Forgiving My Dad Set Us Both Free

  • by Melody Copenny

There’s an ache that faithfully re-enters my heart each year.

It comes a few days after the joy and exuberance of my birthday on June 14th. It gently knocks on the door of my heart and sometimes I let it in, sometimes I don’t.

It’s the grief of celebrating another Father’s Day with the absence of my father.

Our relationship at the time of his death was one that was in a new chapter of growth and new beginnings. I didn’t have him as much as I needed him in my early years. Because of circumstances in his life, he couldn’t be present and available and that hurt us both.

But in my mid-20s God set things in motion, unexpectedly. One morning at a training conference for new missionaries, the Lord spoke directly to my heart, challenging me with a question:

“Melody, how can you be concerned about the spiritual journeys of people you don’t even know and not be concerned about your own father and having a better relationship with him?”

That question shook me to my core. I made the decision to reach out to my dad. I laid my past hurts down and took the risk of stepping back into life with him. He responded eagerly and we began rebuilding our relationship in 2003.

It was good, and it was hard, but we were both in it, engaged and intentional. He was my dad and I was his daughter, and we were becoming good friends.

Over the next year we made new memories – him teaching me how to play chess, a game he deeply enjoyed, eating pizza together, him honestly answering my questions about his absences, watching vintage footage of Jim Croce perform, and more.

I also led my father to the Lord on a beautiful Sunday afternoon a year later. It happened after a game of chess.

“Daddy, do you know where you’ll spend eternity when you die?” I asked him.

“Well, I hope I’ll go to heaven baby,” he replied.

“Can I share with you how you can be sure?”

He said yes and I explained how eternal security centered on him having a personal relationship with God through the forgiveness of sin Jesus offers.

“Are you ready to invite Jesus into your life and begin a personal relationship with God?”

“Yes, I am,” he replied and then he prayed and received Christ. “Mel, I feel so clean, I just feel so clean,” he said. I was in awe and amazed at what God had done - in my dad’s life and in mine.

But then death came as it often does – unexpected, unwanted and unrelenting. He passed away in his sleep a year later at the young age of 56.

His heart just stopped beating. I was 26 and when he died it felt like my heart stopped beating too. With his death went all the things I didn’t get a chance to do with him, say to him.

I miss the conversations that never happened. I would have loved to talk with him about music. He was a musician at heart. He played several instruments, including his voice. I believe my deep love for funk bands, soul and R&B comes directly from him.

Grieving my dad continues 11 years later. The first year was the hardest. But God held me together in the moments where I wanted to fall apart. Psalm 68:3-5 reminds me of his commitment to those who’ve lost their fathers this side of heaven.

  • God comforts those who grieve and mourn. He knows loss and deep grief well. He provides resources like Experiencing Grief and Journeying through Grief to help us when we lose those we love.
  • If you’re grieving your father this week, whether the loss is fresh or decades old, let your grief do its work in your life. Consider walking out your grief in community with a grief support group or grief counselor to help you process your emotions. Healing will come. I know this because I’m living it.

Perhaps your father is alive but the relationship between you two is damaged beyond what you believe can be repaired. If the relationship could become healthy and you are willing, consider how God may want you to move toward your father and rebuild with him.

  • You may be the one who needs to make the first move, like I did. Trust God with the outcome. Pick up phone, make that call or send a text. If emailing is easiest, send a brief message.
  • Ask people who care about you to pray for your relationship with your father to be reconciled. Keep your heart open to love and especially, forgiveness.