It is June, and that means Father’s Day. I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot.
With all the global travel restrictions I haven’t seen him in 18 months and connecting can be a challenge (he doesn’t like to answer the phone). I miss talking to him. It wasn’t always this way.
My father grew up in the Caribbean, and as a young child he was hit by a car and spent a year in hospital having his leg rebuilt. While I never thought of my father as being disabled, he lived his life with a severe limp and as his father said to him, “You can’t use your body to earn a living. You will have to use your mind.” My father took this quite literally and pursued a career in academia as a physics professor.
As a young child, I was always pushed to do better and excel at school. I know my father loved me, but his version of that was transactional. As long as I was doing well in school and not getting into trouble, we were good. In some ways my mom was the opposite of my dad. While she encouraged us to do well in school, she wanted us to do well in all aspects of our lives. She was involved with our lives, and as we grew into teenagers, she welcomed our friends to come by and hang out.
My relationship with my father would have likely stayed the same if it wasn’t for a fateful afternoon cup of tea with my mom. At the time I was 19 years old, living at home, and attending the same university where my dad taught. Mom and I were sitting at the kitchen table sipping tea and laughing over some story when dad arrived home. He greeted us then headed to another room. The next day, mom sat me down and told me that seeing us laughing had upset dad. In that moment, he realized that he didn’t know me, and couldn’t remember ever having a lighthearted conversation with me.
Over 30 years later, I can still remember this conversation. Mom looked at me and said, “You are an adult now and the relationship with your dad is 50% on you. If you would like the relationship to be different, then it is 50% on you to change it.”
I was mad. I’m the kid! How is this on me? Why can’t he go first? But mom’s words wouldn’t leave me. Then I started thinking, what if mom is right? What if I have the ability to change the relationship with my father? This really blew my mind. If this is possible, then I have the same ability to do this with anyone. Two days later, with some trepidation, I went to my dad’s office armed with two Tim Horton’s coffees (for anyone that knows my dad they know this is his weakness). I could tell he was surprised and delighted to see me. Our first few conversations were awkward as we got to know each other. It dawned on me that I didn’t know my dad. Who he was as a person. For the remainder of my time at university, every week dad and I would have a coffee date.
This learning has followed me everywhere. All my relationships – regardless of if they are work or personal, are 50% on me. Even relationships with leaders and those above me in the hierarchy are on me.
When you look at your relationships, which ones would you choose to change?
In the words of my mom, they are 50% on you.