Yep. I am still their Dad. “But, I am 92 and they are in their 60’s,” I think, jabbering to myself.
“JEROME,” my wife Margaret, who died 15 years ago, would say right now to get my attention. “You worry too much. They are adults. Let them be.”
Sage advice, Margaret. “But I still want to help.”
Perhaps I am thinking about this more because I am living with my daughter in California, seeing her day-to-day life in action. The doctor thought the risk of being lonely, isolated and alone in Chicago for the next two months was more severe than the risk of travel. So here I am. And I wonder, am I much different than the college students who flew the coop only months ago, and now find themselves back home under the watchful eye of parents. Except that I am the parent.
How easy it is to fall into old patterns of relating.
“I want to help,” is my automatic response. Help with what? Money–thoughts–fatherly wisdom? “No that’s not it,” I ponder with myself.
It’s how do I stay connected with them. How do I show mature love and caring? A true joy in their achievements and they in mine. How and when do we have this conversation and I can ask: “Is it ok to talk about anything? Or are their subjects I should stay away from? For me, you can say or comment about anything you want to, and I hope I can respond honestly or say, give me some time to think about that.”
What about When Their Way is Different than My Way?
One of my adult children was talking about tough problems at work and I said, confidently and without hesitation: “you come first, your family comes second and the job comes third. I learned that the hard way in my own career.”
Even as I gave that advice to my staff, as a supervisor, I did not always follow it myself. “Sure, sure, you really mean that, boss?” “Yep—yes!” I would say, “you go watch your kid’s baseball game.”
I continued the conversation with my adult child. “If you are not happy working where you are, your passion, creativity and commitment is empty.” I got no response from my kid (a “kid” who is also now a parent and grandparent). But I had the opportunity to demonstrate that I cared! I felt we were connected.
That was my intention, at least. I hoped that’s how it was received.
My adult child’s response could have been “Your advice was good, dad. Thank you. I learned from your ideas,” I think, back to jabbering to myself.
“They’re adults. You can’t have both sides of the conversation.”
As a parent, my immediate response to my child’s angst—be it a bully on the playground when they were ten or challenges with the work team when they’re 60—is to fix it. “Do this and this and this” I say, and voila, it’s fixed!
“There, I made it better,” I think. “Why is my adult child now silent with me?”
Perhaps because I didn’t ask first if he wanted me to fix it.
Maybe just sharing, staying connected, caring, hugging and saying I love you are the critical stuff of father and adult children. Not giving advice that might come across to my child as judgmental, or critical… “you should have done this or that,” or “I would have told that S.O.B. blab, blab.”
From my end, I will try to listen without fixing. I will ask first, “Do you want to know what I think?”
And, kids, on your end. Ask your ol’ dad for advice from time to time. He’s bursting to share because he loves you so much.