I know Fathers’ Day was a few weeks ago, but my father has been on my mind since. Dad passed away 23 years ago and I still take the time after Fathers’ Day to reflect on both the man he was and our relationship. It’s a deep reflection and often my true thoughts don’t really come together for days or weeks after the actual date.
I remember him as a survivor, a lover, a judger, and a bit of a narcissist. He wasn’t the easiest guy in the world to be raised by, but using an alternate lens I can’t imagine that I would have had the successes I’ve had being raised by someone else.
We had our challenges when I was growing up, and they lasted throughout my 20’s. While our conversations were always respectful of each other with a nice dose of familiarity, I don’t remember expressing the love that should be the staple of such a relationship. I normally went to Mom to express my feelings for fear of being thought weak or unworthy by Dad.
In my early 30’s I moved to Western Canada, four hours by air from our family home. There was an obtuse comfort in no longer having to face the discomfort of a somewhat distant relationship which should be close.
In my second year living on the Prairies I had the occasion to have dinner with a colleague (PB) that I had a lot of respect for. The subject of his relationship with his father came up and I lapped up PB’s experience of a relationship similar to my relationship with Dad. He spoke eloquently of a son’s need to express his experience as a son … of what he admired, of what he emulated, and of what he might strive daily to distance himself from. PB spoke of the quality of spirit that came to him as a result of a single conversation he had with his father in this regard.
I took it to heart. I thought of my father aging and my own need to hold a fond memory of him. I struggled with some negative views of him as a taskmaster and a disciplinarian not always appearing to value fairness. I then tried to understand him from his eyes, a man raised by a widowed mother of four in the depression (his other three siblings being girls).
I mostly thought of needing peace in my heart with respect to the fundamentals of being father and son. I took PB’s advice to heart and on a visit to Eastern Canada I sought out my parents and we met in a hotel in Toronto. After dinner we returned to my parent’s room where I produced a decent bottle of scotch whiskey and asked my father if he would share a drink with me.
We discussed our life together. I expressed the love I had for him and what I loved about him. I honored his accomplishments. At the same time I expressed as compassionately as I could those things I remembered that I l still struggled with. We laughed and argued. We agreed and got emotional. We honored each other’s expressions and emerged with a new understanding, respect and love for each other.
I never saw Dad again after that discussion. I talked to him many times and for the first time in my life began to feel his unqualified love. We talked on the phone a lot, but I had embarked on a lifetime journey for seven months that took me most of the way around the world and he passed at the furthest point in that journey while I was in Darwin, Australia.
I love that the last time I looked in Dad’s eyes I did so with complete clarity of purpose and soul. I love that we parted with an understanding of each other and I carry great peace because of that.
What I continue to wonder is this. What would life be like if I honored every conversation I have with the same sense of importance and genuine care? What if I assumed that this was the last conversation I would have with this person and I would never get a chance to change my impact on them? What if I truly treated each interaction as the unique and unrepeatable event that it actually is? How would I engage? How would it feel to be led by someone who approached each moment with that in mind?
I ran into PB something like 20 years after our original conversation. I hadn’t had the opportunity to thank him for his wisdom. As I posted last week, I believe every moment counts. That includes every conversation. It’s true that some opportunities to make a difference only come around once. That is likely true of the conversation I had with PB, and it is surely true of the one I had with my father.
How do we ensure we use them well? I guess the flip side is also true. How do we make sure we don’t abuse them?