I want to write this but I don’t want to come off sounding trite or like some whining kid who thinks most of his problems in life are because he didn’t have a good relationship with his dad. There’s a line in a song by a band that I like that says, “I cannot blame this on my father, he did the best he could for me”. I truly believe that, I believe that my dad did the best he could for me.
I guess I start this from that standpoint, because my dad was and is a good man. He worked extremely hard, working insane hours and enduring being gone for a great deal of holidays, just to put food on the table for a family of six. Funny thing is that I don’t recall any of us ever complaining too much about not having enough to eat, or having clothes to wear or having games to play or having a bike to ride and so on. We lived fortunate lives. Maybe not spoiled lives like some kids I knew but we were blessed, trust me.
Looking back I can remember times that my dad was there, like soccer games, a bike race and even one of my high school cross country meets. I don’t think this is about whether or not he was there for all my sporting events, or for my boy choir events or anything like that. When I look back, I know dad was there for vacations, camping trips and the occasional Mickey D’s outing. But the thing I don’t remember is ever having a relationship. My dad and I have never really talked; about anything.
I suppose, that if I could pick one thing that I wish was different in my life it would be the relationship with my dad. I feel like I’ve made a few attempts but I never know where to start and I just end up looking more like a stalker than a son who’s reaching out for something. It seems like a fine line between needy and honestly wanting to know my dad better, but I have to remember that he probably never really had that with his dad. His dad was kind of a hard man who didn’t seem like he ever wanted a relationship with anybody. Those were different times back then to be sure and I certainly understand the psychology of the era. But with all that said, it does nothing to dampen my desire to share with my dad about what’s going on in my life and to know more about his childhood and his life.
Here are some sad facts to share with you that you may find unfortunate but you may also find relative to your own situation. I am unsure of where my dad was born. I am unsure of how my dad came to live in Edmonds and therefore attend Edmonds High School, which is where I went to school. I have a very light understanding of how my dad met my mom. I really have no idea what my dad was like as a kid, or as a teenager, or even as a young adult. I know he served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and most of his time was spent on a ship in the Philippines, but he has never shared about any of that experience. I know that my dad attended church for a while but eventually ran from it. To that end, I know nothing. I don’t know what sports, if any, he played. I don’t know about his dreams. I feel like there is so much to know about who he is and what shaped him growing up but I have no idea how to extract that information. The worst part of this is that my dad is nearing 70 and I’m well aware that my time to learn any of this is running out.
Just sitting here thinking about all of this is hard. I tried to call him today but he didn’t answer. Then he called me back later and I missed it. I tried texting him a little later but nothing. I know he’s home alone right now as his wife is gone on a trip with her daughter, so the moment to chat would be now. I’m hoping to try again tomorrow but we’ll see. Like everyone else, I live a busy life, full of responsibilities and schedules to keep. My mother once told me though, that if I didn’t make the effort to maintain a relationship with my dad, that he certainly wouldn’t and then I would have none. Funny how moms are always right like that.
Geographically, my dad lives nearly 400 miles from us. Relatively speaking, I fear that he and I are worlds apart. Compounding any of this is the fact that I have no one to talk about this with. I have tried talking to friends who have similar experiences to mine, and one thing they have told me is how somewhere along the way they tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to supplant the void with an older man who essentially played the part of a father figure. Ultimately, that desire for fatherly approval doesn’t just go away when we get older. In one respect, I have an amazing relationship with my father-in-law, but he and I are more like brothers than anything else. I have only come across a few older men in my life that could have possibly filled that void and yet, conversation is never something I get out of the deal. Old guys are wise sure, but I would love to have more than just old guy wisdom imparted on me because old guys think that’s their mission in life. Why is that so hard? I long for the chance to just sit and talk to my dad.
When we do talk it usually starts out with the weather, mixes a question or two about work and his health and then finishes out with something innocuous relating to his wife or maybe one of my kids. It’s basic banter, nothing of any real matter, let alone any depth. I have never had a conversation with him about politics or religion or about matters of the heart, or about the past, or about love or anything with any meat. And maybe, that’s my fault. Maybe I just simply need to start talking about the things I want to share and see what happens. I can only speculate about this but I’m fairly certain that he has no idea of how to carry those conversations. I have to go back to how he was raised and believe that his father never talked about any of that.
At the end of the day, this demon feels like something I carry alone. I know that Jesus has promised to carry my burdens and I promise that I have tried countless times to drop this one at His feet but for some reason I keep picking it back up. I’m stubborn, for sure, and while I certainly do not wish to wear this as some freakish badge, I hold on to it tightly none the less. The impact of this has taught me much about the kind of father I wish to be to my kids. Being there for them is one thing but more than anything else I want my kids to know me and be able to talk to me and ask me anything. I have rarely kept anything secret from them with possibly the one exception being this story. The kids know that my dad is still around. They see him once a year at the most and are OK with that. They usually receive something from him for Christmas which helps them remember who he is, but by and large, he is not a part of their lives. There are but a couple pictures of him in our house, including one when he was probably 30 but unlike my mother and my wife’s family, who my kids know extremely well, my dad is on the outskirts, like a part of town that no one visits and few rarely talk about.
What’s hard is that as I re-read this I am struck with this idea that my dad was, and still is, very detached from his kids. My mom and dad split up when I was 20 but my dad seemed to start pulling away when I was about 14. It was almost as if he had completed some sort of duty by seeing me get into high school and at that point, he was free to leave. And when it happened, it was all so subtle. There was no fanfare, no big ugly fight between my parents, my dad and I didn’t come to blows, the cops weren’t involved, etc. To me, it felt like one day he was there and the next he was gone. And for the last 25 years I’ve been trying to figure out how I could have missed the signs, but I’m not sure there were many. Ultimately, my father found nearly all of his identity in his job and nowhere else, which explains his detachment from us kids.
Over the last couple of years I have taken several marriage studies and one of the primary reasons that men and women grow apart in marriages is because women find their identity in their kids and men find their identity in their jobs. When that happens, married couples lose sight of their marriage to each other and nothing binds them any longer. I could carry on but this one point is relevant as it is exactly what tore my parents apart and what also kept my father from being a part of our lives. Dad had a good job and all his friends were there and he spent most of his time there and it must have seemed like mom had it all under control at home so why engage. Even after they split up, dad remained attached to his job because it was where he found solace, companionship and acceptance. If he needed to chat with someone, he did it at work.
Without a conversation, I am left to speculate. I’m sure that most of my estimations are fairly correct but it only leaves me with clinical answers and voids me of any emotions except my own, which are still raw. I could tell you that in time this will all pass but again, it’s been nearly 25 years and it’s harder today than ever before.
I feel a little like I’m rambling right now and before long I will probably go back and edit out a bunch of this, just so I don’t sound so erratic. But maybe getting some of this out and onto paper will help with how I have been feeling over the last several years. This has been building up, to be sure, and I carry some guilt around. Mainly from the perspective of having moved away from the family core, but also from the perspective that I have very physically and emotionally pulled away from my brothers, my sister and their families. I probably need to get some of that out and onto paper as well but this is where I need to start. I just need to investigate this and see where it leads before diving into anything else.
At the end of the day, I want the movie scene finish. I want that 4 minute, sound bite filled conversation where my dad, laying on his death bed, tells me everything. And then with his last breath, he tells me he’s proud of me and loves me. Even as I write that I feel so selfish and suddenly this is all about me. Maybe I knew that all along, that this is just my desire. Maybe my dad is good with how things are. If my dad thinks that this is how a relationship works, he might be completely OK with where we’re at. In which case, maybe I am just a whiner, maybe I’m the one with the issue.
I have considered all of this so many times and thought it all through. I don’t believe for a second that my dad is OK with how things are but I also believe that he has no idea how to start the conversation. It’s going to take some courage, probably on my part, to jump in with both feet. That’s the hardest part though. In the midst of wanting approval, there is a fear of failure, of rejection, of losing any contact, of complete separation. It’s a scary proposition but the alternative seems even scarier.
To be fair, my dad has reciprocated the “I love you” at the end of a phone call. Granted, that’s new in the last few years but at least there’s something. I remember the first time he said it too and I almost dropped the phone. It’s funny how big of a deal that was to me, and even though he and I don’t talk very often, I greatly appreciate a little thing like that, even if the conversation is not the most scintillating. Part of my problem may also be that I need to accept my dad for who he is, knowing that what I get is what I see, which may be very close to the truth. Living with some sort of fantasy that he is going to want to carry on some kind of deep and meaningful conversation may be ridiculous. It may be the case that this is what I get; a simple man with a big heart who has trouble showing much emotion. A lot of men are like that.
It could also be that I am over thinking all of this, which is something I do. Coming to terms with that thought would be a lot easier if I knew what he was thinking…or not thinking. But in getting this out of my head, I can start to take some steps that I have avoided in the past; namely that of starting some simple conversations that are a little more explorative than our usual chats. Hopefully I don’t come across as intrusive and hopefully I can remember to do everything from the perspective that I truly care to know more, which is the absolute truth.
My dad is really not that complex, which is how most of us are, truly. It’s just that I feel like I know so very little, so the complexities are in the unknown. It seems like there are all these layers and yet what’s really going on is the fact that my dad’s life is like a book with 30 chapters and I’ve only perused 3. Granted, I might be in a few more, but only in name. Because he and I have never really talked, there is an aura of mystery there for me, and perhaps that’s the greatest draw. Perhaps I’m simply pining to read the book.
Recently, upon the advice of a friend, I suggested we move towards a video chat of some kind, like Skype or FaceTime or Google Hangout. Conceptually this is good but it also means asking my dad to figure out the technology side, which can be challenging. His wife is helping with things and hopefully this will be a new chapter for us that would include an opportunity for him to see his grandkids more often and vice versa. I am also hopeful that a face to face conversation will lead to more in depth talks, but I am certainly aware of the idea that the technology may provide unnecessary distractions, including a feeling that our chats are no longer perceived as private.
Ultimately, I’m ready for something different, for sure. I’m ready to learn something more than simple surface data. For some reason, I really doubt that my dad is just a simple man. Somehow, something tells me that my dad is full of insight, wisdom and knowledge but he has never had an outlet for it other than work. I’m looking forward to some good conversations; I’m looking forward to where we start.