About a month ago, my father slapped me for not giving him the TV remote control. Everyone in the family was upset about it, and since that day I have not spoken to him. I don’t know what to do. I want to forgive him, but every time our paths cross, I can’t say even one word to him, and I just ignore him. I don’t want to end up hating him. I need someone to help me.

Dear Friend,

A slap in the face is physical aggression, and we know it must have hurt you. But we don’t think that what hurt the most was the pain. What probably feels worse than the pain is the disrespect that your father showed for you. A slap in the face is usually a sign of contempt, and it is meant to leave the victim stunned and speechless. It is also a way of showing dominance, making the person who was slapped feel inferior to the aggressor. At your age, when you feel that you are almost a man, the disrespect from your father was understandably devastating to you.

Your father may feel that he was justified in giving you physical punishment for what he considered an act of rebellion. It is possible that he has noticed other acts that have seemed rebellious, and that this incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We have no way of knowing whether or not you have been rebellious or disrespectful in the past, but we do know that teenagers tend to react negatively to rules and authority.

However, a slap in the face is not appropriate discipline for a child or adolescent of any age. Your father was wrong to strike you. Physical aggression toward a teenager is not productive and it is not effective. It just leaves the adolescent feeling angry and bitter, as you do. Instead, your father should have taken away your television privileges or banned you from using the remote control for a period of time. These consequences are better suited as punishment for what you did.

Many men grew up in a time when physical punishment was the only kind of punishment. They believe that hitting or beating a child (or their wife) is the best way to get respect in their homes and the best method of discipline. These men can be stubborn and inflexible, and it is difficult to ever convince them that their way is not appropriate or effective. We don’t know your father, so we cannot assume anything about him, but if he never asks for forgiveness, it may be because he is this kind of man. The way to deal with this attitude is to determine that you will be different, and will never treat your future children in the way that you have been treated.

We are glad that you want to forgive your father. Holding a grudge against anyone has been shown to produce stress-related hormones that are bad for your health. But even more importantly, Jesus not only taught that our Heavenly Father will not forgive our sins unless we forgive others for what they have done to us, but also showed us how this is possible when He died on the cross, forgiving even the soldiers who crucified Him.1 So even though you have reason to be angry and bitter, it is in your own best interest to forgive your father for what he did.

We wish you well,

1 Mt 6:14-15; Lk 23:34