I was debating this morning, do I talk about fathers? As I was debating this, I started thinking of my own father and realized this was the best place to start.
I spent years as a young adult trying to figure out what my parents had done to guide me from going some very wrong direction as a young person. As a college student and a 20-something, I often wondered if I had missed something because I recognized that I had dodged a lot of the drinking, trouble-making, drama and abuses that it seemed so many others had experienced. Not that I wanted those things, but it felt like everyone else had taken a different path and it led me to question what my parents, and many others-don’t get me wrong- had been able to do that others weren’t able to do.
In taking a deep look at this over the years, I realize it has to do with respect. My parents, both of them, somehow managed to get my greatest respect. Looking back as an adult, I was able to have some perspective on how they accomplished this. They were loving, certainly, but they were also honest. They set a good example. They were flexible in their thinking and able to see other perspectives, even if they didn’t necessarily agree. They earned my respect through gentle guidance and by respecting themselves. Through all of that, I believe they found the key to successful parenting. They truly made me feel like my opinions, feelings, and self mattered.
Objectively, most of us look at other people and say, “Everyone matters. Everyone is important.” But to truly believe that you yourself matter is something you learn from the time you are an infant. There are so many moments when a parent can make a child feel acknowledged or dismissed. This is an art.
For my parents, looking back, it is almost as if they were able to ask the question, “On a scale of 1-10, how much does this matter?” when they were making decisions. I’m sure they weren’t, but they seemed to have this innate ability to know when something was really important, and when they could dismiss the childish request of their daughters. I truly believe they did this by validating our feelings.
When I was about 8-years old and blessed enough to have a pony that my sister and I shared, I have this vivid memory of a winter evening when my Dad came home from work after what I’m sure was a long day. I was sitting in a chair in the living room and I was feeling sad, and maybe other emotions like anxious, disappointed, and selfish that I couldn’t even have articulated at that age, because I was wanting so badly to go see that pony who lived about 30 minutes away. Dad told me to come on and drove me all the way out there in the dark to let me visit the pony. I remember walking bareback on the pony up and down the driveway under the flood light and it started to snow. I remember seeing my Dad standing there watching and we were both smiling. Even at that young age, I knew in that moment that I was important to my Dad. So when he did have to tell me “no”, which I’m sure was a lot, I knew that “no” didn’t mean that my feelings didn’t matter.
As we head into Father’s Day weekend, in the wake of a profound act of non-love, take a moment to acknowledge whoever made you feel like you mattered as a child, whether it was your biological father, or a father figure or any other adult that knew how to make a kid feel heard.
Happy Father’s Day Dad!