Me “Dad, I’ve been trying to create a deeper relationship with you for a few years now. I keep inching along but don’t get to where I want.”
Me “Dad…I’ve got some things I want to tell you; things that if you die tomorrow and I haven’t told you, I know I’d regret. I will get emotional. I will cry. I’d like to just speak until I’m done and then I’ll hear your response.”
Dad “Okay…can I talk…you have to tell me what to do. I don’t know how to do this stuff.”
Me “I’d like to simply share and have you listen at first…but if you have to speak please go ahead and jump in.”
I’m a coach and I mostly serve men. At one point I made a choice that my whole life’s mission will be manifested in a business where I help other men feel more alive, healthy and empowered. Not only do I make my living helping men feel more confident and help them get what they want in love, career and social life, but I also volunteer lots of my time on staff for Men’s Weekends that heal and empower dudes from all walks of life.
My choice to devote my life to teaching men—both mindset and skillsets to evolve into the great men that this world needs—was birthed after I had taught myself the same.
My father did not show me much more than what it meant to be a provider. He has always kept quiet unless he was expressing anger. He’s 74 and only recently started saying, “I love you” to my sisters or me, and when I’ve talked to him about how he can create more happiness and personal power in the few years he has left…his typical response has been “I’m too old to change”.
One of the deepest pains I feel is that I have learned to liberate myself, and I’ve helped hundreds of other men empower their lives, but no matter what I do, I can’t help my own father experience what I would love for him to feel before he dies.
A couple of weeks ago at my men’s group, I did some deeply emotional work on my relationship with my dad. I identified what I would want to say to him if it was my last chance before he died. The message was simple.
“I love you. I appreciate everything you’ve sacrificed to be a provider. I wish you had
taught me more about being a man; I forgive you for anything you think you did that hurt me. I know that you did your very best and my deepest want is to know that you forgive yourself as well.”
I made a commitment to have a conversation that expresses these sentiments within the next 10 days. Afterward, a man about 15 years my senior said, “Hey if you figure out how to have this conversation, could you please share it with us. I’ve felt that I can’t have conversations like this with my dad…and time is running out.”
Last Friday I sat down with my dad and had this conversation. Not only was he open to it but also I learned more about him in 90 minutes than I had learned in the first 36 years of my life. I felt deep compassion for him and the life he created. I also felt relieved to know that he does have some joy in him…much to my surprise.
Now I’ll share the steps to create this conversation.
Decide that having an emotional conversation with your dad is worth it. You’ve resisted long enough. If you don’t see the potential gain, you will continue to resist.
Get clear on what you would want to say to him if you had only one more chance. Make it simple and concise. It could help to have a close friend, men’s group, therapist or coach, that can help you come to clarity and practice what you will say.
Commit and set a date. Use that same coach, therapist or men’s group to create this commitment.
Choose to stop telling the story that your dad (insert boss, husband, brother, etc here) is unwilling to have this conversation. We limit who we allow others to be in our minds and seek out confirmation of this story any chance we get. This keeps us safe from taking emotional risks with others. It keeps us from feeling embarrassed if we “go too deep”. It massages our egos so we can keep thinking “Man…he’s just not in touch with his emotions like I am.”
Choose to take the lead. Most of the time your dad is willing to have the conversation, but he just doesn’t know how. When he was growing up no one taught
him how to be vulnerable, to feel his emotions, to express his deepest experiences of life…it wasn’t even acceptable to want these things. You are reading this because you are a man who has chosen to live an emotionally rich life with deep relationships and evolved worldviews. You must take the lead.
Accept that you have done what you need to do by simply communicating with him. Release the desire for him to say what you’ve always wanted him to say. Release the expectation that this will transform your relationship. You can only control you. You can’t control his response or a mutually beneficial outcome.
Decide that you can handle this conversation. Believe in your emotional resilience to know that you can handle a complete flop, rejection, failure or misstep.
Feel the fear and do it anyway. At the moment when it is time to have this conversation you will fill your head with all of the reasons why “it’s not the right time” or “maybe he can’t handle this” or “can’t I just focus on our relationship going forward?” When you open your mouth it might feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. I know men who can step out on stage in front of thousands of people with confidence and freeze up when it comes to having a deeper conversation with another man.
Open your mouth and speak. Take ownership of your experiences, feelings and desires. Don’t shame or blame. Stay focused on sharing what you want to share and offer him the chance to respond. If you want to deepen your relationship with your dad, you must be the mature man in this moment and graciously accept his response without getting defensive.
Even if you think that you could never have this conversation, you and your dad deserve to try. Would you rather have had a difficult conversation that didn’t go according to plan or regrets over his casket?
My guess is that like my dad, yours will be more ready to open his mouth than you could have ever imagined. A more loving, open and adult relationship is there for the taking. Will you make the choice to take a swing?
If like me, your dad is in his 70s…it’s time to choose love over fear. You got this, man!
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