The last few months with my father have been more than I could have imagined possible a year and a half ago when I visited him in hospital. There had been much acrimony between us in the distant past, and a smouldering resentment through the in-between years, born of not knowing how to express strong emotions and a swath of chronic misunderstanding that engulfs some relationships.
Even though the separation lasted more than 20 years, it wasn’t like we didn’t try to make it work a few times. Unacknowledged love, regret, and many painful memories had made it impossible for me to see the likelihood of coming back together.
I’m sharing this story with you to shed some light on the insights that led to the flowering of a father–son love that had been hidden all along. It was one that had been desperate to come out, but was protected because of completely forgivable reasons that I will reveal later.
But how did our relationship change from the tug-of-war for rights and personal freedom so long ago? How did we get past all the missed opportunities and the time tether of despair to the almost effortlessly expressed care and love we have for each other today?
Coming to Terms with Our Own Feelings
It all starts with the desire to be free of the pain and suffering. But more than that, we have to commit to challenging our past judgements and the beliefs that extended the separation over so many years.
There are many ways that people cope with feelings of helplessness in their life. As a family mediator and as someone who has lived through it, I’ve come to understand that this feeling is a learned reality. It exists and has strength because we have not learned how to cope with our overwhelming feelings. I had tried to bury the pain of this separation with my father for so long that the terror I felt when it threatened to resurface was something I could no longer ignore if I wanted to live a good life.
Repairing a Relationship Starts with Looking Inwards
Admitting how much the pain of separation was affecting me, and how I had given up on facing it was the first step toward freedom. Looking back though, and considering all I had gained from this effort, it’s clear that it was the most worthwhile thing I could have done.
My next step was to surrender the need to justify myself in the ways that I did in the past. It had been so long, I had forgotten most of the beliefs. They were only there as memories. Sure, I had been hurt, but my pain could no longer be a reason to deny my father’s pain during that tumultuous time.
Through bearing witness to the pain and allowing it to overwhelm me as many times as necessary, my old pain became less important.
I was eventually able to take responsibility for what was mine in the conflict, and not feel the shame that used to feed more discord between us.
Reconnecting with Complete Honesty is Essential
The email in which I wrote this all out was a turning point in my road to recovery with my father. In the email,
- I said that I loved him.
- I shared my regret for what had happened.
- I left an open invitation for him to respond.
There were times in the following period when I was almost certain that if we were to meet again, it would have been almost too late. The fabled deathbed outpouring of emotions that happens in the movies was a regular vision when I thought about how our coming together might happen. I’m humbled by this passage I’ve just written out to you, and very grateful to have the trust and connection with my father that I have today.
Dealing with Conflict from a Divorce Mediator’s Perspective
If there is one thing I need to say to the family members out there who are feeling the pain of separation, it is that at some point one person needs to stop the tug-of-war, put down their end of the rope, and begin to fully feel and acknowledge the pain they have inside them.
This is not so we become locked once again in the inaction of guilt, or carried away into the churning of resentment that can arrest an otherwise good life. It is so that we can, with time and persistence, find peace with our old thoughts and feelings, and to slowly and unexpectedly accept and be generous in allowing the other to be who they need to be, whether that is with us or not.