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How to Apologize to Your Father

by Ellen Swanson Topness, studioD

It is often easier to apologize to an acquaintance than it is to someone you love. You and your father have a lifetime of history, memories, hurts and habits; these patterns form the backdrop to what may seem be a simple apology. Showing that you are sorry for your actions is an opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship with your father, model effective communication and begin healing your relationship.

Attitude and Intention

For your father to understand the sincerity of your apology, you must have a true desire to make amends. The most important components of an effective apology are intention and attitude. If you are apologizing to your father in order to smooth things over, to avoid negative consequences or to get something from him, your plan may not succeed. Your intention and attitude should be to communicate remorse or regret because you understand that you have hurt him and you feel bad about inflicting that hurt.

3 R Model

The UMass Amherst Family Business Center suggests using the "3 Rs" when making an apology: regret, responsibility and remedy. If your apology does not include all three, your father will be less likely to accept your apology as a true statement of remorse. Share your regret: state specifically how you hurt or damaged your father to show that you understand how you have affected him. Take responsibility for your actions: do not make excuses or blame others for what you chose to do and are clear that you own your actions. The apology should include a remedy -- what steps you will take to make up for your actions and to ensure that this will not happen again.

Apology Language

ThrivingFamily.com suggests discovering the "apology language" of your father in order to apologize in the way he is most likely to hear. This theory suggests that each individual tends toward one of five apology languages in the way he or she makes and accepts amends. One type of apology is expressing regret, in which you acknowledge the emotions of the person you have wronged. An example might be,"I am sorry I made you feel so sad." Another type is accepting responsibility. In this one, you own your behavior and accept fault; for example "I was wrong to do that. There is no excuse for what I did." For some fathers, the best approach is to make restitution; asking, for example, what you can do to make it right and then doing what is suggested. Communicating repentance is a way to show you truly want to change your behavior, not with easy promises but by asking for help and acting on a plan to address the behavior. The fifth type of apology is requesting forgiveness. This is telling your father you need his mercy, asking him to forgive you.

Using Apology Language

In the apology language approach, it is necessary for you to figure out your father's primary type of language. You can do this by thinking about how he has apologized to you or others in the past. If you use your primary language, which may be, for example, expressing regret, whereas your father's primary apology type is making restitution, your apology may not ring true to him. It is important for you to speak his language in order for him to truly hear you.


Do some soul-searching before making any type of apology. You first must admit your offense to yourself, without excusing or minimizing it. If you do not do this, not only will your apology ring false, but you may begin to develop resentments. If you take responsibility, you can then try to put yourself in the place of your father and attempt to figure out how you affected him. You must forgive both yourself and your father. If you are filled with remorse and shame, you may be more focused on alleviating those emotions than on your father's feelings. If you have resentments with your father that you bring to the apology, your sincerity may be mitigated by your belief in the harm he has done to you. Even if you do not bring up his past behavior, your attitude and thus delivery of the apology may be negatively affected.

About the Author

Ellen Topness has been a counselor in the mental health field for more than 25 years. She has a Master of Arts in counseling. Throughout her career, Topness has enjoyed writing articles, poems and vignettes for pleasure. She also released a new ebook, "A Natural Disaster: Learning to Survive Myself."

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