I want you to take a deep breath, pause, and answer my question silently: How come we are OK with overlooking the mistakes our kids make, but we hold ridiculously high standards for our fathers? Think about it. We place our parents on pedestals and when we are disappointed, we “burn” any of their efforts. We feel cheated and complain about parenting biases. But when our own children mess up and let us down, we find compassion and forgiveness! Who has the double standards now?
Human relationships are messy. Sure, not every child feels that their father gave up their happiness, so they could have a life. This holiday could feel triggering to many. There are families where toxicity runs deeper than blood and relationships where fathers chose not to be there. For them, Father’s Day will bring up feelings of anger, resentment, and grief. For a lot of people, Father’s Day might carry the notion of loss — for fathers who are no more or couldn’t be there because of professional commitments. I have friends and cousins whose dads died a few months ago, so coping on Father’s Day will be tough for them. But can the rest of us take a deep look at ourselves and accept that if you can adapt for your kids and accept them for who they are, you can offer the same grace to your aging dad?
1. Reduce the friction: Why place your dad on a pedestal? Why expect your father to be a customized version of what fits your fantasy? Do you expect the same degree of perfectionism from your children? Your father is made of flesh and bones. His cells have known darkness, meanness, and hardships too. He has also seen joy and love. If you start to treat your dad like any other human being, you will learn to hold space for his affection as well as idiosyncrasies. He might not always have your back in the way you want, but he still might be there. Once you accept him for who he is instead of creating expectations around who he should be, relationships feel calmer.
2. Look for the lessons and blessings: Kindness and forgiveness are essential to all our relationships. There may be unresolved issues with your father, or you may both love and resent your dad. May I suggest using this holiday as a chance to be kind and mature…for your own healing? I was listening to one of the podcasts by Tony Robbins where he talks about growing up with an abusive mother. She chased him out of the house with a knife when he was 17 and was physically abusive even otherwise. But he believes that his mother did the best she could given the person she was. He attributes his drive and success to his mother’s challenged and violent behavior. He wanted to help others lessen their suffering because he had himself suffered as a child and young adult.
3. Be the change you want to see: How can you change the narrative in your stories? If you want your relationships to feel dependable, you might need to shift your perspective and approach on how you handle things and experiences. In “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman,” Ryan Reynolds (in one of the episodes) discusses his youth in Canada and talks about his strict father. What I loved was how Reynolds reflects on his father’s stoic behavior and understands that he, too, was a human and a father of four naughty boys. They didn’t have much money, survived on a single income, and the four boys often broke things. He made room for his father’s version of his childhood: His father worked tirelessly every day and night for his family, so that he could educate his children and support his family.
4. Accept that mistakes can and will happen: When my father fell ill earlier this year, he had terrible mood swings (he was in a lot of discomfort and pain) and said some hurtful things. I spoke up to defend myself. We spent a few emotionally charged days. But as his healing began, I started to see the dad I had known while growing up. We are all humans. We all make mistakes. Unkind words are sometimes said. That’s the comfort of good relationships. Can we befriend patience and choose not to only remember the bad times? Either we can hang on to the untoward word exchange or we can look at them as opportunities to grow and learn. When I returned to India in May to help my dad, I brought buckets of patience with me. In those two weeks, we didn’t argue even once. My dad felt compassion. When we walk into situations with a certain degree of preparedness and detachment from perfectionism, kindness finds room.
5. The tables have turned: I have seen people completely disengage with their parents when they were alive; after their death, they start non-profit organizations in their names. What’s the point? Regrets don’t nourish the soul. If you are in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, your parents are definitely getting older and becoming more vulnerable. While the wrinkles become apparent, they become more childlike. The authoritarian father who provided for the family might not easily accept that he needs help. The male pride along with drooping shoulders can be debilitating. Getting old isn’t easy and creates a lot of insecurities. Swoop in the way you would for your child and make your dad feel visible. There is nothing worse than the feeling of not mattering to your own kids.
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” ~Jim Valvano
For more of The Balanced Life on SEEMA, check out Tips to Thrive in the Summer Heat