“Who do I need to be, to give to my Dad everything that I’ve been asking of him?”
I asked myself this question before heading back home for the holidays 2 years ago and the decision that I made as a result of that question was the the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
As I sit here on a plane my way to India with my Mom, Sister, Brother-in-Law, Niece and Nephew to join my Dad for the holidays, I’m overwhelmed with emotion thinking about my 45 year journey of our family. After years of separation, silence, anger, frustration, resentment, therapy, counseling, mediation, and existential angst; for the past couple of years I’ve finally have a family that loves, respects and has fun with each other! This is the first vacation that I can remember where we have traveled together and we were all excited to do so.
I remember asking myself that question 2 years ago right after getting off the phone with my Dad, discouraged once again saying to myself “He just doesn’t get it.” We had come so far at that time but I was still pissed off. Before I started to go down the dark path of righteousness and dissapointment, I was able to stop myself knowing that at 42 I could no longer allow myself to be dragged into the darkness yet again by a man that was 3000 miles away from me. Hell, I was a coach and consultant and I started the Pink Elephant Project, “the Courage and Commitment to Communicate” was my tagline! Something had to shift. It was in that moment that I realized how hard I had been making it and how obvious the solution was that was staring me in the face.
What did I want from him? Well…I wanted his appreciation. I wanted him to be interested in me and my life. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted him to be more communicative. I wanted him to be more fun. I wanted him to be less judgmental and critical.
When I checked in to look at how I was being with him, I was none of that. I never appreciated him, his amazing journey from poverty in India, how much he gave to us, how hard he worked, how much of an amazing visionary and dreamer he is. I never asked him anything, I had no idea what his days were like, what he was doing post retirement, or what the next phase of his life was about. I never expressed any pride in being his son or expressed any pride in our family. On the rare instances that I did speak to him or come home I would rarely say anything to him, ask him any questions, or respond to him with anything but brevity. I was justified of course because I clung on to the story that he would take anything I said and turn it against me. As for judgmental and critical, from the moment he got on the phone or from the moment I walked into the house, I turned into some kind of inspector general, commenting about everything that was wrong, out of place, old, dirty, or whatever I could possibly find to let it be known that there were flaws in his world. Just writing this has made me a bit nauseous. Maybe it was the airplane curry.
At the time when I asked myself weather I was ready to give to him any of what I was asking of him, my automatic response was “whatever” and immediately went to my goto excuse: that he still has never really apologized to me the way I wanted him to and really never understood how much damaged he had caused .
He still doesn’t get it and until he get’s it I’m going to hold out.
This wretched thought had been the single greatest destructive thought to my psyche and well being and I didn’t even know it.
Luckily, I was quickly reminded of something a mentor had said to me years ago.
“Shasheen, do you think that your Dad ever woke up on any given morning and said to himself, today I’m going to totally F*@#! with Shasheen and say some S#**! that’s going to screw up his life?”
to which I of course said No. He replied “Then stop acting like that’s what he did and just let it go!”
The wisdom had finally kicked in and I remember writing the words “EMOTIONAL MATURITY” at the top of the page in my Journal. I was 42 and it was about time.
I had to really sit with the concept of giving to him everything that I was asking of him. I made an agreement with myself to be genuinely curious, to look for opportunities to bring acknowledgment, and conversation to our interactions; while keeping a watchful eye out for any judgements or criticisms that wanted to sneak in. It wasn’t easy but I did it.
For a couple of days prior to Christmas Dinner, I stuck to my plan and what resulted was nothing short of the miraculous. I found out things about my Dad I never had know before, I got to really be with him, and to learn about his world. It was amazing to see the excitement on his face when he was responding to my genuine curiosity. He lit up like a Christmas tree and you could see the joy in his face as his little kid inside of him came out.
In that moment I realized that that was the first time that my Dad ever got a chance to really be seen and heard by ME.
As we sat down to Christmas dinner, I asked my Dad we had any traditions about gratitude or giving thanks to which my Dad replied, “you’re the coach” go ahead. I proceeded to honor my father giving him a heartfelt acknowledgment for who he is, what he has accomplished, what he has created for our family, and most importantly who I get to be today. When I was done speaking, the one Christmas present that I had given up on in some therapist couch long, long ago miraculously appeared. The words
“Shasheen, I’m proud of the man that you are today”
came out of his mouth. All I can say is that from that moment forward, life has never been the same for me or the rest of our family. May you find the generosity in your heart and spirit for the loved ones in your life this holiday season.
Try it for yourself. Fill in the blanks:
Who do I need to BE, to give to _____________ everything that I have been asking of __________!
From the heart,