Dear Dad | What Ifs
I wasn’t going to write about this today. But when I woke up this morning it was already on my mind. So here goes.
Over a year ago I began wondering how I would answer questions like these:
- What did you inherit from your father?
- What are you proud of in your father?
- What’s the best gift your father ever gave you?
I often feel left out when I hear daughters, not just sons, thanking their fathers for being their mentors, their best friends, their coaches in life and their faithful cheerleaders. Sometimes they tell stories about how this happened. Do I have stories like this?
When I was young I was proud that you were a preacher and that you’d gone to college. Besides, you could fix just about anything in the world, and knew the Latin names of most every plant in the world. And could recite poem after poem by heart.
As an adult, I’ve always said I inherited from you a love of theology. Because I became a theologian, this was important to me. Something that set you apart from most other fathers.
At the same time, it was never easy to answer questions about your influence in my life. So when I began my list of things we share, I thought it would be a short list. I also wanted to think about you differently—without denying our sometimes unhappy history as father and daughter. In the end, the list was longer than I thought it would be, and brought back some happy memories.
When I woke up this morning I started asking myself some What If questions. Most of the time I stay away from What Ifs. They don’t seem to get me anywhere, and end up making me even more unhappy than I already was. Besides, they don’t change What Is—what I must live with each day.
Still, my What If questions wouldn’t go away. Here’s how I’m thinking about it.
- As a parent, I found it distressingly easy to be judgmental and critical. Or to put my children on guard or push them away. I haven’t just experienced it as a child; I’ve done it as a mother.
- So what if I were interested, positive and encouraging to my children? I know this works better, because I’ve experienced it, too. Not because it came naturally to me, but because I learned how to do it.
So back to you and me. What if you had taken a different approach with me?
When I was growing up I watched you relate to children and teenagers not in our immediate family. You seemed to be a different person! They loved you. They experienced you as their friend and cheerleader. They weren’t afraid of you the way I was. You were firm with them, but not harsh and unyielding.
I wanted you to relate that way with me. Sometimes this happened a bit when our family went on long road trips. They forced us out of our tired, predictable patterns.
Going to summer camps as a family was a bit like this, too. Not exactly the same, but enough to convince me that I’d rather be traveling or camping with you than living in a house with all those Thou Shalt Nots.
I don’t know why you chose to be strict and judgmental. You said you didn’t want me to grow up to be angry like your father was. Today I wonder what it was about you (not about me) that kept you from treating me differently. Since I saw you relating to other children, I know you had the skills to be a different kind of parent.
I used to think your parenting approach was my fault. I don’t think that anymore. I also don’t know whether a different approach would have been possible for you. Either way you’re still my father, and I’m not about to disown you.
Love and a hug,
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 July 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, March 2015, Longwood Gardens