The dad and son relationship fills with judgment, disappointment, and misunderstanding, all coming from a place we call “love.” But it is also one of the greatest relationships a person could have. As we mature, the gap between us lessens creating a friendship you can only get from the person we call dad. It is unique, but for many of us, this process from parent to close friend may seem impossible.
Here’s my story:
For the past ten years of my life–the relationship between me and my father has been strenuous. If either of us are together for an extended period, an argument would ensue.
Unlike my friends, I have decided to pass on the college experience for the alternative of traveling, writing, and filmmaking. Every once in a while my dad would express how my choices affect his experience:
“When everyone asks me how my son is doing, all I can say is, ‘I’m not sure,’ while everyone else knows exactly what their child is doing.”
As well, he can’t immediately gain the approval of others by saying, “He graduated college!”
He had an obvious resentment in the choices I have made. In my head, I thought, “I don’t deserve harsh judgment because I wish to work every single day on pursuits I consider meaningful.”
It is true, I don’t deserve that, but the only reason I know this is because I understand myself. My dad didn’t — I didn’t explain it well enough.
Here is how we finally came to an understanding:
Dad, “Is everything okay.”
Me, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Dad, “Are you sure, because for the past few days you have been kind of cold.”
After enough prodding, I would open up.
Me, “When you questioned if I had enough money and I told you I had enough, but then you had to jab at me and ask, ‘Why didn’t you pay for this meal?’ or when I finally got published you acted like it wasn’t in anyway significant.”
Dad, “You don’t have the right to be mad at that!”
Me, “What!? So I am not allowed to feel insulted by anything.”
Dad, “No, not by that. You don’t have the right. You are in my house right now! Do you treat everyone like this? Not saying anything and blame them for what they say!?”
Usually, by this point — a communication breakdown would ensue, but this time was different.
He said, “I’m going to go get some milk, and when I come back we will try to do this right.”
I nodded in agreement, my eyes a bit teary, something inside me wanting to yell, “No, let’s settle this now!”
It was happening again. I felt like he was attacking me because of the decision to follow an “unorthodox” life path. “I don’t deserve this,” I told myself. Folding my clothes and packing my things, I prepared to leave just in case this would be another argument about how crappy a person I supposedly am.
The more reasonable side of myself prompted me to do a little research online to remind myself of how to have a conversation, especially in an emotional situation, with intent to solve the problem rather than win the argument. Something many of us try to do.
Then I came across the concept of blame. As long as either of us is blaming each other, the problem wouldn’t be solved.
Seems easy enough, but when you are angry, filled with negative memories of the past–you have to overcome these primal feelings and look towards making a better future.
The garage door opened. Hearing footsteps in the distance, coming up the stairs, I prepared myself mentally and heated some coffee in the microwave. It was quiet for a few minutes, but then the conversation resumed.
We both voiced out our concerns. If he said anything insulting, he wanted me to talk to him about it and not hold it in and be moody. It made him feel bad.
I replied, “I get it, that is my fault, but I feel like I’d be attacked for voicing these concerns. You said I had no right to feel insulted, and I don’t know how to voice concerns if that would be the reaction,”
“I understand, my mouth gets me into trouble sometimes. I apologize,” he conceded, making an effort to understand my opinion.
“Thank you,” I said, a bit surprised.
We overcame the first hurdle. I decided to attack the root of the problem where most of the tension between us occurs.
“I know I don’t make enough money, but you keep jabbing me for it. I have friends who make good money but don’t buy their parents a meal, but despite being poor I try to do this anyway, and when I don’t you will jab at me and it hurts because of the effort I make to do the right thing even though I understand that I have flaws and don’t always succeed in doing that.”
Then I told him what hurt me the most.
“I work hard in my pursuits, often having nothing to show for it because the majority of my writing is filed deep into a folder never to be seen again, and the hours I have spent reading, working on my camera skills, learning how to leverage social media.
All that work I do despite only making very small gains in success, all of it is marginalized when you say, ‘I don’t think you are gaining traction, you just published an article.’ It hurts because I have to battle against the opinions of everyone around me and the self-doubt that returns every day.”
With some concessions and agreements, my dad then asked, “Well, why can my friend pursue photography as a hobby, take a good picture, and then return to his job as a computer engineer? Why can’t you focus on getting a real job and do your passions on the side, as a hobby.”
Then I told him what I have only told one other person.
“It has never been about the music when I was playing guitar, or the writing, or the film. The reason I work towards expressing myself creatively is because I need to, because if I don’t I won’t be happy, and I wish I could just go to college, work a full-time job doing something I don’t really enjoy, and be happy just living and getting drunk with friends–but I can’t and unless I am in the middle of pursuing things I consider meaningful, I’m depressed.
Something inside me nags at me and compels me to do it, every day, and every day I don’t is considered a day wasted. It’s not like I am charging forward mindlessly. Pursuing this work scares me, but I know I have to pursue it.”
There was silence.
Then he said, “Oh… I didn’t know. I’m glad you told me. I never really understood till now…”
A bit of surprise came over me, suddenly he understood.
I thought he had to understand because to me, the reasons were obvious. It took putting it out in clear terms for someone else to understand.
The world doesn’t know what’s in your head.
Still, I am not sure exactly what I am working towards, but I can tell when I am on the right track, and finally, another person in my life understands that.
When someone doesn’t understand you, it isn’t their fault until you tell them, in clear terms why you are who you are.
My dad just went to bed, and before he did we both said, “I’m glad we talked about that.”
This never happened before, and frankly — I’m really happy it did. Don’t settle for being right, settle for understanding and nothing less.
Has anyone else found it hard to understand their father or son?
Photo: Flickr/ Carlos Mota Jr.