Lessons on generosity and forgiveness from a newly mended relationship.
Update on this post: I thought of taking this post down, as over the last year I’ve realized it’s no longer safe or healthy for me to attempt to maintain a relationship with my father.
However, this post does resonates with some folks. And I’ve realized that just because the truth of my experience isn’t what I thought it was, doesn’t mean that the words I shared when I wrote this post can’t help people.
So I’m going to leave it up. And wish you all closure within the scope of your paternal dynamics, and share that closure looks differently for everyone.
For me, it means not enabling destructive dynamics and taking care of myself, by way of ending the relationship.
Love to all,
— — —
I reconciled with my dad this past summer. It had been about 6 years since we last spoke or saw each other.
We’ve had a tumultuous relationship over the years, which I associate in part to us being so much alike (Full disclosure: it’s taken a while for me to be able to admit that.) We both have strong presences and personalities, which has played a big role in our inability to establish and maintain a healthy relationship.
But here we are today, and I’m grateful for this space of time in which we can establish a level of trust, which has never existed until now.
The process of rebuilding a relationship with him has had its share of awkward moments. Time changes people, at least it has both of us. And you have to get to know the new version of them.
You also have to release the memory of the person you used to know, in order to appreciate who they are in the present.
I think we both get a little freaked out at times: scared to say the wrong thing and have everything go sideways. But I am hopeful that won’t happen again because I know we have both missed being in each other’s lives, and that this is important to us.
When he wasn’t around, life never felt complete. There was a constant lead weight on my heart, in the form of gut-wrenching predictions that would run through my brain — emotional torture really: “What if he dies and I never get to see him again?”
So it’s a huge wave of relief, being able to communicate with him, and release my grip on all the agonizing what-ifs.
This version I see of my dad is more like the father I’ve always wanted: Loyal, Dedicated, Kind.
And I think I’m more like the daughter he’s always wanted: Honest, Generous, Kind.
It’s really a monumental feeling to own, as I spent much of my life seeking what I never got from him growing up from other people. (FYI: I failed miserably).
I’m a realist and know I’ll never get the version of my dad I dreamed of or wanted. And truth be told, I am OK with that. It’s not productive or kind to create a blueprint of the perfect father in my head and expect him to live up to it. He is human after all, just like me, readily capable of making mistakes.
And he has made mistakes. But in holding my forgiveness ransom in exchange for perfection, I suffer. So I’ve decided to be courageous, and let it all go. And he’s done the same for me. I think.
I’ve learned that if I want a good relationship with my dad, I have to be generous with him. And generosity looks like patience when he’s not being the way I want him to be.
When I’m patient with him, it makes it easier for me to extend some patience my way. Because in order to forgive myself for all of my deficiencies, mistakes and terrible choices, I have to forgive him too.
There can be no healing if there is not full circle forgiveness.
I now know that you can’t get love from others unless you love yourself first. You have to model how it is you want to be treated, by way of treating yourself well. Meanwhile, you must accept that in doing so, there is no guarantee you will get treated the way you want to be treated.
But you can appreciate who you are, with or without the approval of others. And you don’t need other people to relate to you or even understand you to do that. Which brings us to a powerful truth:
No one is capable of being your savior: That’s your job.
By meandering this new relationship territory with my dad I’m noticing all the ways in which we are the same. We both just want to be valued and appreciated for who we are.
And after all the years I spent feeling so different from my family — like I didn’t fit in with them, which led to years of feeling rejected, isolated, less than — I now know that I was spinning a torturous story in my head.
We are all very much alike in our desire to be loved and validated. Our differences lie in the methods we use to try to attain it.
On good days, I see the humanity in all of us — innate flaws that are in and of themselves quite beautiful, if you can get past the instinctual need for judgement.
And on bad days, I feel like a rejected 12 year old.
But below the surface, I know that I’m just trying to continue to value myself, which is a volatile process. Depending on the day, that can and will look like me feeling like the odd one out. But most days I’m cool with it, which is great because:
It truly is paradigm shifting, when you learn to value yourself.
And I think that’s a huge reason why I have a relationship with my dad right now that actually works: because more often than not, I value and appreciate who I am. My ability to do that cracks open the door to me being able to value and appreciate him.
And while there’s still a level of comfort missing between us (with my entire family for that matter) I’m working towards feeling more relaxed around him, meanwhile continuing to embrace what I bring to the table:
Voracious emotional generosity.
So in a roundabout way, reconciling with my dad added more fuel to the volatile belief that who I am as is, is OK. And for that reason and many more, I’m extremely grateful.