Matt Christensen shared a piece on the website called Fatherly this week about 13 subjects young adults wish their dad would share in conversation with them. They amount to a list of topics that some dads play very close to their chests. Dads either express fear about speaking on these topics or hold to old stereotypes about the things a man should just keep to himself.
I was struck by a common thread as I read Christensen’s work. Many of the subjects were pieces of life that dads actually experience in common with their offspring but still behave as if there is no connection. Clearly, the desire for that connection to be shared motivates the next generation to want to have these conversations. It’s like they were saying, “I wish dad would talk about this,” on some subjects that dad simply hasn’t bothered to comment about.
One subject involved the common experience of divorce when both the father and the son had gone through the same experience at different stages in their marriages. Dad clearly felt it was important to offer words of encouragement to “buck up” while his son went through it but didn’t share his own feelings or any comparison of their experiences at all—which his son wanted to know very much. One daughter got a job in the same department where her father had worked but his death prevented them from sharing what they liked and how to succeed—which she really longed to hear. Politics, common experiences with depression and even regrets about life in general were all topics that kids wanted to hear their fathers talk about.
It’s no surprise that many of the topics had to do with dad’s personal life and his unwillingness to share. What was his childhood like? How did he survive mom’s affair? What were his feelings about losing his dad? Are we so focused on our children that we think our experiences as dads don’t matter to them? That belief is apparently wrong. Maybe it is the secrecy that draws their interest toward our inner lives. Or maybe it’s the relationship itself that calls for more sharing than we have been willing to do. Do we lack the skills to talk about ourselves, having been told that self-disclosure is selfish or in poor taste? Our kids are saying none of that matters. They really want to know more about us.
Maybe one of the most tragic wishes about their father’s lack of communication centers around his health. Most dads rarely visit the doctor’s office. When they go, they don’t talk about it. When kids notice that things aren’t right, dads hold the information close and refuse to discuss it. Dad’s anger gets in the way of future attempts to discuss this important information. The kids may have to care for dad’s needs, but they may have to do so with very little help from him. Do we really have to act so invincible? Do our fears of losing our strength and virility really make us look smaller in our kids’ eyes? Is it possible that our secrets are the real enemy here?
Fathers and grandfathers need to open up! The experiences and reflections on those experiences are priceless to the next generation and their children. We haven’t finished the job of being a dad just because the kids graduate from school or move into their own house. They still long for the connections that will give them wisdom and closer relationships for the rest of their lives. Couldn’t we at least consider that it’s okay to reveal the secrets now that they are grown?
I guess I need to get that Fatherhood Journal back out that my daughter gave me a few Christmases ago. Maybe those questions will help open the lock on my heart.