Friday, June 18, 2010

Thoughts on Dads: Changing Relationships

When I think of my father during my childhood, the thing I remember most is the snapping of the fingers. That was the sign that I had done something wrong.

I hated that snapping finger sound. It would shut me down very quickly. I learned to obey the finger snaps or face an unhappy dad.

When I was growing up, my dad was really two men to me. On the one hand, I have memories of washing the car with him, laughing as he chased me with the hose, or being swung around in play. I'd chase after him, taunting him with cartoon songs, and he'd pick me up and yell "tickle monster" and tickle me until I was shrieking to get away. I loved it.

On the other hand, he was very strict and I was terrified of him. I walked on egg shells when my dad was in a bad mood (too often) and avoided disturbing him, at all costs. I would break into tears if he so much as raised his voice at me and dreaded the snapping of his fingers.

He never raised a hand to me, that I can remember. He probably didn't even raise his voice at me as much as other people have experienced in their lives.

I've always been "too sensitive" (so I am told) and break into tears very easily. Conflict, anger, raised voices--these are things I dread and will avoid at almost any cost.

I was actually afraid of my dad even as a teenager. I can remember this clearly. I wanted to watch TV but Mom was watching TV in the living room so she said I should ask Dad, who was reading in his den (where the other TV was). I didn't want to. It meant disturbing Dad. I was very reluctant to ask for anything for fear that it would upset him. I don't know why the fear grew so strong, but it did.

This started to change at some point after I moved out of their home (after college). I don't think my dad was very good with kids (probably hadn't been around a lot of them, much like my own background). Once I was an adult, he could relate to me better. Also, as an adult, I now recognize that my father probably suffered from depression when he was younger and his frequent mood swings and frustrations were probably related to that.

I don't know quite when it happened, but I've become a friend to my father. My dad is now the parent I can count on to be supportive. If I have an event, my dad is the one most likely to be interested in what I am doing, the one to ask about it, the one to volunteer to help with it. My mom, whom I was so close to growing up, often acts like I'm weird or boring when my interests are brought up. She's even actively seemed to get in the way of my dad helping out at my events, insisting that he has errands to run or other duties to do at home that day, even when he said he would be available.

I'm thankful for this new relationship with my dad. He seems to be a happier and more easy going guy than he was when he was young. Plus he hasn't snapped his fingers at me once in years. (I'm ashamed to admit that I snap my fingers at my cats to get them to stop something--a learned reaction from my childhood I guess. I hope that if I ever had a child, I'd be able to stop myself from clicking my fingers at my little one).

This Sunday, when Father's Day comes around, I think it is a good time to stop and think about our family and our relationships with them. Things can change between people over time. If some of your relationships are strained, perhaps it is time to examine them again and see if there is any way to improve them.

While I recognize that some relationships (abusive ones, for instance) are not salvageable, I do think that holidays about families, like Father's Day, is a good time to see if any of the other, less toxic, strained relationships can be repaired.

Maybe you will find, as I have, that people change and so can how we relate to each other.

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