Most of us don’t associate communication with Father’s Day. But fathers do communicate whether or not they use many words. Do you really talk to your father? Does your father really talk to you? Mine mostly talked at me and wanted me to talk more to him, which meant tell him what he wanted to hear.
My father was frustrated with his three sons. He wanted at least one of us to think like him and behave accordingly. None of us did. We each tried in our own way to talk with him, but he really didn’t want to hear what we had to say because it wasn’t in line with his ideas and world view.
In his later years, I could see how his disappointment in us created confusion for him. He just couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t see the wisdom of his ways, which eventually made him question that very wisdom. He became increasingly isolated during those last years. It was a sad sight.
On one of my visits a couple of years before his death, I sat with him in the living room while he talked at me. I was determined to be patient and let him talk as much as he wished. Twelve hours later, it was bed time. He talked and talked and talked. I sat with him through two meals and the rest of the time I sat on the couch across from his recliner. He nodded off briefly on a few occasions, but within a couple of minutes he was back at it.
He required nothing of me in the way of responding. I said a lot of uh-huhs, yeahs, huumms, along with some questions to clarify; and occasionally I was genuinely curious about something and wanted to know more. Usually I didn’t find out exactly what I wanted to know because he just wanted to talk. So I let him. It was a combination of genuine patience on my part and a desire to give him my attention, as well as a curiosity (maybe a little perverse?).
When it was time for me to leave, my father expressed regret that we didn’t have more time to talk. I know—it’s hard to believe. But he wanted something else that he didn’t know how to get. He didn’t know how to connect, how to share his true emotions, how to ask me about myself—my hopes, struggles, dreams.
Over the years when I attempted to share more of my inner self, he was uncomfortable, dismissive or just thought I was ridiculous. Needless to say, my attempts had larger spaces between them over time.
When I became a father, I was very determined to talk with my son, not at him. I listened, asked questions to understand and spent time with him doing many ordinary things during his growing up. Now that he is an adult, the conversation continues. Today, Father’s Day, we talked for an hour. We discussed our jobs, reminisced about past Father’s Days, got caught up on various family members, discussed politics, and shared our aspirations. It’s not uncommon for us to have these conversations on other days, too.
Having the relationship I have with my son is one of the most important things in my life. On Father’s Day and every day I am so grateful that I can have real conversations with my son. I know I’ll have other regrets in my life, but that won’t be one of them.