As Father's day rolls toward us with a vengeance, the thought of enduring the reminders of pain seems too unbearable to consider. We know on this day, we will journey into our pasts, attempting to answer the question, "Why am I estranged?" This question will lead us down a self-defeating and abusive path of wondering how things could have been different, what we could have done better, or how we really screwed things up.
On this day, some of us will not allow the journey to the past, but instead, will carefully create and analyze a new strategy for reconnecting with those we have lost. We will plan and evaluate the process like we would play a game of chess in our mind's eye, but deep down, we still know that we will lose the game. We blame ourselves, others, the situation, or something else because we are powerless: powerless to affect the outcome of estrangement.
In our rational minds, we know that it "takes two to tango," and we are fully aware that you cannot control another human, but we still strategize about what "we can do" to influence the outcome, and then we beat ourselves up when the plan fails. We do all of this planning and analysis because we have been indoctrinated to believe that a father should never fail! We have been taught lessons about masculinity that drive us to think that we are providers, problem solvers, role models for courage, and men that are infallible. Unfortunately, each one of us holds a core belief that a father is in control and orchestrating the family unit in concert with his mate. Tragically, we have been taught to believe that if we do everything right, our children will honor and respect us for eternity.
The stories of the "perfect father" each one of us hold deep within our subconscious minds are the chains of oppression that keep us in a pit of shame and despair.
The truth of the matter is, fathers are human and merely doing the best that they can. Some of us are assholes, but we don't want to be. Some of us hold our children to a standard of excellence because we want the best life for them. Some of us were absent because we were mired in our work or our insecurities. Some of us did everything right based on what we thought a father should be. Some of us lost children in divorce, yet we never stop thinking about the lives we created. Some of us even found ourselves kicked aside by fathers who did not know how to love us. The point is, we fathers did the best we could with what we had, and we have also learned what we would do differently, yet we are still estranged and suffering.
How do you live with emotions, reminders of loss, shattered memories, and dreams that might not come true? How do you live with the sting of estrangement on Father's day?
I know estrangement all too well, and on my journey of self-discovery to learn how to free myself from the sting of sadness, I have discovered a few key ideas that have allowed me to create a life of joy, peace, and purpose. I offer these tips, not as expert advice, but as resources that helped me heal.
For those interested in my backstory, it is complicated, so I will be brief.
I was married for 13 years, and I have two children in their twenties.
In a bloody divorce in 2005, I did not check every last line on a legal agreement and screwed myself out of any visitation rights. The day the papers were final, I received a call from her new boyfriend, alerting me to the fact and threatening me if I ever contacted my children. I tried to fight, and I lost.
Three days later, my father proclaimed to me, "Your mother died of cancer last year, and you died today." He had some extreme feelings about how I handled my divorce and was willing to sever all ties with me as a result. His judgment about my life sealed the fate of our relationship. My father died in May, after 15 years of estrangement.
The past 15 years have been a journey to reconcile my shame, liberate my blame, free myself from sorrow, and learn how to live with others' decisions. On this journey, I have learned some powerful lessons that I hope will help you on your journey.
You cannot control the perceptions or reactions of others towards you; you can only strive to be a better man. If you hold memories of shame, you must liberate them. Consider this: you are evolving and changing every day. You are better than your previous self.
The rules you have about what being a "good father" means are nothing more than a standard that you use to measure and abuse yourself. Maybe you didn't know how to be a loving father because you never learned love from your own?
The "past" that you frequently visit is the fertile ground for shame, sorrow, sadness, anxiety, and despair. You must learn to close the door on the past. Remember, you are evolving every single day. Repeat after me, "I am getting better and better, every day, in every way."
The "future" you cling to is an illusion. You must maintain hope, but do not hinge your daily thoughts and emotions on an outcome in the future.
Learn to love yourself and stop looking to the outside world for validation. Go within, forgive yourself for your areas of failure, liberate yourself from your standards of performance, and learn how to extend grace to yourself. In other words, give yourself a break. When you learn to love yourself, you will then be able to love those who are estranged.
Practice suspending all conditions, judgments, and expectations you hold for others and yourself, and allow yourself to create a life of peace. Here is a secret; all the conditions, judgments, and expectations you hold for others are a direct reflection of your self-imposed conditions, judgments, and expectations. You are the baseline for all of it and these things stand in the way of love.
Learn how to live in the present moment by becoming the observer and creator of your own life. Breathe, become aware, center yourself, and focus on creating peace in the mindful moment. You cannot change the past, the future is an illusion, and the present moment is the only place that peace resides.
Practice gratitude and humility and before you launch yourself out of bed each morning, proclaim that you are creating a life of joy, peace, and purpose. What you focus on becomes your reality, so choose your focus wisely.
I hope the things I learned are helpful. Holler at me if you want to chat.