12/17/2014 12:46 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

Forgiving My Dad and Finding Myself

Blend Images - Ariel Skelley via Getty Images

My parents divorced when I was 1. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw my dad in the first two decades of my life. He never came to see us. He lived overseas in Saudi Arabia for most of that time: traveling the world, living this exotic and amazing life with my stepmom.

Meanwhile, I was back in Texas being raised by a single mom. I know my mom did the very best she could and how much she struggled. She was devastated by their divorce and my Dad's subsequent abandonment of us.

Abandonment. My daddy didn't want me. Or at least that's what I grew up believing. He was never around. He never paid child support. And my mom, out to fear that I might someday too abandon her, took every opportunity to tell me that he didn't love us.

Neither my Dad or my mom had any idea that their actions and their words led me to come to the conclusion that I was unloveable. My Dad's sophomoric aptitude for parenting and my Mom's own fear of abandonment resulted in my living my life in constant fear of abandonment.

Once I became aware of my abandonment story, I was angry at my Dad for years. We had a couple of nasty fights, but I was never fully capable of expressing my truth. Besides, my Dad was always full of excuses: "a lawyer told me not to pay child support because your mother wouldn't let me see you," and, "I never wanted a divorce" topped the list. Of course, his excuses just pissed me off more.

I did try to forgive him because I knew it was in my best interest to forgive him, but I had and -- in my heart -- I wasn't sure that I really loved him. He never really felt like my Dad. There was no connection.

Until one morning at 5:00 a.m. on the way to the Albany airport. We'd had a bitter fight the night before and I had decided this morning I would finally tell him what life had been like for me. I realize now that I'd always been afraid to tell him because I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Of course, the underlying reason for my never wanting to hurt people's feelings is because I had a deeply internalized fear of abandonment.

On that morning, however, I was finally brave enough to tell how his abandoning me had caused me to struggle financially, emotionally and mentally for years. And do you know what he did? He listened. He also insisted that he did love me. He said not being around was not his choice. He asserted that he had been told that I was the one that didn't want him. He said that he'd never meant to abandon me and his greatest regret was not fighting harder.

My mind was swimming as we drove to the airport. I was trying to process everything he was telling me against what I'd been told my entire life. I wanted to believe him, but there something I was missing... something more that needed to be said.

At last, I found it. "It really doesn't matter what happened between you and mom. I grew up believing that you abandoned me and so, for me, you did." I told him that no matter what he believed that my Mom did wrong, both he and my Mom had always had a choice. And they had made a lot of bad ones. "But me?" I said, "we had no choice." I was the real victim in their game of martyrdom.

As soon as I spoke these words, I felt a shift in my Dad. Something softened and something saddened and he said, "I never meant for that to happen. I screwed up. I'm sorry."

By this time we were almost to the airport. I decided that when we got to the airport I was to tell him that I loved and that I forgave him. Even though I still didn't quite feel it yet, I was going to do it for him.

After we got out of the van and unloaded my luggage, I hugged him hard and I looked him in the eyes and I said, "I love you, Dad. I forgive you." He told me he loved me, too. We hugged again and said goodbye. As I turned to enter the airpot, it hit me. My chest seized in agony. Holy Shit. I really did love my Dad and I always had.

I had the urge to turn around and run back and hug him again, but I just started walking again. I went through security and sat down to put my shoes on. I could feel myself starting to rethink things. Should I believe him? Had he really always loved me? What about my mom?

In that moment, while leaning over to tie my shoes, it suddenly all became so clear that those things didn't matter. My dad's version, my mom's version. There's no way that either one of those versions could be the truth, right? I mean, both were discolored by their own human experiences.

So, why couldn't I choose my own version of the story? One where my Dad did love me and want me. It sure felt a whole lot better than the crock that I had been living by.

Sitting there in the Albany airport, I chose to live by my own version of the truth and to rewrite my entire past based on that story. It didn't matter what the "facts" were. The only pertinent truth was that I felt in my heart that I was loved. Only good things could come for me and my own children from believing it.