"I don't think my dad ever loved me."
This is the statement I hear my clients repeating time after time.
It's irrelevant who says it, men or women, although it is more common coming from women, given that an unhealthy relationship with their dad, i.e. 'Key Male Figure', tends to reflect in their relationships with other males during their adult life, be that personal relationships, or career related issues.
Yet, as I said, men are also affected.
Some (given that they are now parents themselves), say:
"Even if he ever loved me, I doubt he knew how to show it to me?"
The statement that particularly resonates with me, because when I was about 12 years old, I remember crying in front of my mum and repeating:
"He doesn't love me mum... he doesn't love me... "
My mum, sobbing herself after yet another ordeal, grabbed me by my shoulders, gave me a long stern look and said:
"One thing you need to learn about your dad is that he loves us both. Very much. He doesn't know how to show it, because no one ever shown it to him."
Whilst working in Tokyo with one of my Japanese clients, I sensed a tension in her relationships with men. It was like she needed them, but only till she gets their approval and admiration. Then she'd move onto the next male.
I asked her about the relationship with her father during her childhood.
She responded simply:
"There was none.
He'd come home after work; my brother and I had to help our mum with serving him dinner and cleaning up after he'd been gone to bed.
Recently however we are closer. It's like he knows how to relate to adults but not to children."
While I can empathise with my client, I can also feel a bitterness for the men of the previous generations. Due to established traditions, men were meant to work long hours to provide for the family, not an easy pressure to be under. And as a result, when they'd come home, they'd often be too exhausted to enjoy time with their kids. Besides, mums often are very possessive of kids, because they feel left out themselves (Their husband is no longer around in the way they'd want him to be).
It applies worldwide and especially for families where fathers had a strong sense of responsibility. Given the priorities, men concentrated on being the breadwinner. The fact they barely saw their kids, kids often would regard them as strangers or as a guy who acts more like a policeman rather than a relative. And who can you blame for that? None other but your poor mum who is by now exhausted trying to manage you and begs your father to tell you off, or else.
But now that your childhood is over, it really is as much of a responsibility for you as it is for him, to try and reconnect with the dad you feel you never had. And here are a few easy steps to start the healing process.
- Ask your dad for help.
It doesn't matter whether you need his advice or not. Pick an area of his expertise and let him talk it out. Be patient, in order to earn the respect you seek from your dad, you need to give it to him first.
One of my clients did just that, but before she had protested and told me:
"There is no way he'll help me out with my garden fence!"
Not only did he advise her on what to do, he asked her whether she'd be ok if he came down and fixed her fence himself!
She agreed. The fence is fixed. Their relationship is going stronger.
- Ask you dad about his childhood.
- Compliment your dad.
- Participate in your dad's life.
That may be a tricky one. Often our parents won't tell us many things. If he doesn't, see if you can dig out any information from your grandparents. Just seeing the pain your dad went through during his childhood will help you see: "He knew no better."
At the very least, you'll see his story in a new light.
Find a way! It could be that he is great with repairing stuff. It could be that he has many friends. He may very well have given a fantastic present to your mum, for example a holiday of her choice. Compliment him on his gesture and affirm what a great man he is! Even if it is something simple such as, "Dad, I am just proud you are my dad! Thanks for taking mum on a holiday of her dreams."
You complain your dad doesn't think of you often? But what about you? Do you think of him? Time to break the pattern of 'I don't care cos he doesn't'. Pop in for a cup of tea, take your dad out to lunch, speak to your dad about his plans for the near future. Ask him what he thinks about ... well, whatever you'd ask from your friend, really.
Don't try all the suggestions at once. One at a time. The suggestions are just a starting point. Your relationship will develop and blossom further, once you take the first step. Because someone has to. Why not it be you?
Let me know how you get on.