It's never too late to reconnect
It's never too late to reconnect
5 September 2021
I could tell that my father was uncomfortable when I started to talk about my childhood experiences. I kept going, though, because I thought it would be helpful to me, to our relationship and maybe even for him.
I told him I loved him even though he was tough on me sometimes. I told him how I felt when he became angry, was physically and emotionally abusive, and when he wasn’t there for me emotionally.
My dad didn’t say sorry, at least not the first time. It was too tough.
I knew it was helping me every time we had a good chat about hurtful experiences, but also about the good things he did.
I told him I knew he loved me because of what he did for my siblings and me. He was a man of integrity, hardworking, and dedicated to being the best provider for us all. I was glad I told him that and was sorry I didn’t do it earlier. It seemed to help.
After a number of conversations over several years, my dad finally did say he loved me and that he was sorry. I knew he had wanted to say these words for a long time but couldn’t bring himself to. It was tough for my dad
to show emotions and use emotional words (other than swear words or angry words).
I said thanks and that I was proud of him. I told him I forgave him and understood why he was the way he was. He was a product of his upbringing, just as I was, so I think we cut each other a bit of slack. We both agreed that we did the best we could at the time.
The conversations were real and powerful. They lessened the hurt and mistakes (on both sides) and really cemented a strong bond that persists today. They were also tough, but I made some progress towards acceptance of the pain and hurt, acknowledged my father’s role in shaping my view of myself, and took some tentative steps towards healing.
At peace with Dad
My one regret was all these conversations took place several years after my dad died. I would have loved to have had them earlier, face-to-face, but neither of us was ready then, nor would we have been able to manage them well.
I got the idea of having imaginary – but real – conversations with my father from a book focusing on how to cope with, and maybe even improve and heal, fractured relationships. One of the thoughts from the book was that if I disliked or hated my father, then I hated a part of myself as well. So, to be at peace with myself, it would help to be at peace with my father.
It certainly worked for me. And still works because I continue to enjoy having other conversations with my dad that I never got to have when he was alive. I came to realise that there were lots of positive things about my dad that I never told him about either. Things between us couldn’t be much better.
Some chats are harder to imagine than others, and it sometimes takes several attempts to get a true sense of how it might go and to have a sense of each other’s responses. We even have arguments, but also some moments of real connection. I think we understand and appreciate each other more than before.
Having studied human relationships, change and grief, I understand what a powerful and quite normal and healthy tool such conversations can be. Speaking out loud seems to help more, writing letters, speaking to an empty chair (with dad in the chair and unable to escape!), or having the conversation in a place that we both knew, are all ideas that facilitate the conversations and make them more real and possible. Even writing this article has helped.
I don’t want to die with many regrets, so I really try to have similar conversations with my children now. As I learned, it’s never too late, but much better face-to-face.