It Took 36 Years To Say I Love You
Forgiving others starts with forgiving yourself
Growing up, I didn’t really care that I had never asked my ‘real’ dad a single question. Especially that one question of why he left us.
I have no memory of him anyway, just rumors and memories of others that I had heard for more than 36 years of my life. I was taught to hate him, but I didn’t really; he just didn’t exist.
When my step-dad who had raised me as his own died in 2010, I realized that we ended our otherwise loving (for him) relationship without words and were both too stubborn to let it go months before the fatal fall that killed him.
His passing opened up my heart for another, but realistically, I just didn’t think having a dad mattered. I was fine. I’m a man.
Or at least I thought I was.
What I knew of my dad was that he was all sorts of negative things. None of those things were accomplished, responsible, pioneering, entrepreneurial, successful, loving, dedicated, compassionate, etc. He wasn’t what I wanted to be; and what if I became who I thought he was.
Years before my grandma had given me access to a photo of my dad in his military outfit. Recently, she let me take a picture of his high school portrait. When I look at these photos I see my blue eyes, my sister’s hair, and my brother’s seriousness. We’re all there in this one man.
But who is he?
For me, I was afraid to look in the mirror and ever think that even one speck of him could be me. But there were always those blue eyes looking back and I knew where they came from.
Then transformation happened.
A week ago today I called my dad on the phone after being inspired at an emotional intelligence leadership training program called Next Level Columbus.
I let fear go, found courage, understood the benefit of authentic forgiveness, and focused on my desire to have a loving family with the foundation of a present father.
I told my dad that I love him. Without pause he replied, “I love you too.” I said that my vision is to build a meaningful, loving relationship with him. He said that sounds good.
The next night, we had dinner at what turns out to be both his and my favorite restaurant which is an establishment in our hometown, Chef-O-Nette Restaurant.
My expectations were pretty low for that dinner, rather convinced that we wouldn’t have much in common.
But then we ordered the same exact thing off the menu: Chef-O Burger with double pickles. (So good.)
He then started telling me about his work as a CPA for 25 years working for startup companies, jumping from city to city. Sounds familiar.
And that he had always hated ‘numbers’ but did the work anyway. Imagine that.
And that he always hated working for someone else. Go figure.
And then it got real, and cut close to the bone for me.
I told him that I too have Bipolar Disorder and about the three manic episodes I have had since the age of 33 which ultimately brought me back to Ohio. I told him everything from those powerful episodes, finding comfort knowing that he wouldn’t judge me. And that he’d understand exactly the challenges I have faced in my life since then because he has the same disease.
Through his listening, he showed me his love.
He then told me about his challenge with responsibility, of never in his life wanting to have any. How difficult it was to get married at the age of 21 after Vietnam. And that when he divorced my mom, it was suddenly OK (by society’s standards) to do so. And then he could run. Until he couldn’t run anymore.
When I listen to the words of Harry Chapin’s ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ I finally understand what he was singing about. I can feel those lyrics in my own life.
This song offers a huge revelation — the realization that if I did not see my own life in this mirror of my dad, I’d doubtless go down the same path. Indeed, I see it happening throughout my family now.
Not this time. I’m intercepting the idea of ‘destiny’ and pivoting my role in the family and in my own avoidance of responsibility. This is my life. My dad is my only dad. What else would I do besides fight for both?
We’re having dinner tomorrow night.