More than 7 years of stubborn silence, both of them had new lives, but the bond wasn’t broken.
Tim Russert was only 58 when he passed away on June 13, 2008. My father, whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to in two years, was 61 at the time. I was 20. Father’s Day was right around the corner, a fact the news networks kept reminding me of as they eulogized Mr. Russert. You see, although most of America only knew Russert as the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press and countless political debates, he was also an outspoken advocate of fatherhood. He wrote two books on the subject, Wisdom of Our Fathers and Big Russ and Me, the latter of which now contains a foreword written by his son Luke. The networks played a clip of Russert saying, “I hear stories of fathers and sons who go five, ten, twenty years without speaking, and I wonder, what on earth for?”
His words hit close to home for me, because at the time, I thought I would never see my father again. The following year, I learned he had a new wife and a new child, both of whom were strangers to me. The year after that, I got married, and my father wasn’t at the wedding. Nobody from his side of the family was. My wife took the last name of a family she knew nothing about; it would have made more sense for me to take her family’s name, an idea I proposed but she rejected.
I had been married for three years when I finally reconciled with my father. He would eventually meet my wife, and I would eventually meet his four-year-old daughter. But first, we had to sit down just the two of us, over cheeseburgers and a beer. At this point, it had been seven-and-a-half years. I had walked out of his life as a high school senior and was now walking back in as a married man. He had walked out of my life as a rebounding divorcé and was now settled back down with a new family. We were both different people, and here is what we learned when reflecting on the lost years:
Letting your father back in is easier than you think.
The longer I went without speaking to my father, the more difficult I thought it would be to start talking to him again. Various friends and family members added to the drama, telling me I should apologize and move on. It wasn’t pride that made me refuse to apologize: it was the fact that I had nothing to apologize for. Moreover, my father wasn’t asking for an apology, and I knew that giving an apology wouldn’t solve any of the underlying problems that made us stop talking in the first place.
But when we reconciled, there was no drama. My father didn’t lecture me about the years spent apart, nor did any of his friends or family. They were happy to see me again, and we picked up from where we left off. So many times, I pictured what it would be like to walk back into the lives of family members you’ve shunned for years, but it turned out to be easy and drama-free. Once I showed an interest in making peace, nobody felt compelled to add to the drama; they were all just relieved the conflict had ended, as was I.
It’s now been three years since my father and I reconciled, and I never look back with regret or guilt over the lost time. It’s because of that lost time that I cherish the time we spend together now. Sometimes I feel like I’m the one doing all the work, but it’s work I consider worth doing, whereas as a teenager, it just felt like an obligation.
You can’t replace family.
I was 18 when I stopped talking to my father, and although I was legally an adult, I still didn’t feel like a man. So I sought out other male role models who would teach me what masculinity was all about. I met a lot of great men: teachers, professors, theatre producers, fellow actors, and a therapist. Eventually I’d get a stepdad and a father-in-law.
All of them were great role models, but none of them replaced my dad. They couldn’t. My real dad wasn’t dead; he was still out there in the world, just not part of my world. I wasn’t an adoptee whose biological father was a stranger. I wasn’t raised by a single mother (although my mom may feel otherwise). I was an adult making an independent decision not to continue seeing the man who raised me. It wasn’t a decision made out of rebellion or angst, but out of surrender. He wasn’t giving me the support or guidance I needed from a father, so I moved on.
The mistake I made was thinking I could find that same guidance from another man.
The same was true on his end, though. Yes, he had other children, but he didn’t replace me. When we finally reunited, he took me to his office, which was full of childhood photos of me next to childhood photos of his new family. Every day, for nearly eight years, he would come into his office and see those photos. I was as much his son for those eight years as I was for all the years that preceded them and all the years that followed. He didn’t talk to me, but he couldn’t erase me, and he didn’t try to.
Your father probably won’t change, but that doesn’t make him right.
When my father and I stopped talking, I was a senior in high school. I was college-bound but still immature and finding myself. So it was easy for people to say I was the one in the wrong. It was easy for others to tell my father that I was just going through a phase, that eventually I would come around, and that all he had to do was stick to his guns.
Seven years later, neither of us apologized or acknowledged wrongdoing, but we both decided it was silly to continue ignoring each other. We put it behind us and invited each other back into our lives. It wasn’t that we were too proud to apologize; it was that we were humble enough not to demand apologies from each other. We were mature enough to admit that neither of us was fully right nor fully wrong. We were both just human.
During that seven-and-a-half year period, some family members and friends lectured me about the mistake they thought I was making. They told me I would look back and regret the time spent apart. Tim Russert felt the same way, and his untimely death was a somber reminder that my father wouldn’t be around forever. But after nearly eight years of not speaking and three years reunited, I don’t look back with regret. I think it’s unfortunate that a father and son went so long without speaking each other, but the fact that I don’t blame him for the lost time doesn’t mean I have to blame myself. What happened between me and my father was unfortunate, but it happened, and I’m just glad it’s over.
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