FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Father Wound: How to Heal: Kia Stephens

with Kia Stephens | June 7, 2024
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Could your father wound affect your marriage? Maybe it surfaces in struggling with trust, low self-esteem, or difficulty forming healthy boundaries. Kia Stephens helps you learn how to heal, using practical tools to overcome insecurities and find wholeness with God.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Father wounds affecting your marriage? Maybe you’ve got trust issues, low self-esteem, boundary struggles. Kia Stephens offers real tools for healing.

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Father Wound: How to Heal: Kia Stephens

With Kia Stephens
June 07, 2024
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Dave: Okay, before we get started today, I’ve got a question for you—not you, Ann; our listeners. Where are you listening from?

Ann: You know that we’re from Detroit.

Dave: Motor City.

Ann: Shelby’s in the Philly area, and our FamilyLife Today Headquarters is in Orlando.

Dave: So, we’re coming to you guys from all over the country, but what about you? We would love to know if you are in one of those areas or where else you consider home.

Ann: Text “FLT” plus where you are listening from to 80542 to let us know. Again, you’re going to text “FLT” plus where you are listening from to 80542.

Kia: I flew, and I went and picked my dad up. Tears were streaming down his face, and he said, “You know, I owe you and your mother an apology because alcoholism robbed me of my life.”

Ann: Whoa!

Kia: I sat there just stunned because I saw the remorse. My response could have been, “Well, you’re darn right! You’re exactly right!” But what I said was, “It’s okay, Dad. We all have things that we’ve got to work through.”

Tracy: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. This is Tracy Lane from the FamilyLife Content Team, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Today, we’re talking about something I was thinking about this way: it’s like most people are walking around with this little thing they’re carrying. They don’t know that they’re carrying it, but it’s weight.

Ann: I see it as not just a weight; I see it as a wound that’s open, and we’re sick inside. We don’t even know what normal feels like.

Dave: Our listeners are thinking: “What in the world are you talking about?” [Laughter] “Could you name this wound?”

Yes, it’s called “the father wound.” Kia Stephens is back with us. She was with us yesterday talking about her book, Overcoming Father Wounds. Kia, welcome back.

Kia: Hey, it’s great to be back with you talking about such an upbeat topic. [Laughter] I’m so glad to be here.

Ann: No, I’m really excited about this because, as we said, most of us, I would guess, are waking around with wounds. I had a great dad. He was present.

Dave: He was a good man; a very good dad. 

Ann: He was a really—not a believer for years and years. We had hard conversations about this. I would get mad; he would get mad. I still had a wound, but at least we could talk about the wound.

A lot of us, like you said yesterday, your dad wasn’t able ready to receive maybe the words that you were saying or, even, you couldn’t have the relationship that you longed for. I think that’s true for a lot of people.

Dave: Yes, and let me say this to the listener: if you didn’t listen to yesterday, go back, because you want to hear Kia’s story of her father wound; my father wound, Ann’s.

But let’s start here: how would a person know if they have it? Can you define it or help us understand: “I don’t think I have that, but maybe I do?”

Kia: You were saying, Ann, that you thought a lot of people had a father wound. It’s one in three children that grow up with father wounds.

Ann: Wow!

Kia: Father wounds are synonymous with father absenteeism. We know that a father can be absent for a myriad of reasons. It could be divorce, abandonment, abuse, incarceration, drug addiction, alcoholism, as it was in my case, alcoholism.

Dave: It could be working too much.

Kia: Yes, that’s what I was going to say—a physically present father, but emotionally absent. If you’re listening, and you’re seeing one of those qualifiers, and there are additional ones, then you may in fact have a father wound.

In my research, I read this book by Dr. Charles Whitfield. He’s now deceased. He listed inside of this book several needs that need to be met in the child’s life: things like love, attention, validation, acceptance, trust, affirmation, safety, security. These are some needs that you need to grow up with that secure attachment style that we were talking about.

There are some needs, I believe, that the father specifically provides. Naturally, we think about these gender roles of the mother as the nurturer. But the father provides security; the father affirms the femininity of the daughter.

If the father is not in the home to do those things, then the daughter is left to do it for herself, often with costly results, as we see with the statistic: daughters who grow up without a father in the home are “x” amount more likely to have a teenage pregnancy, or they’re “x” amount more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol and risky behavior, or get involved in crime.

I would venture to say that, if we examine the lives, and it has been done—it’s been done with prisoners—how many of them did not have a father?

Ann: Yes, as you were saying all those statistics, I was recalling, I think I was eight years old when I went in the room—and my dad always kissed me goodnight; so, I went in to the room—where he was to say goodnight to my parents. I remember saying, as an eight-year-old, “Maybe I’m too old to do this now?”

My dad said, “Well, maybe you are,” and it was the last time he ever hugged and kissed me. [Gasping]

Kia: Oh!

Ann: I remember, I went to bed that night, and I had this void [and thought], “I wish I hadn’t said that, and I hope he still does.” But he didn’t know. At that point, I had already had a lot of sexual abuse in my background. So, his hugs, his kiss at night, which were just totally appropriate and beautiful, were the only times I had had affection that was not distorted.

Kia: Oh, Ann!

Ann: I’m thinking of the fathers who, even as their girls become teenagers and you’re in that awkward stage because she’s becoming a woman, let me just say, “She needs your appropriate physical touch and affection.” Because I went on, [and] I was so promiscuous. You talk about this in the book of, even, some of the signs of possible father wounds and our needs not being met.

But dads, your little girls need this from you in an appropriate way.

Kia: Yes. I actually read a book, Bringing Up Girls, by Dr. James Dobson. He talks about that. He talks about the awkwardness, and father’s not wanting to touch their daughters or hug their daughters because they are starting to look like women

Ann: —right.

Kia: —so there’s a little discomfort with that. But that is the time—

Ann: —that is the time!

Kia: —more so than when they are little. Yes, do it when they are little, but when they are teenagers, and they’re developing, and they’re turning to the opposite sex to define them and to give them the value and the affirmation, when a daughter has received that from her father, and she gets a subpar comment or statement from a male, she can easily say, “I don’t need it.”

Ann: Yes.

Kia: “I don’t need that.”

Dave: “I’ve got it.”

Kia: “I’ve already got it. My dad already told me who I am. I already know that I’m beautiful. I already know that I’m confident.”

Dave: I’ve said it this way: you’re driving your car, and you’ve got a full gas tank. You drive by a gas station, and you don’t stop, but when you are almost on empty, you’re pulling in; and you get in trouble, like you said.

Let me just add this: boys need it from their dad, too—

Kia: —exactly.

Dave: —not just daughters—a hug, affection in an appropriate way, a look that says, “I believe in you. I see you, and you’ve got what it takes.”

Ann: And if a father’s not at home, a grandfather, too.

Kia: Yes, that’s right. Life is how life is, and families are not perfect. These parents or parental figures, we’ve set on pedestals because we love them. They’re our parents. We see no flaws. They’re our parents.

But when you get old enough, you can say, “My dad was a great provider. He was not affectionate,” or “My dad was affectionate, but he wasn’t attentive, and he didn’t come to that volleyball game,” or “My dad was a leader in church, but he was absent when he came home. He watched TV all day. He never asked me about my day,” or “My dad had an affair,” or “My dad hit my mom,” or “He called her a name,” or “For most of the time he was even, but every now and then, he would get upset and fly off the handle. He never hit anybody, he never cursed, but it scared me because I’m sensitive.”

When you get older, you’re able to—hopefully, prayerfully, with counseling and some help, you’re able to—look at it holistically and with balance and say, “This is true, but this is also true,” and “This is how it has impacted me in my life.”

Dave: How did you heal? I know we’re all still on a journey, but you’ve gotten some closure.

Kia: I have gotten some closure, and then there were some more things that opened up. [Laughter]

Dave: That’s how it goes.

Kia: When you’re writing a book it’s like, right before you birth the book baby, I was thinking, “I don’t know why I’m writing this book in the first place! I don’t know if I believer this anymore.” [Whining Voice] I’m keeping it 100. That’s where I was.

But a friend of mine pointed up about this book, and I wasn’t intentional in doing that, that the title says “Overcoming,” and the i-n-g is present progressive, which means it’s happening right now. I’m in the process of overcoming—

Dave: —in real time, and in the future.

Kia: Yes, it’s not a period. I want to preface anything I say from this point forward with the fact that i-n-g is present progressive. I don’t want anyone to feel like, “I’m not far enough,” or “I’m just starting out,” or “I’m too far gone,” or “There’s nothing God can do with me,” or “Look at all these wounds.” If you identify it: “I’ve got trust wounds and love wounds and affirmation wounds and security wounds. I’m completely jacked up. There is nothing that God can do with me.” I want to bring you back to the i-n-g.

I’m still in an i-n-g state, but some of the tools that I’ve used, definitely that forgiveness letter was really powerful for me, and prayer, and counseling. I think there’s something to be said for having someone who is clinically trained that is outside your circle of friends, and they’re paid to keep your information confidential, that can provide insight into your life. Even with that, counseling is about 150 dollars a session, so that may be overwhelming.

I would say start with your church. I actually did that with my church. I’m fortunate that my church had a program. It’s called Renew. I’m hesitant to say it because I sat in on another program and people hunted me down [to ask], “Where can I get into that program?” It’s not available to the public, but it is a merge of psychology and Christianity, which I think is so needed.

You look at things like your traumatic childhood experiences, and you look at your wounds, your family of origin. Then you begin to track through your dominant thoughts, and you do a process called cognitive behavioral therapy where you identify the thoughts that are driving your behavior; because when we have behaviors, the natural tendency is to say, “I am going to change my behavior! This is going to be one of my New Year’s resolutions! I am not going to behave like this anymore! I am going to be more kind. I’m going to be more loving.

But that’s attacking it from a behavioral standpoint. You can’t do that. You have to change your thoughts, and then your thoughts will automatically change your behavior. But we can’t change our thoughts, because we’re not God. So, you have to turn to the Word of God. I’m thinking about, what is it, Romans chapter 12?

Ann: Two.

Kia: Twelve, two. You know, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” [Paraphrased] You renew your mind with the Word of God. The blend of the cognitive therapy and the Word of God is identifying: “What is the dominant thought that is driving this behavior? ‘I must perform to feel love. I must be told that I am pretty to feel beautiful. I must drive the relationships in order to feel important and feel loved’.”

Those are some examples, but just identifying those apart from the Word of God might not be enough. Because they can sound like truth, and you can’t even distinguish that “Oh, no, that’s a lie.” That’s where you need a counselor. That’s where you need the Bible.

Ann: Yes.

Kia: That’s where you need to pray and spend time with the Lord. The Holy Spirit is a wonderful counselor, and He will say [Whispering Voice], “That’s not true,” over time. Year one, “That’s not true.” Year two, “That’s not true.” Year three, “That’s not true.” Year four, “That’s not true.” Year five, you’re thinking, “I think that’s not true.” [Laughter] “Wait, isn’t there a Scripture? What was that in Thessalonians?”

That’s how it’s been for me. Not immediate, although I believe God is an immediate God. He can do that if He so choses. But it’s been a roller coaster where you see growth and change. then you go back around the wheel, and you say, “Have I changed at all?”

Ann: It’s so funny you say that. I was talking to a woman not too long ago about—she said, “I know you’ve gone through and healed from sexual abuse.”

I said, “Healing; healing from sexual abuse.” I said, “Because the first time I dug down really deep, I thought, ‘There it is. I’m free. I’m done’.” [Laughter] “Then it resurfaced, and I thought, ‘What is this? I thought that I had dealt with all of it!’”

She said, “Okay, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about, because I feel like things keep coming up.”

I said, “I know. I asked the Lord: ‘Lord, I thought this was done. I gave it to You! I thought you healed it.’” I feel like He’s so gracious in giving us pieces of it that we can stomach.

Kia: Because we can’t handle all of it.

Ann: We can’t handle it all at once.

Kia: It’s too much.

Ann: That’s why, when we get married, new things arise. When we have kids, some things arise.

Kia: When they leave.

Ann: Yes.

Kia: I’m not ready for it.

Ann: Right. I know. It’s hard! These new things arise, so God just continues—He’s so gracious, isn’t He, in His healing?

Kia: Yes. When you were talking, that brought to mind my faaavorite Scripture, that will probably be someone’s new favorite Scripture. [It’s} Philippians 1:6, that says, “Being confident in this, that He who has begun a great work—”—He started it—“—shall be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” [Paraphrased, Emphasis Added]

Ann: Yes, yes.

Kia: As long as we’re on that continuum, if I’m not where I’m supposed to be, or if I haven’t gotten to where I want to be emotionally and mentally, it’s okay. I’m tracking towards perfection. I will be perfected. I offer that as encouragement. I thought that, too. I’m a “check it off the box” type of person.

Ann: Me, too. “Done! Did that!”

Kia: “Healing, boom.” We’ve got that. Praise God! Okay, what’s next?” [Laughter] “What are we having for dinner?” That’s not reality, and also that’s not comforting. It is not comforting in the church when we do that to people saying, “You’re still grieving your divorce? Wow! Isn’t God good all the time? All the time, God is good. Why are you sad, because we’ve got the fullness of joy over here?” [Laughter]

Ann: Kia, I’m thinking about your dad, after writing this book. Did he read it?

Kia: No. [Laughter]

Ann: What does he think even about the title?

Ann: Sure. You know, the book is 95 percent Kia and maybe 5 percent Dad, so I sent an e-copy of the book to my mom. She read the whole thing and actually went through the exercises. Then with my dad, I knew he wasn’t going to read it; so, I flew 800 plus miles to Texas (that’s my hometown). And I went and picked my dad up and took him to a Mexican restaurant. I pulled out my little pink laptop, because that’s where my book was at the time, in between some chips and some salsa. I said, “Dad, I want to read my book to you.”

I read a little bit, and he said, “Yes, that’s the way it happened!” My dad has a thick Creole accent. Then I read a little bit more, and I said, “Are you okay with that?” He said, “Yes, that’s the way it happened.”

I read a little bit more, and I got to the part where my dad wasn’t there for anything. He missed every volleyball game, he never interrogated my date, he never took me to a football game, he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that, and I looked up. I was getting ready to say, “Dad, are you okay with that?” Tears were streaming down his face, and he said, “You know, I owe you and your mother an apology because alcoholism robbed me of my life.”

Ann: Oh!

Kia: I sat there just stunned, because I saw the remorse, I saw the awareness of what alcoholism had done to, not only him, but to me. I had never seen that. But I think the beauty in that moment was that, one, I didn’t need him to say that. I was at peace, and, two, that God had shown me my own depravity, because when he said it, my response could have been, “Well, your darn right! You’re exactly right!” but what I said was, “It’s okay, Dad. We all have things that we’ve got to work through.”

Ann: Whoo! What a grace moment.

Kia: It was, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.

Ann: Yes, yes!

Kia: I could have flubbed it completely. I could have destroyed him had I not been changed by the transformative power of Jesus Christ. Had my life not been dipped in the blood of Christ Jesus, I could have crushed him.

Ann: Yes.

Kia: But thanks be to God, I realized in that moment: “You and your dad are on an even playing field. His battle was alcoholism. Your battle was insecurity, low self-esteem, lying. That was your battle, but we all have got them. We’ve all got battles.”

Ann: We’ve all got them.

Kia: So, I’m grateful for that moment. Today, we have a working relationship; not perfect, but working.

Ann: Let me ask you, for the person who has blown it—maybe they had that conversation, [and] they didn’t let their parent off the hook: what would you say to them now? Because they’re thinking, “Oh, I did blow it. I gave them everything. I let them have it.”

Kia: Yes. I would say that’s the beauty of the cross. It’s second chance after second chance after second chance after second chance. It’s never final. Even with the forgiveness letter, I’ve had people write forgiveness letters to their fathers who are dead and gone, six feet under. You can still get your heart right, and certainly, if your parents are still living.

I heard this quote that said, “If your parents die, they’re still your parents.” No matter what type of father or mother they were, when they are gone, they are gone. You want to make sure you did everything. What does the Bible say? “Make every effort to keep the peace with one another, to live in peace with one another.” Do your part. Do your part, and trust that God will do His. [Romans 12:18, Paraphrased]

[Music Stops Abruptly]

Dave: Wait, wait, wait! Before we end, we’ve got a question for you: how can we pray for you?

Ann: I love this question—

Dave: —I knew you would.

Ann: —because we talk about a lot of serious things here on FamilyLife Today, and those details about our families, they often need our prayers. So, can we pray for you? We’re serious.

Dave: Here’s how you can let us know: Text “FLT” plus your prayer request to 80542 to let us know. It would be our privilege to pray for you. That’s text “FLT” plus your prayer request to 80542.

Ann: We want to pray for you.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kia Stephens on FamilyLife Today.

Let me share with you what someone recently posted in their review of FamilyLife Today. This person said, “This podcast—” —with the heart eyes emoji— “I lack the words to even describe how amazing it is and the impact it has had on me. I want to have dinner with Dave and Ann and learn more from them. At times, I listen with regret; sometimes at how many opportunities I have missed with my own kids and spouse, but the regret is soon replaced with hope.” Man, I love that!  “I cannot get the years back that I wasted, but I can begin in the present. I truly wish I could adequately explain my feelings that I have for this podcast. It is a blessing.”

Man, isn’t it a blessing to hear a review like that? I’m so encouraged by that. And I know Dave and Ann are encouraged by that, as well. Thank you so much for leaving that review.

If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, would you share this episode from wherever you get your podcasts? While you’re there, you can help others learn more about FamilyLife Today by leaving a review similar to the one I just read, if you’d like. I’m super encouraged by that.

Dave and Ann were talking today and yesterday with Kia Stephens about father wounds. Many of us can relate to that. Kia has written a book called Overcoming Father Wounds: Exchanging Your Pain for God’s Perfect Love. You can get your copy of Kia’s book by going online to, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Now, coming up next week, being a parent is hard. This is probably not news to you, so how do you do it right, and how do you do it well? Sissy Goff and David Thomas are going to be with us next week to talk about emotionally healthy parents and families. We hope you’ll join us for that.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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