FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Overcoming Father Wounds: Kia Stephens

with Kia Stephens | June 6, 2024
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Hurt, neglect, rejection, or abandonment from a father can feel like it tumbles into all of life. Author Kia Stephens gets real about her own painful path through father wounds--and how she began moving forward.

  • 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.

Hurt or rejection by a dad can feel like it tumbles into every aspect of life. Kia Stephens discloses her father wounds–and how she began moving forward.

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Overcoming Father Wounds: Kia Stephens

With Kia Stephens
June 06, 2024
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Dave: Before we get started, 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.

Kia: I was sitting across from him, and that’s when it hit me: “You don’t know this person. You don’t know what to talk about. You don’t know how to get the conversation going. This is not going to be an 80’s TV sitcom.”

That’s when it hit me there. I’m a dreamer, so I dream it up in my head, and I just expect it to manifest [that way] until I sit there in reality. And I thought, “Oh, it’s not going to be like that.”

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

This is FamilyLife—


Dave: —Today!

Dave: We’re going to talk about, in my mind, a critical topic today.

Ann: I think it is, too. I think everybody, at some point, could resonate with this.

Dave: I’m not sure we’ve ever talked about specifically this one.

Ann: No.

Dave: I can remember the first time I heard this phrase: “father wound,” I think [in my] late 20’s. I had no idea I had one; never even thought about it. I was reading Robert Lewis’s book, Raising a Modern Day Knight, and he used that term. As soon as I read those two words together, I knew immediately, “I have that. I don’t even know what it is. I know I have it.”

We have Kia Stephens in the studio today. Kia, welcome. [It’s your] first time ever on FamilyLife Today, right?

Kia: Yes. Thank you for having me, Dave [and] Ann. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Ann: We’re really glad you’re here. Your book [is] Overcoming Father Wounds (and I like the subtitle, Exchanging Your Pain for God’s Perfect Love). So many of us, just hearing that, “Overcoming Father Wounds”—I don’t think I knew I had a father wound, but I did.

As Dave started working on his and talking about it, and we went to seminary, and we got into some counseling classes on how to counsel—

Dave: —we thought we were going to learn how to counsel others—[Laughter]

Kia: —when you’ve got counseled yourself.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: We realized we [had] to dig into our own selves.

Ann: That’s when I started to see, “Whoa, I’ve got a bunch of wounds.” But for you to write about it, that is something that has resonated with your heart.

Dave: Kia, tell us what you do. I know you’re with Entrusted Women. What is that?

Kia: I started off [wanting] to write a book. I really have wanted to write this book since I was in high school. I felt like the Lord—yes, it’s actually 26 years—

Ann: —wow!

Kia: —since the Lord gave me this impression on my heart; because I knew there was a neediness on the inside of me. I couldn’t unpack what that was. So, literally, when I was in college, I started working on this book off and on. I graduated, got married; and I discovered a conference for women writers. I was going to take this book there, and I was going to get discovered. I was going to be famous. [Laughter]

Let’s all have a good laugh. I was teaching at the time—elementary school teacher. That’s what my trade is. So, I had my little “book baby” on an external hard drive—

Ann: —your little “book baby—”

Kia: —my little book baby on an external hard drive. That’s when I discovered—I started to realize it’s about father wounds. I was in a classroom having a meeting with a superior. I went to move my computer from the teacher desk to a student desk, and my little external hard drive with my little book baby was on there. When I transferred that laptop over to the student desk, the external hard drive slipped out the USB, fell onto the floor, and I had dropped it many times before, but that time I realized I had lost everything.

Ann: No!

Kia: I literally went into a little depression.

Ann: Yes.

Kia: But that was God’s sovereignty, and it set me on a path to start blogging. It was really great, because it gave me an opportunity to engage with the women that I believe I was called to reach.

I started engaging with them, and then got sidetracked with Entrusted Women (you mentioned that), where I saw a lack of minority representation in the Christian writing and speaking world. I would go to these writing conferences. There would be ten people there. I said, “What is a way that I could reach this demographic that’s not being reached and share the information so that more people could get opportunities to publish a book?”

That was a sidetrack, but it was the very thing that God used to open the door for me to get a book deal. I speak on that subject. Then, outside of that I run around like a chicken with my head cut off because I have teenagers; [I have been] married for twenty years. Praise the Lord!

Dave: How did you—how did this story come?

Ann: Yes, if—

Dave: I mean, obviously, it’s a very specific topic, which as [we] hear it and read it, I think a lot of us [say], “Oh boy, I didn’t even know I had this.” But I think it impacts a lot of people. So, what’s your story?

Kia: My parents got married with little knowledge of each other. My mom was the daughter of a Baptist pastor who was a great man, really well-known in the community, but he was not an affectionate father. I think it starts there, right? Because to say it started with me would be a fallacy. We need to see: “How did we get here?” 

My mom had the notion that you get married, and it’s a fairy tale, and it just works out. She met my father who was actually her waiter on a cruise ship.

Ann: Wow!

Kia: She went with some of her girlfriends. My father [is] still a good-looking man. [Laughter] He’s still a good-looking man, and he was even more good-looking then. He’s Haitian, so he has an accent. He speaks many languages; he knows about food; he’s a chef. So, he was really a charmer. And my mother was naïve.

They struck up a relationship. When the ship docked, and he had free time he went with them. They fell in love. Then he moved to the States, and they got married.

Ann: Wow!

Kia: Yes. Now, you have this relationship that’s really set up to fail from the very beginning. It did. It spontaneously combusted. My parents had a tumultuous end.

My early memories of my father are at visitation centers. I remember there being cubicles that I would go in, and we would have a time limit. I’d spend time with him, then we’d leave. I have one remembrance of going to his apartment complex, and there was a woman there. I remember being in the kitchen looking at them, but I wasn’t really paid attention to.

Outside of that. I have more recollection of him leaving gifts on the front porch of my grandparents’ home, which I appreciate, because I know that is more than some people received. I do have one memory of him taking me to get a bicycle.

That was the extent of my relationship with my father growing up, which I was okay with. You don’t really know that something is dysfunctional or not the way God intended until you see it up-close.

Ann: That was your normal.

Kia: That was my normal, right?

When I went to college, I remember being in a dorm room of a friend, and I asked her about this bookshelf that she had in there. I said, “Where did you get that?” And she said, “I made it with my dad.”

Ann: Ooh.

Kia: It was like a ton of bricks, because she was saying in that one statement: “I have a relationship with my father.” For whatever reason, it brought to the surface a lot of emotion and pain that I had surrounding my relationship with my father. I remember doing my best to not show that I was emotionally shaken up by that and get to my dorm room and just sob.

Ann: What do you think it was that you were feeling that made you break down?

Kia: Jealousy, loss; grief is like that. It comes in waves. I wouldn’t have had the language to say I was grieving, but I was grieving what she had that I didn’t have; and I wanted—I simultaneously wanted—that. I also knew it was probably going to be impossible for me to get it. And that’s a little bit of acceptance, right? Where you have to accept the things you cannot change.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: What did you end up doing with that? Did you tell anybody—

Kia: —yes—

Dave: —or was it just [that] you kept it inside?

Kia: I went to someone who was a mentor for me and told her. Little did I know, she also had a situation with her biological father. It was so comforting. Then she rolls out for me this prescription; I’ll call it a prescription. I’m kind of a prescription girl. I want you to tell me what to do so I can fix this.

Ann: Yes.

Kia: And if you fixed it like this, then I should be able to fix my situation in the exact same way that you did.

Dave: Right, right.

Ann: And it probably won’t take long either. [Laughter]

Kia: No. You just add water and stir. “Voila!”

I wrote this letter to my dad detailing all of the events that I could remember that he missed from kindergarten on up to high school—

Ann: —whew!

Kia: —and “I want you to be in my life. I want us to start from where we are right now.”

Ann: When you wrote it and sealed it and sent it, what was your hope?

Kia: My hope was that he was going to write me back, and all of the sudden, we were going to have an 80’s TV sitcom relationship, right? [Laughter] That’s what I was thinking; that we were going to have that type of chemistry. I remember, he did write me back, but I was always the initiator. I was always initiating.

Ann: What did he say when he wrote you back?

Kia: I remember him saying, “I love you.” I remember him saying, “I love you.” I remember that his handwriting was hard for me to decipher. I mentioned he’s Haitian. He writes part Creole, part English, part “I can’t read your handwriting,” you know? So, I made out what I could.

Ann: Yes.

Kia: But I remember when I got back home from college, and we went to this Mexican restaurant—my dad loves Mexican food—I was sitting across from him, and that’s when it hit me: “You don’t know this person. You don’t know what to talk about. You don’t know how to get the conversation going. This is not going to be an 80’s TV sitcom.”

That’s when it hit me there. I’m a dreamer—

Ann: —yes.

Kia: —so I dream it up in my head, and I just expected it to manifest [that way] until I sat there in reality, and I [thought], “Oh, it’s not going to be like that.”

Dave: What did you do with that thought? [Did it] discourage you?

Kia: I kept trying. No, I’m a fighter! So, I pursued more. I gave more gifts. I didn’t have any money, but I would take some photos from my mom’s photo album. She had those—you know when you went to Olan Mills? I don’t know if you did Olan Mills—

Dave: —oh, yes.

Kia: —and you’d pose, and they had the little background that dropped down. I took those, and I would make gifts for my father.

Ann: Come on!

Kia: I desperately wanted the 80’s sitcom, and I was going to do whatever I had to do to get it.

So, now, in my 40’s, all of this time, I have been saying, “I just want you to love me. I just want you to see me. If I do this, will you see me? Will you meet my emotional needs? Will you be the father that I never had? Will you tell me that I’m beautiful, and I’m intelligent, and I’m valued, and I’m wanted?” So, I’m just going to do this one more thing because I just want to be loved.

Ann: We all want to be loved and seen.

Kia: We all want to be loved and seen.

Dave: Especially by our dad.

Ann: Yes.

Kia: Oh, yes.

Dave: That’s where it starts. And he never did?

Kia: He does in his own way. I think that him leaving the gifts on the front porch of my grandparents’ home was him trying.

Ann: That was his way of trying.

Kia: When he bought that bike, that was his way. My father wasn’t fathered.

Ann: That’s what I was going to say. Your dad was already handicapped coming in, as most of us are.

Kia: Right; yes. And my mother wasn’t fathered in the way that would help her to choose wisely.

Dave: What did you do with the wound?

Kia: I think when you begin to identify that you have a wound, number one, you have a choice. Because I knew with this book, with a title of Overcoming Father Wounds, there were going to be three types of women. One woman is going to—

Dave: —and men, by the way.

Kia: —and men.

Dave: Yes, we’ve got it.

Kia: One woman is going to be like Dave, who’s going to say, “Oh, I’ve got this. I have a father wound.” Another type would be someone who looks at the book and says, “I have it but uh-uh. Not today, Satan!” [Laughter] “I’m not going to deal with that.”

Ann: Why do you think we do that? Why do we avoid it?

Kia: I would say fear.

Ann: Me, too.

Kia: I use this analogy of being in the dark, and there’s a rattlesnake right next to you, but you’re in the dark. You don’t know unless you hear the tail kind of shake. [Rattling Sound] But when you turn the light on, it’s like [Gasping], “There’s a rattlesnake! What am I going to do?” and you can run; you can do all these things.

I think delving into your wounds is like turning the light on. You might kind of know there’s a rattlesnake in the room, but “if I don’t turn the light on, I don’t know for sure, and I don’t have to deal with it.”

Similar to your father wounds: “I think I might have it, but life is okay. Our marriage is okay. We’re still together. We stayed together longer than my parents did.”

Ann: Which is interesting because—Dave, I would say you’re an avoider of conflict. He recognized he had a father wound—I’m talking for you, but I think he recognized it for sure, but it wasn’t until we got married that anger started popping up. There were consequences of it. He didn’t know where it was coming from; I didn’t know where it was coming from.

Maybe you’re in that situation [and] you don’t want to deal with it, but I would guess that you have certain consequences that are popping up.

Kia: Right.

Ann: And it’s stems back from—

Dave: —yes, you have a sense, like you said, [that] there’s a snake in the room. “I don’t want to turn the light on, because I don’t want to deal with the snake. And the snake’s not going to bite me.”

Kia: Yes, yes.

Dave: Then you have situations—

Kia: “It’s fine curled up in the corner.” [Laughter]

Dave and Ann: Yes.

Dave: But then, at some point, you realize, or somebody else sees it and says, “Do you realize you are really an angry person?” or you’re whatever; you’re wounded. And you think, “I have been bitten.” Now, you are [thinking], “Oh, I’m just denying it.”

Ann: The venom is in you.

Kia: Yes.

Dave: Yes, and it’s like I’m pretending I’m good. “Hey! Look at me. I’m good. I’m successful. I’m doing this. I’m doing that.” And the whole time, you’re trying to be loved and seen by your dad.

Kia: Right.

Dave: It’s crazy to think that’s underneath it all. If you don’t deal with it, you’re going to be a messed-up dude or woman.

Ann: I like the snake analogy. Number one, “I’ve got this.” Number two is, “I have it, but I don’t want to deal with it.”

Kia: “I don’t want to deal with it.”

Ann: Yes.

Kia: I’ve had a lot of women say that actually: “Oh, uh-uh.”

Dave and Ann: Yes.

Kia: I think it’s scary. It’s so scary to unpack what you didn’t receive and to find out, “This is why I’m like that; I’m needy; I’m desperate.” “I was desperate in my first marriage; that’s why I married him.” “I was desperate in college; that’s why I dated him.” Or, “I have trust issues. I don’t trust men; I don’t trust God, I don’t trust…” It’s scary because I think we generally have a pretty inflated view of ourselves. We don’t have a sane assessment.

To be told: “Not only do you not have a sane assessment, but here’s the long laundry list of everything that you are dealing with—and it does tie back to your family of origin.”

Ann: Totally.

Dave: Oh, yes.

Kia: That takes courage; that takes a willingness to dig in deep. I remember going to a counselor. She said to me: “Have you written a forgiveness letter to your father?” I looked at her [as if to say], “Lady, first of all, he wasn’t even there, and I came to you for another issue all together.” [Laughter]

Ann: “Why are we going to this?!”

Kia: “Why are we talking about this?!”

But I had access to a forgiveness letter template. So, I took the template home, and I followed all the steps and wrote it to my dad; and I realized, “I cannot get through this.” When I got to the part where I was talking about “I wanted him there,” I really wanted my dad there to interrogate the dates and these relationships that I found myself in when I was in middle grades and high school, because I have regrets about that.

Dave: Yes.

Kia: I think, “Uh, why did you do that?”

I wanted him to be there to say, “No, you don’t know her value. You don’t know her worth. You can’t hold a candle to her. You should not be here.” I wanted him to be there for that. When I got to that part in the letter, I sobbed; I sobbed.

Once I finally got through writing it, I dragged this chair into my bedroom. It’s the empty chair technique that counselors use, and I read the letter to my dad. It was very cleansing for me, and healing for me, to do that. I can’t say that it got rid of all of the sorrow and all of the grief, but it was a huge dent in my grieving process. A lot happened there for me.

Ann: I think that’s really wise. I’m just imagining our listeners. One, some are thinking, “I do have this. I haven’t wanted to deal with it, but I could do that letter, and I could pull a chair into the room and I could read that letter to my imaginary father sitting in the chair.”

Kia: Yes.

Ann: I think that would do a lot of good.

Dave: I think it’s a start.

Kia: Yes, yes; it’s a start.

Dave: Because you think it’s, “Okay, wrapped up! Now I can move on.” It’s a step. And I think tomorrow, we’ve got to talk about: “What’s healing look like?” And I’d love to hear you talk about how this affected your marriage.

Kia: Yes.

Ann: I think if you do the healing letter, I would read the letter; but I’d also talk to your Heavenly Father.

Kia: Definitely.

Ann: Talk to Him about the truth of what you have lost and what you feel. You’re saying it to your dad, the dad that’s not sitting in the chair, but you’re reading it to him. But I think, too, to talk to God and to be honest with Him and to say, “This is what I lost. This is what I missed. This is what I didn’t have.”

Then just sit for a minute and let Him, because He hears every one of those prayers; He catches every one of those tears. He knows those moments when you were four years old, and your dad wasn’t there, and when you were a teenager, and there was no male authority figure to look at you and say, “You are beautiful, and I am here for you.” He’s always been.

Kia: I couldn’t agree with you more, Dave and Ann. I think that’s been a beautiful part of the journey: learning what it looks like for God to be [my] Father. I grew up in the Baptist church, so I’ve heard these statements like, “God is a father to the fatherless.” It was trite because I had heard it so much, and it seemed ambiguous and impossible to achieve.

But as I’ve continued to be brutally honest with the Lord, and share my thoughts and my feelings, and sit in silence or just cry, mulling over Scriptures that say, “I knew you in your mother’s womb. I formed you. I know how many hairs are on your head.” [Psalm 139:13–16; Luke 12:7, paraphrased] Those things are very comforting for me, knowing that I can share my feelings with God.

We don’t serve a God who is static. We serve a God who is not afraid of our emotions or intimidated by them. He’s not going to say, “You’re too emotional.” [Laughter]

Ann: Yes.

Kia: “What are you doing? You’re crying again about that same thing?” which is what some of us have experienced, right?

Ann: Yes.

Shelby: That is so refreshing to hear. It really is, because if someone is telling you that you’re being too emotional, you can know that God will not respond that way by saying, “You are being too emotional right now.”

How do I know that? The Psalms are proof that God is okay with your extreme emotions. The Psalms often live—when you read through them, they live—on the margins of what we’d call the normal human emotional experience, whether that be extreme joy or extreme sadness. That gives us permission to be 100 percent emotional before Him. He can take it. If He took it from King David and allowed it to be in Scripture, He can take it from you, too.

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

Kia has written a book called Overcoming Father Wounds: Exchanging Your Pain for God’s Perfect Love. This book really offers hope and guidance for healing father wounds and shows how they affect every aspect of life, and then offers a God-solution, a gospel solution, in that process.

You can get your copy right now by going online to, or you can find it in our show notes. Or just 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.”

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? And while you are there, you can really help others learn more about FamilyLife Today by leaving us a review.

Now tomorrow, Kia Stephens is back with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about the impact of father wounds on emotional wellbeing, and then she’ll talk about strategies for healing as well. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

Dave: Wait, wait, wait! Before we end, we’ve got a question for you: 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.

Shelby: 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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