I want to share a very personal experience I’ve had in the hopes that it might help someone who is in the very same place I’ve been before. It’s an all to the familiar story, so many of us grew up with absent parents as they were so consumed with providing for their families or running businesses or busy with their jobs. I was no different. I was raised in a family business and then my father went off to pursue his career whilst my mother ran the business. The result was that my parents were absent a lot of the time, but I was one of seven children so there were always plenty of people around. I remember when I had children, I told myself I would be the opposite of this and always be available for my children. In all honesty, I can’t say I succeed at this 100% of the time, but I do try to keep it at the front of my mind as much as possible.
My children were lucky enough to have six grandparents when they were young, each set so very different from each other, and even more so in their relationships with my children. Deep down I wanted my father to have a particular type of relationship with my boys, the one I felt that I had missed out on. I had a conversation with him about this and he told me what type of relationship he was capable of having with them and with me, and somewhere deep down I decided that it just wasn’t good enough, surely he could have this relationship I wanted him to have with my kids that he didn’t have with me. I didn’t outright tell him it wasn’t good enough, nor did I consciously make a decision that it wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t even aware of my subconscious decision until years later. Consequently, this subconscious decision I made cost me years of a relationship with my father.
When I turned 30 something shifted inside of me. I had been through some tough times with my family, in my business, and in my marriage in the preceding two years and had done a lot of soul-searching. I learned to accept what and who I had in my life and appreciate it all for what it was. It wasn’t perfect, but it was mine, and mine by choice.
I stopped seeing my father as this father/grandfather figure I had expected him to be and instead saw him as a person who I could connect with. This decision I made consciously, and boy, what an impact on my life it has had.
Let me tell you a bit about my father, he’s a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist (aka ridiculously smart), and a brilliant one at that who has been through tough times growing up, broken marriages, set up major programs in our prison systems, managed prisons, been heavily involved in helping children both in and out of the court system, has been a leader of a church, has developed a program to help men get back on their feet after crisis, adopted three children at the age of 21 and then went on to have 4 children of his own and the list goes on and on…….
Now, this person I just described, this is my kind of person. This person inspires me to do better in my business and in life and to better understand my clients and my family. I can have meaningful and intellectual conversations with this person and bounce ideas off this person and best of all, I get to call this person my Dad.
I managed to get myself along to a seminar he presented a week ago at the Australian Psychological Society. I was there with a very clear agenda, learn what I could to better help and connect with my male clients and to see my Dad in action. I got both of these things and a whole lot more. To see my father teach and to see the respect from the people in the room as he shared his knowledge and his experiences gave me an overwhelming sense of pride. So much so that it brought tears to my eyes.
When I define what being a father means to me, I think of a man who loves his kids enough to let them make mistakes, who is there to guide and teach them, there to believe in them and inspire them and to lead by example.
Whilst we don’t have the relationship I once yearned for, I truly believe we have had so much more, I get to have a relationship with a person I would normally seek out to connect with and to be around and who fits my definition of a father perfectly. Once I removed my childhood idealism’s and expectations of who he should be and accepted him as the person he is, I realised he is the perfect father, for me.
So if you have someone who you are placing expectations on because they should fit into a mould of who you think they are supposed to be, take some time and try to see them for who they are without your expectations, you might be surprised who’s hiding under that heavy burden you’ve placed on them.