Many years ago, thirty to be exact, I was going through a really rough patch with my dad.
Our relationship started out great; as a child I remember fondly his taking me along on Saturday morning errands while my mom cleaned the house. My dad liked to play the car radio really loud and my brothers and I loved it…my mom never drove with the radio loud. He took my brothers and me on walks during the winter months so we could catch “snipes” in a brown grocery bag (a snipe was a fictitious 3-legged bird that supposedly only came out during the evening in my home state of Wisconsin). It wasn’t until years later that I learned snipes didn’t actually exist; my dad was just trying to be sure we got some fresh air and to give my mom a little evening quiet time. I also clearly remember the times my dad took me to fun concerts like Donny & Marie, The Beach Boys, and Styx.
(I’m dating myself here, aren’t I?)
But as I entered my teen years, the influence of my peers and grabbing the attention of boys took center stage and my dad and I drifted apart. In hindsight, I know his affection for me shifted from cultivating playful fun in his little girl, to that of being a protector via becoming my chief disciplinarian and academic police officer. It was his way of trying to help me make healthy choices and become the best version of myself. What I felt though, as a teenager, was that he was someone who wanted to control my life and who cared more about my grades than about my having fun while gaining an emerging sense of independence.
At eighteen, during winter break from my freshman year in college, I found out I was pregnant. As you can imagine this did not go over well with my dad. His oldest and his only daughter, I was going to make him a grandpa long before he was ready for it. My dad made it very clear to me that I was not ready to be a mother and that I should give the baby to a couple who was emotionally and financially able to take on the responsibility.
It was an emotional time in my life; I ended up choosing to raise my son despite my dad’s disapproval. Yes, he eventually warmed up to the idea of being a grandparent, and we were able to work through our differences, but it wasn’t until a few months ago when I received an unexpected phone call from my dad that I was really able to put the matter to rest.
He called out of the blue to say he’d been at church and had heard a sermon that really hit him hard. My dad went on to tell me he was sorry that he hadn’t been more supportive of me and my choice in 1987 when my son arrived unexpectedly into our lives.
You see, we’d discussed our differences; but he’d never said he was sorry for the way he handled my teen pregnancy. Now, thirty years later, he wanted me to know this. I was, of course, grateful for the message he’d received at church and for his courage in calling me to share this with me so long after the fact.
Parents do the best they can with what they know and a lot of how we respond is based on how we were raised. Sometimes love isn’t shown in a way that’s pretty…sometimes dads have a hard time sharing emotions like hurt and fear, sometimes it comes out looking more like anger, disappointment or frustration. This was how my dad was, which is what motivated me (as the mother of four boys) to be conscious about helping them stay in touch with and share their emotions freely.
I never expected my dad to apologize, certainly not thirty years after the fact. But it sure was a healing and appreciated gesture that I don’t take lightly.
Father’s Day is this month, maybe you have a dad you’ve lost touch with…maybe you are a dad who wishes he had the “right” words to reach his child or felt more able to share his big feelings freely…I want to encourage you to look at Father’s Day as an opportunity to connect with your dad, or your kids, in a way that lets them know how special they are in your life.
Because a father’s love, attention, and unconditional love are irreplaceable. And children grow up more quickly than we want to believe.
Kim Muench is a married mother of five children living in Flower Mound. A certified parenting coach, her passion lies in supporting and encouraging parents of adolescents. To read more of her work, or to learn about her parenting program, go to www.realifeparentguide.com.