How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Father
My relationship with my father has been quite a doozy. Reader’s digest version: I caught him cheating on my mom when I was a teenager and today he lives with his once-mistress who openly wishes I didn’t exist. So, there you have that. (Oh and she also spends SO much of his money on designer clothes, expensive dinners, and copious amounts of alcohol, so there goes my inheritance, but I digress). For several years, I didn’t speak to my dad, and then he had a major medical incident that reminded me that oh yeah I don’t have forever to resolve things with him. Now, I recognize that not everyone’s relationship with their father is as complicated as mine. But, even women with relatively simple relationships with their dads probably have noticed that men of an older generation aren’t exactly into talking about feelings and being vulnerable. So, that relationship for most people is a project. In light of Father’s Day being around the corner, here are ways to improve your relationship with your father.
Your dad has a love language
People don’t only use the love languages (words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, giving gifts, and quality time) in romantic relationships. Your dad uses one or two of those on you.
Focus on your dad’s love language
Rather than focus on the fact that maybe he doesn’t give many words of affirmation, instead focus on the fact that the moment you need something fixed, he’s there. Or the fact that he makes a point to visit you as often as he can.
Understand his background
Maybe your dad has some behaviors and ideas that you don’t see as very healthy. Well, don’t forget that he has a dad, too—in fact, he has a full set of parents who influenced him. Translation: even your dad has parent issues.
Sympathize with his parent issues
Perhaps unresolved issues with his parents could be at the root of your father’s odd behaviors. Maybe things in his childhood–that were beyond his control–shaped him, and even hurt him. You can sympathize with that, can’t you?
Think of the sacrifices he’s made
If you are ever a parent (or currently are) then you’ll realize just how many sacrifices you make for kids. There will come a day, when your children call you a terrible parent for not buying them a ticket to go on the class trip to Mexico. And it will break your heart because you’ve literally taken on extra work and practically lost your social life to fund the rest of this child’s life.
Put yourself in his shoes
Think about those sacrifices—think about how you might make your dad feel completely taken for granted when you get angry with him for something he’s withholding. It could be emotional, monetary, or even related to just spending time. If he’s given you 90 percent of what you’ve wanted and needed in your life, he’s a damn good father. So don’t focus on that 10 percent.
Accept there are things he won’t discuss
Sometimes, we don’t get to have the exact relationship with someone that we want. Remember that your relationship involves you and your father. He may not meet you half way. Or, rather, halfway to him and halfway to you might mean different things. So, while you might want to push him and push him to discuss events of the past or deeply personal matters, perhaps he just won’t go there.
Forcing closeness can cause distance
I bring up the last point because, if you keep trying to get your dad to talk about things he doesn’t want to talk about, your attempt to make you two closer could actually push your dad away. Sometimes, you have to accept that people won’t have certain conversations. So at least be grateful for the conversations they will have. Accept that maybe, that’s all you’ll get and you may start enjoying your time with your dad more.
Flip the focus
Because parents live to raise us and care for us and make us feel special, you can reach age 30 or 40 and realize you barely know your parent. Conversations are always about you—your relationships, your career, and your experiences.
Take an interest in his life
Your dad has probably had an interesting life. And, even if it hasn’t been some novel-worthy story, his experiences will give you a great insight into his behaviors—perhaps some of his behaviors that upset you or confuse you. So, start asking your dad more questions. Listen more. Listening pretty much improves every relationship.
You don’t need to keep visits to major holidays. If you can financially afford to visit your dad more, then, do. Maybe you don’t always get along. Maybe you don’t always have a blast. But one day, you’ll be really glad that you just…showed up more.
Accept the interaction as it is
My policy, any time I visit anybody, is to let them show me their life. I’m on their turf, after all. So maybe don’t show up at your dad’s house with an agenda, and tons of expectations for how the interaction will go. In forty years, you won’t care at which restaurant you ate during this visit. You’ll just cherish the time together. And pushing your agenda onto him just sets him up to let you down. So, maybe do what your dad wants to do when you visit him. You can do what you want to do when he visits you.
Understand that he’s human
It is not exactly easy for me to accept the fact that my dad knows his partner A) wishes I didn’t exist and B) is pretty much blowing what would have been my inheritance on really superficial junk. But, read on.
Forgive him; he’s hurting
Every relationship is different but, here’s what I know: my dad is terrified of being alone. He’ll put up with anything (including a gold digger) to have companionship. And he’s terrified of being alone because, he had a rough childhood. Like they say, “Hurt people hurt people.” My dad was hurt, and now as a result, he is doing some things that hurt me. It’s not perfect. It’s not exactly good. But, that’s also what it means to be human and I can’t fault him for that.
Remember that you only have one
You only have one dad. He may not be perfect. He may even make you angry sometimes. But something deep inside all of us needs to know and connect with our parents, however we can. Let me put it this way: in most cases, however much being around your parents may upset you, never being around them would do so much more damage. So just make it work—your specific dynamic, no matter how tough it is, however you can. One day at a time.