them in the future. For now, though, at least for a time, give a rest to focusing on the ones who have abandoned you.

Do what’s needed to become strong. Don’t hesitate. Go “all in” for your own well-being.

It’s your choice whether to remain torn and in turmoil, or to commit to your well-being. Imagine being in a boat alone when a leak springs at either end. You can’t reach both. You stick your finger in one hole, but water still pours in the other. Switch holes you plug and you’re still sinking. It’s like that when you plan to take care of yourself but remain in chase mode, checking social media or reaching out to crickets, and stirring up sadness, anger, and pain. Why keep hurting yourself? It’s a losing prospect.

Abandon the adult-kids-show-no-interest boat. Swim to shore instead. What’s stopping you?

Related reading

Estranged parents: Get out of the comfort zone

Is your adult child estranged? Be careful

Are you “stalking” your estranged adult child?