My Dad and I didn’t have the best relationship growing up. My parents divorced when I was six, and my dad moved my stepmother and her three kids into the house thirty seconds after my Mom, sister and I left the house they’d purchased together three short months before.
The love was certainly there on both sides, but we didn’t really know how to relate to each other. Over the next years our relationship was strained at best, and the day of my high school graduation my father apologized for “ignoring (me) the past eighteen years”.
He invited me to move to Florida to go to college, and I accepted, mostly because I wanted to build a relationship with him. That first year was really, really tough, but we had two breakthroughs in the next few years which really helped our relationship.
The first was realizing that my mother and father were people; a man and a woman. Of course many of you are thinking, “Well, duh. What did you think they were, orangutans?” No, I knew they were human. I just thought there were men, women and parents. I didn’t think of either of my parents in terms of their own humanity. I expected so much more of them. Men and women have their own wants, needs and desires. Parents certainly don’t. They were supposed to be infallible in their advice and the examples they set. I held them to much higher standards than any other people in my life.
That’s okay, perhaps even necessary when you’re a child, but by the time I was nineteen I thought that just wasn’t fair. I remember the exact moment I had that epiphany, and it opened the door for a better relationship with my Dad.
The second breakthrough came in the middle of a huge argument. My father is an accountant. He is very logical and practical and I… take more after my mother. He was never very demonstrative with his emotions, and my emotional self craved hugs and other physical “proof” of his love, and offered many of my own to show mine.
He also likes everything neat and orderly at all times. I’m…not. I don’t like a huge filthy mess (though I admit there were times in high school, living with my Mom, when my laundry covered the floor of my very small bedroom), but a book lying on my bed wasn’t going to mean the end of life as we know it. And my car has never been kept neat. It’s not that I don’t like neat, but I’ve always led a very busy life, even in college, and my car has always been my base of operations. It gets messy. I clean it eventually. It gets messy again, Lather, rinse, repeat.
This drove my father batty. So this one day he’s yelling at me about my messy room and car and I’m yelling back and I finally yell, “What do you want from me???” He yells back, “I want you to keep your room clean, your car clean and do well in school!”
And I just stood there, likely with a stupid look on my face, and had another epiphany. That’s how my Dad showed his love for me. By setting examples of what he thought was good and moral and would get me further in life and make me happy. And he didn’t want hugs and I love yous as proof of my love for him. He wanted me to show my love by learning the lessons he was trying to teach me.
So I looked at him, in the middle of this highly charged, emotional argument and said quietly, “Ohhh. Okay!” And I kissed him on the cheek and walked away.
I heard him ask my stepmother a few moments later, “What just happened here?”
What happened, Dad, was that I got it. I got you. And that’s when our relationship got much better.
It’s been twenty years since then, and my car is still messy much of the time. But I’ve learned the lessons he wanted to teach me, even the ones he didn’t know he was teaching. And I look forward to learning more.