How to Forgive Your Dad: Roland C. Warren
Wondering how to forgive your dad? Author Roland Warren knows the gravity of your pain and anger. He'll walk you down the road of forgiveness—and freedom.
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Wondering how to forgive your dad? Author Roland Warren knows the gravity of your pain and anger. He’ll walk you down the road of forgiveness and freedom.
How to Forgive Your Dad: Roland C. Warren
Roland: One of the last times you hear about Hagar in the Old Testament, it says, “Hagar found a wife for Ishmael.” I said to myself, “This is a woman who has a vision for her son.” Even though he wasn’t the son of the promise that he thought he was going to be, there was a promise. So, I thought about all of these boys growing up in single mother homes, where the dad’s not there: do you have a vision for your son, not just to be a good man, but also to be a good husband and a good father?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Alright, I don’t know who first stated this quote, but I’ve heard it many times in the last 18 months: “Pain that isn’t transformed is often transmitted.”
Ann: Oh, yes! Isn’t that so good?
Ann: It’s true!
Dave: I’m not sure exactly who said it. Maybe we’ll find out today. Maybe Roland, our guest, said it. Roland Warren is with us.
Roland: I will steal it, though!
Dave: You’ll take it? Roland said it!
Ann: Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Roland: Yes, thank you.
Dave: Here’s a quote you said yesterday that I’ve never heard quite the way you said it: “We all have a hole in our soul in the shape of our father.”
Dave: I’ve heard the hole in the soul, but when you said that yesterday, that’s profound! I mean, there’s a mother-wound that we can carry,-
Dave: —but there’s a power in a dad that causes this father-wound to be visceral in all of our lives.
Ann: Angst, yes.
Dave: Even if our—even if we had a good dad in our life. You and I both had a dad that walked out.
Dave: Let’s talk a little bit about that.
Ann: Wait, wait. Let’s talk about his book, called Raising Sons of Promise. The subtitle is A Guide for Single Mothers of Boys.
Ann: This is awesome, because that’s where we started yesterday; and we need to get back into it today.
Dave: Obviously, this book is for single moms, but I think it’s for a lot more than just single moms.
Roland: You know, it’s interesting, because it is for single moms, but it’s also for those folks who love and support single moms. There are a lot of people out there. You know, part of it is helping you understand the journey that she’s on, and helping you understand how you can support her on that journey.
One of the things I absolutely saw with my mom was how isolating and small your world becomes. Because, you know, if you’re going to build relationships, you need time, and time is one of the things that is in very short supply when you’re a single mom. I watched that.
Ann: Well, your mom was raising four—
Ann: —kids by herself.
Roland: Yes! You’re working, you’re tired; then there’s the emotional fatigue; all of that. So, people have to lean in, in a way; so, you know, the book can be very helpful to anyone who has that interest. The reason I wrote the book, actually, is it was a follow-up to a book I wrote before called, Bad Dads of the Bible: Eight Mistakes Every Good Dad Can Avoid. There are only eight, but one of the ones—the chapter that was the most difficult for me to write, which I didn’t even expect, was the chapter I wrote about Abraham and his bad dad mistake, which was abandoning his son, right?
Roland: Abandoning your child. Most people think about Abraham, and they’re like, “What do you mean? He was there for Isaac.” No, his child—his first child, was actually Ishmael. As I was writing that chapter, I said, “I am Ishmael.” Because, if you know the story, I mean, Ishmael was the first-born, and for 13 years, he thought he was the son of the promise.
Ann: He was the apple of his dad’s eye.
Roland: Oh, can you imagine? Abraham has wanted a child for 99 years!
Roland: And it’s kind of like Oprah: “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” [Laughter] I mean, you know he was carrying him everywhere: “That’s going to be yours, son! That’s going to be yours, son!” Until he was 13 years old, and then, Abraham comes to him and says, “Not so much.” Then Abraham puts them on a horse or donkey or whatever it is, and just sends them out in the desert with a little bit of water. They go out there, and Hagar watches her son almost die, and then God comes, you know?
So, in that story, I saw sort of an archetype for my experience to some degree, and the experience that my mother had as well. What really gave me super-encouragement was, one of the last times you hear about Hagar in the Old Testament, it says, “Hagar found a wife for Ishmael.” I said to myself, “This is a woman that has a vision for her son.” Even though he wasn’t the son of the promise that he thought he was going to be, there was a promise. So, I thought about all of these boys growing up in single mother homes, where the dad’s not there, do you have a vision for your son, not just to be a good man, but also to be a good husband and a good father, to break the cycle?
That was the insight God gave me which led to this book, Raising Sons of Promise.
Roland: That’s how it happened!
Dave: I mean, that’s fascinating, and it’s also your story.
Dave: And then, as you became a husband and a dad, did you feel like you could fulfill that promise? You could become a good dad? Because I know, for me, it was a struggle to believe that at first. I didn’t have a dad; don’t know what I’m doing; have no model. Again, that’s all a victim mentality, but I had some of that fear, and it took courage for me to say, “I can be a great dad, even though I didn’t have one.” But I had to figure out how to do that. Was that your story?
Roland: Oh, absolutely! There were so many things that I hadn’t learned and hadn’t experienced. And by the grace of God, you know, He gave me a great wife, who happens to be a Texan as well and can be very direct. [Laughter] I remember—I’ll just tell you this quick story; I remember—early on, when my oldest son was, you know, really young, like four or five years old, I just felt weird hugging him and kissing him. That just seemed weird to me. It was like, “I’m not into the kissing thing,” you know?
Dave: Are we like clones? [Laughter] I see her looking at me! Every time you say something, it’s like, “Yep, I’m married to that guy!”
Roland: Well, maybe I can explain how he got there.
Roland: What an insight God gave me. My wife said to me—I went to her, and I said, “Look, this hugging and kissing thing; you can do that.” She said, “No, you need to hug and kiss him.” I was like, “Ugh,” but I was just wise enough to say, “I’m going to do it.” So, I started hugging him and kissing him, and the more I did it, the easier I got. Now, he’s forty, and I still hug him and kiss him and that kind of thing. But, again, as I psychoanalyze myself, I realized, that hadn’t happened for me.
Roland: So, I had never had that experience that I could recall. My mother was a worker.
Roland: So, we didn’t have that. So, I was about to replicate something that I had learned that was not good.
Roland: So, this whole notion of being a husband and a father, and not just a good man, I think, is really important. If we’re going to break the cycle of father-absence in the country, it’s going to mean that single moms are going to have that Hagar insight.
Roland: “Okay, this wasn’t the promise that I thought I was going to have; this isn’t the promise I thought my son was going to have, but God is a God of promises. He’s a God who sees you. He’s a God who hears you, and there is a promise for your son. He wants to use you to help your son be that son of promise that God has designed.”
Ann: But as a mom, how do we—or how do these moms—give them the vision for both being a good husband and father?
Ann: You know, they haven’t seen it, so I’m thinking of the single mom, who’s doing her best. How does she give them that vision?
Roland: Well, I think it’s simpler than maybe people think. If you wanted your son to become, I don’t know, an astronaut or a professional basketball player or a tennis player, what would you do? You’d take them to a coach.
Roland: You’d put him around people who are doing that. So, if you want your son to be a good husband and a good father, then you have to find guys who are good husbands and good fathers and then, you have to help them connect with your son in that way. That’s one of the concepts in the book that I call “finding a double-duty dad” for your son.
You don’t have to look out. Just go within your own circle of influence. It’s very practical, the way I look at it. Just start making a list of three, four, or five guys whom you think have the character attributes that you’d want to see in your own son. Then, it’s intentionality. Say, “Listen, here’s the thing: I’d love for you to start connecting with my son. I’m not expecting you to be his father; to replace his father. That’s not the roll; but I want you to model for him what it means to be a good husband and a good father, and to talk in those terms with him.”
“So, when you’re doing this, say, ‘By the way, this is the kind of stuff that a good father does; this is the kind of stuff that a good husband does,’ and those kinds of things, so you can cast that vision for him.” So, in the book, I talk a lot about, “Here’s the process.” How do you find a double-duty dad? There are men’s ministries in churches. Well, there are a lot of good guys that could be in there. And what you really want them to do is, then, integrate your son into some of the things that they’re doing already with their own children.
Roland: I saw this in my own life. My wife and I, since we were very involved in sports, had lots of boys over at our house. I remember one time, I got flowers for my wife. We had a couple of boys in the kitchen. This one boy comes up to me, and he says, “I see your hustle, Mr. Warren. I see your hustle!” [Laughter] I was like, “What you talking about, you see my hustle?” He said, “I see you bought those flowers for her. Okay, I see what you’re doing. I see what you’re doing.” I was like, “Wow!” I was scared, because I realized—
Ann: They’re watching.
Roland: They are watching me! They’re watching me. And that’s when I realized the concept of double-duty dad. I said, “I have this enormous opportunity!” All of these boys, by the way, were growing up without dads. Actually, when I look back on it, all of these boys that were attracted to our house - they were fatherless boys. Every single one of them! I didn’t even have any insight at the time, but they were all fatherless boys, and they were watching. So, that’s the power that you have. It's easier than you think, but you have to have the insight.
So, you know, in the book, I also talk about the difference between sight and insight. “Sight” is seeing what’s there that you do see; “insight” is seeing what’s there that you don’t see.
Dave: You have that at the end of every chapter.
Roland: Every time: sight and insight. And that was an insight that I had. I had sight before. I could see these boys around; but I didn’t have insight, in terms of what God wanted me to do. So, these boys who were growing up without dads - they were seeing what a father and a mother interacting together, and what a husband and wife interacting together, looked like in that context. That’s the power that you have, to be able to do that as a single mom.
Dave: Yes. I never knew that my mom actually did that my whole life. I never knew she did it. It was always behind closed doors. It was usually a coach—
Dave: —at whatever level I was at. She actually went to them. I remember she went to my Little League baseball coach.
Dave: I didn’t know this, but I remember having dinners at his house with his family. You know, his son was on our team, and his sisters—I’m like, “I don’t see any other guys on the team here.” My mom went to them!
Dave: Even when I was in high school, she went to Coach Jones and said, “Do you know David doesn’t have a dad? Could you be his dad in this season of his life?” So, I always had another role model, and I never knew it!
Dave: She was doing the double-duty dad thing.
Roland: Yes, absolutely!
Dave: Yes; and then, you and I, as dads, can be that for other single moms in our church and in our community. I coach high school football, and most of the kids on the team—not most, but a good number of kids on the team—didn’t have a dad. I’m their Dad!
Dave: And that’s what God wants me to do with this wound that I have carried my whole life. It’s now going to be transformed, so it’s not transmitted.
Dave: And I’m going to impact their lives.
Ann: I think what a simple solution, or just a simple step we can take, in the church! There are so many single parents who feel forgotten.
Ann: [They] feel like they’re not seen. So, for us just to have some insight to be looking and to invite them over. Get to know their family! Have them [over]. I think that’s so fun! Dave, you’re such a good dad, any kids that would be around you—you’re fun! So, I think maybe—I don’t know if the husbands always see it, but I know, if a woman can say, “Hey, be looking for those single moms and invite them over with their kids.”
Ann: That’s such an easy, great step we can take.
Dave: Yes. Well, let’s talk—you write a couple chapters about this, and I think it’s a big deal for us sons that didn’t have a dad: how did you get to, you call it “forgiving your Abraham?” [Laughter] How did you get to the point of forgiving your dad?
Roland: The first thing is that it’s a continuous process. You know, forgiveness is a decision that you make, and you make the decision before you feel the decision. That’s what’s key. So, from my standpoint, I had to make that decision. You know, I could definitely see destructive things that would happen in my life; frankly, in terms of thinking and some other ways that were happening in my life, if I didn’t forgive him. God actually kind of brought me to that moment at my dad’s funeral.
I was so angry about what was happening there. At his funeral, I had this epiphany that forgiveness and apologies are not linked. A lot of times, people say, “Well, I will forgive this person when they apologize.” I understand that intellectually, but the problem is, if you don’t have forgiveness in your heart before the apology comes, no apology will do. You’ll always justify it. You’ll say, “Well, it took you so long! You must want something from me.”
But if you do have forgiveness in your heart before the apology comes, actually, no apology’s needed. So, what I realized when I was at my dad’s funeral, after I processed at my dad’s funeral, was that forgiveness is work that you do with you. Apologies are for people who’ve done wrong, because whole people own their stuff, right? So, those two things are not connected. Forgiveness is work that you do with you. You make a decision to forgive. The result is, if you don’t make that decision to forgive, then it’s going to be corrosive, and it’s going to affect other areas of your life. You’re not going to be able to see what God wants you to do.
So, you know, like you were saying, Dave, I’ve done the same thing. God has given me a heart for boys growing up without dads. I look for them. I’m just drawn to them. And a heart for single moms who are raising boys without dads. Now, if I just walked in bitterness, I’d be closed down. I wouldn’t be of any use to anybody.
Ann: You’d only be looking at yourself.
Roland: I’d only be looking at myself. So, God is able to use the work that I’ve done in fatherhood, and all those things, to help me. He has helped me see, “Look, there’s a purpose in the pain that you had.”
Roland: “There’s a purpose in this.” Because you’ve experienced that, you have a sensitivity to others who are feeling that. I’m not sue who said it, it might have been C.S. Lewis, but “God doesn’t waste pain.” And it’s true. So, I think if you don’t really wrestle with this forgiveness piece, you’re going to have some issues. Then, also, it’s an area where, as a single mom, he needs you. He really needs you.
Dave: The son?
Roland: The son really needs you to help him to process this, which means that you’ve got to walk through a path of forgiveness yourself, because you can’t give what you don’t have.
Ann: You guys both had to walk through that forgiveness with your dad.
Ann: Dave, you talk about it, and you even write about it in our book. How does that look? I feel like, as I was reading your book, Roland, it was like, “This is our chapter on forgiveness and anger, too.”
Ann: I was interested in that. So, I’m thinking there are a lot of moms and kids—kids who don’t have a dad in the home—who really need to forgive. Where do they start?
Dave: Well, we’re going to ask Roland. [Laughter] He’s the guest.
Roland: Well, I mean, I think there are a number of steps, you know? I talk about the “dance of forgiveness” in the book. There’s another book that has that title: Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven. You’ve got to acknowledge the anger first. That’s a place that people don’t want to go. It’s real; it’s legitimate; and it’s a biblical thing to be angry, but we’re cautioned to not sin in our anger.
Ann: Do you remember coming—I remember you coming down the stairs, telling me that first step? Like, I need to acknowledge my anger: the ABCs of anger. That’s what [Dave] said.
Roland: Yes, yes.
Dave: ABC for me was acknowledge it; because a lot of times, as Christians, we’re like, “Oh, I’m not angry,” because we think it’s sin.
Dave: It’s like, “Yes, you are!” “B” was backtrack to “where is that anger plugged in?”
Dave: It may be something here, but it’s possibly something—mine was, “Dad walked out.”
Dave: And “C” is confess it in an appropriate way.
Dave: Which, for me, was like, “Let’s take a step toward forgiving.”
Dave: Same for you? Or different?
Ann: So, he’s talking about the acknowledge—
Roland: Yes, acknowledge it, and you know, I think the other thing, too, is that it’s so easy when you have someone whom you’re struggling to forgive to kind of dehumanize them. So, you actually have to feel concern for that person, which is another thing; and then, to some degree, you’ve got to make a commitment to actual change. You know, I’m going to change the way that I’m going to think about my dad. You know, I’m going to look for opportunities to think well of him, rather than just wallowing in what he did to me.
Ann: Ooh, that’s not always easy to do!
Roland: That’s not easy to do.
Ann: It’s like changing the whole brain structure, and neuropathways that you’ve had ruts in your brain for, “This is a bad guy! This is what he did to me!”
Ann: And so, now, you’re trying to change that. That probably took a while!
Roland: Well, and it’s still a process, honestly, that I work through. You know, one of the things that happens is that, there will be triggers. You know, like I’ll see my grandkids, and they’ll run to me, and I’m going, “Wow.” Or I’ll see someone holding a son or something, and you know, you just end up there. I had that a lot—I was dealing with it—when my boys were young. You know, I’d be playing catch with my kids, and instead of being like this sweet, sweet experience of playing catch and this, that, and the other, a thought would come into my head of, “My dad never did that.”
Dave: I never had it.
Ann: Those are the same words he said. [Laughter] The kids are playing on the floor; he looks at me, and he says, “My dad was never there for that!”
Roland: Exactly. So, it is a process. So, that’s why I’m saying that the moms who are listening to this are getting the insights from me, right?
Roland: It’s in there, whether he’s processing it with you or talking about it, I’m telling you, it’s in there!
Roland: And it has an impact. Some guys run away from fatherhood, from responsible fatherhood, because, if you think about it - I think one of the more challenging things about, you know, being a single mom is that the better job you do as a single mom, raising a son, to some degree, you could actually be teaching him the opposite of what you want him to learn. In other words, you’re a great mom, and you raised him without a dad. So, he could think, “Well, I can just go get people pregnant and not be there. My dad wasn’t here, so I don’t need to be there.” That’s a good way for him to not have to process that loss.
So, unless you intentionally talk into that, and speak into that, and say, “Listen, my hope and my dream for you is not that you’d be a father who does what your dad has done, but that you’re a different kind of man.” You’ve got to help him process that. So, it’s in there, and a lot of those things are the things that I cover in the book, and we talk about quite a bit.
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: I think, you know, as I hear you say that Roland, I think it takes courage.
Dave: For a mom to do that—I know for me as a dad, trying to be a dad I’ve never really seen, every day was like, “Are you going to have the courage to have this conversation?”
Dave: I found it easier to walk on stage as a pastor and preach about it publicly at a speaking event, rather than walk into their bedroom at night and say, “Hey, can we have a—”
Ann: Or just, “How are you doing?”
Dave: That was like a fearful thing to me! It’s intimate.
Dave: You know, I know I need to go there, but “We’ll do that next week,” and then, they’re 18 or 16, you know? So, for a single mom to have that kind of conversation that she’s afraid to have.
Dave: I think we’re both saying, “Have the courage.”
Dave: “Ask God for strength. Walk in there. Open your mouth and see where it goes.” Because he longs for that. He’s wanting that, even though he may act like, “Mom, I don’t want to talk.” He is longing for that!
Dave: There’s a gap there that God has given you a place to be able to step into, right?
Roland: Oh, absolutely; truly. And you know, there’s no intimacy without vulnerability, right?
So, I can’t hug you unless I open myself up, right? So, that’s why we talked about that earlier, about you know, sharing your story to some degree.
Roland: Age appropriate; but sharing your story. That creates a certain vulnerability, which creates an opportunity for intimacy. And I can tell you as a son who grew up in that environment, we long for that, and we don’t have a lot of places to get that and process that, because—
Another piece in the book is, there’s a male culture and boy culture and all that stuff. You know, you’ll learn more about that, too, if you read the book. But in male culture and boy culture, there aren’t places to process this. I couldn’t go to my buddies. I really didn’t feel like I could go to my buddies and say, “Listen, I’m really hurting over the fact that I just had a great game, and I saw all these other boys run up to their dads. I saw their dads on the sideline, and mine wasn’t here.”
You know, you’ve had those moments. I can still remember the two football games that my dad came to. One was in tenth grade, and the other one was my freshman year of college. I still remember those to this day.
Roland: So, who am I going to talk to about that? So, you just internalize it, and you process it in some ways. Sometimes the way you process it is not necessarily constructive, but destructive. So, I just want to encourage you, God will give you the insight that you need. As you walk into that moment, don’t have a preconceived notion of how this is going to go. This isn’t the Brady Bunch or the Cosby Show or television. This is real life. You just open yourself up, and he may come back to you, in a moment that you don’t expect, to say, “You know, I was thinking about this. I’m really missing my dad right now,” or whatever. “Let’s talk about that.” And maybe you just cry together. Maybe you just sit there.
I just think there’s an enormous opportunity. Once you build that relationship, it’s intimacy, right, that comes from that vulnerability. That’s a dividend that’s going to pay way into the future when you want to have those conversations and talk about dating and all these other things, because you started to make that connection.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Roland C. Warren on FamilyLife Today. Ann and Roland have some really good words for moms, especially single moms, coming up, and it’s probably going to be emotional. That’s in just a minute, but first, Roland’s book is called Raising Sons of Promise: A Guide for Single Mothers of Boys. You can get your copy at FamilyLifeToday.com. Just click on “Today’s Resources” Or, you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That’s 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, here’s Ann with some heartfelt words for moms:
Ann: This has been so helpful; really helpful. And I love the idea, as a single mom, or if you’re married with a husband, of painting a picture of their future and what it could look like.
Ann: I love that thought! Like to say to your son—his dad’s never been in the home, maybe, but to say: “You’re going to be a great dad one day!”
Ann: “I can’t wait to see you be a father and a husband. You’ll be really good at that.”
Ann: Just painting a picture that just puts it in their mind, like, “That will be me one day.”
Roland: Yes! Take him to a wedding. I always say, “Take him to a wedding!”
Roland: When the groom is standing there, say, “You know what? I can’t wait until the day that happens for you!”
Ann: Yes. And “you’ll be good at it!”
Ann: “You’ll figure it out, and you’ll learn how to be good.”
Ann: And Dave, the thing that made me sad for you, is that your mom never had those discussions with you. She was in so much pain. She’d lost a child; she’d gone through divorce. She was trying to support you. And she was just broken herself. But I wish she would have had that conversation with you, just saying, “This has got to be really hard; to lose your best friend and your brother.” Or “this is so hard, that you never had a dad there to watch your games.” That makes me sad for you, but also grateful that you’ve been such a good dad and a great husband.
Roland: Aw, that’s sweet.
Dave: Yes, you’re just trying to get me to cry. [Laughing]
Ann: No, thank you; thank you for doing that. And Roland, thank you.
Roland: And thank you for saying that to him.
Roland: Thank you for saying that to him.
Ann: Yes, it’s sweet to see both of you.
Roland: Aw, thanks.
Dave: Thank you.
Shelby: You know, losing a spouse through divorce can be super-hard on your kids. In the midst of it, it’s hard to know how to help. Well, tomorrow on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson will be talking with Ron Deal, a licensed marriage and family therapist, who gives some useful advice in the midst of the heartache of divorce. That’s tomorrow.
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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