One day my Dad and I got into an argument. It must have been building up for a while because it was a doozy. My Dad was working for me which probably didn’t make him feel very good. He probably would have preferred the other way round. I say it must have been building up because he said things that didn’t fit the moment; they seemed to come out of nowhere. The issue was that he had developed this lending program that we were running through my company, but it was not going very well. Dad wanted to change the terms so we could be more aggressive. I didn’t want to because I thought the risk too great. He didn’t say outright, but I came to conclude that it was about him making more money. When I asked him flat out if that was it, his response startled me. He said he needed to take care of my mom (and here was the punch in the gut) because he didn’t think I would do it if he weren’t around. Ooouuch. He didn’t trust me!…He believed my character was so selfish that I wouldn’t even take care of my mom!
We didn’t speak for several months. I finally wrote a letter telling my dad that everything I had ever done, I had done to make him proud of me. But at 38 years of age, if he wasn’t going to be proud of me by then, the die was cast, and I had to live without it. Therefore, the letter continued, I would do anything he wanted, arrange his compensation in any way whatsoever, but I needed to move on. I would seek his approval no more. It was on that day, unfortunately, that I became a man.
Every boy grows with a core desire to have his father recognize him as a man – self-sufficient and accepted as an equal – and to feel proud of who that young man has become. To have the mantle passed onto his shoulders is more than to be loved and recognized as mature, but to be beheld as worthy. That there might be some ancient ritual where the son is accepted into the tribe of men and given the keys to the kingdom. I would have killed for that. It’s what I longed for even past the day I knew it would never happen.
It grieved me to have it not work out that way. I loved my Dad and, in his way, he loved me. But his life and my life had their own trajectories. The challenge was for me was to accept our relationship for what it was and not be burdened for what it wasn’t. My Dad had his strengths: he was a good man; he loved my mom completely; he was scrupulously honest; he enjoyed a good laugh, a glass of wine, and a good cigar. But my Dad had his shortcomings: he was quick to anger; he was stubborn when offended; he was too proud at times; and he was a man of his generation.
In the end, my Dad and I were too much alike with too few communication skills and too little grace. We eventually got past the impasse because my mom pleaded for a truce. She got it reluctantly from both. I eventually grew to the idea that at 38 years of age, it was upon me to accept my Dad for who he was and realize that I was not going to change him. He was 68. We got through by talking football. We talked politics. We talked about my kids. But we never tried to go back and resolve what was said that day. Some things you need to reconcile and some things you just have to get past. This was one of those things.
I know many of your stories. I wish I knew more. (So send me your Father/Son story). A lot of your stories are quite a bit more emotionally devastating than mine. Fathers who write a check to never see a son again. Fathers who drink too much. Abusive fathers. Absent fathers. Fathers that cheat and the love that should go to the family goes instead to someone else. Fathers that work too much. Fathers that work too little. Fathers that can’t figure it out for themselves and have nothing but bitterness to pass down. Fathers who are there physically, but absent emotionally, absent fiscally, absent relationally.
These legacies exist. Our society is filled with these stories. It’s important for you to understand that if you come from some mild or wild dysfunction, that it’s a part of who you are. It’s in there and must be dealt with. Because if you don’t deal effectively with your relationship with your father, it could come back to live through your actions. Word. Now, you may not have the opportunity to do it directly with him, he could be dead or just gone, but that doesn’t matter. Bring it up in your Ironmen Group, with your wife, with your therapist, but bring it up.
One technique that I’ve recommended is that you write a letter to your Dad that lines out all the issues and anger and crap in your relationship. Pour it all out. Get it ALL out. Then put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and actually send it in the mail. However, send it to your own address. Then, write a letter from your Dad’s perspective, accepting your anger and hurt. Have him explain all the issues from your Dad’s perspective. Come up with the best most gracious explanations as to why he acted the way he did. Stamp it and send that to yourself too. In a few days, you’ll get this handwritten note that ends “Son, I know I haven’t been a perfect Dad to you, but I’ve tried the best that I could to be a good one. I’m very sorry for all the mistakes I’ve made. Just know that I love you. Your Dad.” See how that feels. If you think I’m joking or that I’m loopy, that no bullshit letter that you wrote and sent to yourself will make any difference whatsoever…try it. I think you’ll be surprised.
Here’s the main payoff – It is your job in life to put a stake in the ground and declare to the world that despite the fact that you didn’t get as good of a deal as many others, by God, you are going to give your family what they need, you are going to give you what you need. You must declare by your actions that you will turn the sins of the father into blessings of the father to the third and fourth generation. You are not going to let his actions and your hurt affect your family. It stops here.
To your continued success,