My dad and I have never really had the best relationship. It’s always been tough for me (and I’m guessing him as well) to find common ground between the two of us. I’m 35 and he’s 61.
I suppose you could say I grew up in a pretty traditional family. Mom stayed home and took care of us kids while dad was away earning the bread. It was this set up that lead me to become closer to my mother. She was always there with us – guiding, nurturing, and disciplining. She made meals and helped us with our homework. That had to have been hard raising five children. I have so much respect for that woman.
Throughout my juvenile years the relationship between my mom and I strengthened like a piece of wood. Like every relationship we’ve had our disagreements and rough spells, but we always got through them. Nothing hung us up. In the meantime, as I aged, I was feeling more and more alienated from my father. I’m sure my rebelliousness and lack of experience had a lot to do with our headbutts. And, knowing myself, confrontation pushes me away from people. However, it’s not pushed me away from him entirely. We still talk here and there and its usually pretty good when we do.
Fast forward to present day and even as a 35-year-old I still find it tricky to connect with that 61-year-old man. Since starting therapy again I’ve presented with the idea that my dad may not have been available as much as he should have been when I was younger. I’m still working on discovering how this may have effected me as a young boy and teen.
But just this week something happened. I had missed him on Fathers’ Day. I tried calling home a couple of times to reach him, but never got through. He sent me a text the next day saying he was sorry for missing my calls and wanted me to call him back when I got the chance. So I did.
We spoke for a good hour. I chatted him up on my struggles and challenges; through therapy and medication; my realizations, uncertainties and self discovery. I’ve often heard stories of how my dad struggles with his own problems. He’s struggled with social anxiety and depression too most of his life. Every year we have a big family reunion in the summer. My father will normally not make an appearance. Its been that way for years.
Group settings have and probably will always be tough for him. And after I opened up to my dad on the phone I was able to fully get why he is the way he is. I’m that way too. It became so clear to me in that instance. We connected on a personal level. I dare say it had been awhile. From there the conversation took flight.
Friday night I spoke with my mom. But, this time I was on the phone with her for two hours. We tend to do that. I mentioned how my talk with dad had went so well and that I realized that I was a lot like him in so many ways. I never thought I’d say that, but it happened. For years prior I would reject the idea. There was no way I was going to end up like him or be him or whatever! Perish the thought! Yet, it’s as they say, the apple doesn’t fall so far from the tree.
My mom filled me in on other things my dad experienced when they were first together. Turns out we both struggle with same stuff: depression and anxiety. My dad, like me, would get down for no apparent reason and sometimes it would last for a week or so. She told me how it used to make her feel like she had done something wrong, but she soon realized that it wasn’t her fault. Now she just deals with it knowing along the way that it’s just how he is. The conversation continued.
Within a few short days I’ve learned something very valuable. My dad may not have been available as often as he could’ve been, but now I understand why. When I get depressed or riddled with anxiety its difficult to be available for anyone let alone myself. It’s a constant trip between being okay and not. And when I’m “okay” I’m trying to pick up where I left off and remember where I was at before I fell. This dance can be taxing. And through the thick of it you’re trying to keep together the one dynamic that matters most: you. Family and friends may get the raw end of the deal. For me, a good even balance is hard to come by.
There’s no denying our roots. We are our parents’ children and whether we like it or not we’re going to inherit something from them. No matter how hard we try to resist becoming like them there’s no escaping genetics. And instead of fighting it, embrace it. Learn from it. Read the manual. Be curious. It took me a long time to realize this, but I’m happy to report that I’m feeling some relief because I allowed myself to open up and let my guard down… judgement free.