Yesterday was Father’s Day. As evidenced by the insane photobombing bonanza that was Facebook yesterday. (Yes, I’m modifying the meaning of photo-bomb in this context.)
I was unsurprised to notice an amalgam of feelings arise as I scrolled down, and down… and down, through the newsfeed. Yes. Everyone has a dad. Yes. I get it. Yes. I even have my own. Do I have to see yours, too?
In the end. I posted my own photo of myself with my dad. I must be about 5 years old, climbing over the guard rail into the brush. We’re probably on vacation in Cape Cod, the ocean visible in the background. He’s looking out through binoculars, the front fender of his red 1970 Cutlass in the corner of the image. The majority of the photos I have of us together when I’m little are from the Brownies/Girl Scouts Father/Daughter dances — staged photos on cubes of packed hay. I’m sitting on my dad’s lap, looking highly uncomfortable.
This annual awkwardness was the closest my dad and I ever got, and the call to look normal at it was a difficult one to answer.
But, still. Yesterday, I too wanted to feel a shred of familial nostalgia, true or un. I wanted to add to our communal photobook my own pixelated, sugar-coated memory.
In the afternoon, I attended a seminar being hosted at my work. I was on hand as a staff member but got to participate too. The subject under discussion was “Having Difficult Conversations.” … It was the most requested topic, and the least attended. We all want to know how to do this, but we’re also hesitant to do so.
With about a dozen other folks, I was asked to turn to my neighbor and share “the story” of a conversation I’d been avoiding having. It was about 3pm on Father’s Day, and I’d already mailed my dad a generic, but nice enough card. I’d emailed him yesterday with that photo attached. And the conversation I was anxious to have or not have was whether or not to also call him.
Had I done my due diligence as a daughter? Was a card and an email enough?
One of the questions asked of us was: What is their side of the story?
I thought about this, wrote about it. Thought about my dad wondering what he’d done to be punished with silence. Thought about him getting angry with me for disappointing him again. Thought about him contemplating his martrydom, that all he’d done was love me, and I can’t show up for him.
But. True or not, these are only what I think he’s thinking.
In reality, what he’s probably thinking is that he loves me and misses me and would like to hear from me.
Because as time and experience have proved, he has little ability to contemplate much below the surface.
Once the workshop was over, I’d concluded that I’d probably done enough. That I didn’t need to call him, to subject myself to being open to attack or discomfort, as previous conversations have only proved to be. That’s what the story is, too: If I call, I open myself up to disappointment. Again.
But, once I arrived to my friend’s house for dinner, I’d had a few more minutes to think, and as I parked, what occurred to me was a phrase a friend told me long ago: “The Buddha says hello first.”
I thought as I put it into reverse, What kind of person do I want to be in this world?
Surely, I don’t want to be someone who allows themselves to be whipped over and over, but I forget that I’m also someone these days who when I see that coming or happening, I have the esteem and wherewithall to stop them or to end the conversation.
I want to be the kind of person who sends love, even to those who are unable to receive it. Not as “The Giving Tree” would do, but with conscious decision. I know I’m taking a risk reaching out to you, but I care … not really about you, sorry, but about how I feel — and how I feel is that I want to send you a … not an olive branch, but perhaps just a message of peace, not truce.
In the end, I just wanted to act toward my father how I would want him to behave toward me, with awareness, with boundaries, and with empathy toward us both.
So, I called. And mercifully, I got his voicemail. I left one, short and sweet. Which he reciprocated while I was out to dinner and left me one.
He just wants to know what’s going on in my life. He has lost this right. He has proved himself untrustworthy to know more than the most sweeping generalizations about my life. And I will have to decide once again if this is a conversation I want to have.
The Buddha may say hello first, but how many times do you say hello to someone you don’t trust?