With Father’s Day approaching, I can think of no better gift than a conversation with my daughter, Anne. This wasn’t always the case. Not long ago, my conversations with Anne were punctuated by my own frustration and fear. I didn’t understand Anne or her eating disorder. Fearful that I would say something that would upset my daughter, I avoided important topics. We never talked about issues that really mattered to each of us. And yet, we spent lots of time and energy talking. Anne is away at college so phone calls are an important way to keep in touch, yet it seemed we grew farther apart with each phone call. I wrongly reasoned that Anne and I might be better off if we spoke less frequently.
Fortunately, this plan didn’t last, and Anne and I are speaking often. I am hoping that other dads may experience the wonderful change in their relationships with their daughters that Anne and I have enjoyed this year. In reflecting on this transformation, I can identify several steps that ultimately led to the open, productive conversations that Anne and I now so frequently have:
1. Seek professional help. I resisted for years going to a psychiatrist thinking that doing so was a sign of weakness. But once my wife and I reached out for help, we found how important this step was in improving our mindsets. A key factor in this step was a willingness to trust someone else with our deepest fears and emotions. Though it seemed counterintuitive to me at first, the process of expressing these feelings was enormously restorative. It made me happier, or at least, more content.
2. Be mindful of your emotions. One of the outcomes from seeking professional help was greater mindfulness. I found that by reflecting on my own feelings and emotions and how they played out in each moment of my day helped me learn more about what made me happy or upset and to adjust my environment to improve my life. I learned that training my mind to be more self-aware was not selfish, but the opposite. Finding time for my personal needs calmed the inner voices that told me to worry about Anne, to try to solve her problems. I realized that the best way to help Anne was to help myself.
3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. My mother’s recent death was a terribly sad event for me, and I shared that pain with my daughter in ways I would not have before. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and to express my emotions, reading an early draft of a eulogy to Anne and asking for her advice. The connection we both felt in this process was heartwarming.
4. Have conversations with your daughter often. My initial judgment to call Anne less frequently when our calls were so frustrating was wrong. I thought that by reducing our frequency of contact, I was giving Anne room to grow. Anne helped me realize that doing so was simply creating distance between us. We resolved to speak often, sharing our thoughts and feelings whenever we could. Sometimes we talk about what I’m doing at work or what Anne has done during her day. The subjects of our calls matter less than their openness. Anne and I feel safe when we speak with each other, even when we reveal thoughts and feelings that make us uncomfortable. For both of us, this is a welcome change.
Each week, I look forward to reaching out to Anne and, I believe she feels the same way about me. I wouldn’t trade this feeling for any other Father’s Day gift.
David Oliver is the father of three children and lives in New York City. He works in the investment management business.