A day to read plenty of stories about fulfilling family relationships, memories of a time when as a little boy or girl, Dad was their hero. These are wonderful stories about the way things should be, sometimes made more poignant by the birth of the next generation or the inevitable passing of the patriarch. And while I would love to be able to write one of these feel good stories, unfortunately I can’t.
My story is a little different and certainly, I’m not alone in that experience. The way men have ignored, neglected, and abandoned their children in this country leaves many feeling empty today. Frankly, I imagine my story is probably somewhere in the middle of the road, not great but far from the worst.
No need to know my entire family history, but suffice it to say my father wasn’t around much for my childhood. The truth is, I don’t really know him, never have, viewing him more as a friend to visit once in a while rather than as my father. The details don’t really matter, but my guess is I’ve seen him an average of once a year since I was a teenager.
So I was surprised when he decided to travel to Florida last weekend, his second visit in eight months. I reluctantly agreed to this change in routine, both of us equally culpable in keeping this relationship at an arm’s length over the years. But even as we slogged through our usual schedule of playing golf, eating dinner, and talking about nothing for the first two days of his visit, I knew something was up.
On the third and final day of his trip, he said there was something he wanted to discuss over dinner. I agreed, and we sat down in a quiet Thai restaurant last Sunday night, alone in our corner of the restaurant. Through the dumpling and soup courses, over the panang curry and chicken and broccoli for dinner, nothing was said.
No real surprise there. I excused myself and headed to the men’s room, figuring nothing was to come of this conversation. This awkward dinner was over, time to get the check, put him on a plane, and move on with my life.
So you can imagine my surprise when I arrived back at the table and my father wasn’t ready to go. I’m not sure if it was something he’d previously written or he had just scribbled it while I was gone, but, when I sat back down, he handed me a note, a yellow lined piece of paper inscribed with his inimitable handwriting in blue ink.
What would a good relationship with my children look like?
An interesting question, even if it took him nearly fifty years to ask. Turns out my father has been seeing a psychologist in his quest for answers as he faces mortality at 71. Or seeing a psychologist because his wife made him go.
Either way, the question spurred a discussion, perhaps our first meaningful discourse since his mother died three years ago. Actually, I did most of the talking, letting him know a good relationship would require more openness, less pretension, and little to no judgment. It even became heated at times, our private corner of the restaurant a blessing as I basically let him have it.
We finally ended the discussion as the restaurant readied to close and I had nothing left to say. The conversation was limited as we made the short drive back to his hotel, both of us alone in our thoughts. Then, I exited quickly after arriving at the hotel, sharing a quick hug and surprising him with a copy of my first book as I left the car running.
Where it goes from here, who’s to say. It was a good first step, but we were back to semi-awkwardness during the drive to the airport the next morning. However, we did exchange positive emails in the week since and I’ll give him a call to wish him a Happy Father’s Day, curious to how he’ll respond.
Who knows, maybe I’ll even have one of those heartwarming stories to write next year.