Saying I Love You
I have been reading a lot about Justice Sonia Sotomayor lately now that her book is out. Her story is inspiring and yet also sad. Her father died when she was in fourth grade due to heart problems related to alcoholism. When he was alive, Sonia endured a childhood of watching her father explode in rages when he was drinking and his aggression was often pointed at herself or her mother.
In her recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, Justice Sonia was asked what she most regrets in life. Her first response was that she regrets not ever telling her father she loved him.
My heart sank for her.
My story is very different from Justice Sonia’s although as a child and then a teenager it was not easy to relate to my father. He worked long hours and took frequent business trips. He always seemed still to be thinking about work even when he was with us. I remember feeling sadness and anger every time he left.
At one point I was aware that I couldn’t deal with the emotional rollercoaster of him coming in and out of our lives like this. When I was around 11, he took an especially long 2 week trip. I remember consciously and purposely deciding that I would remain angry at him even when he returned. Sadly, I think I succeeded for a few years. If anything had happened to him in those years I would have painfully regretted my anger and behavior forever.
I think I became so frustrated because I loved him and did not know how to become closer. My guess is that neither did he. I also deeply missed the years when I was little and he was more present and playful to be with.
Once I got through some tough years as a teenager the skies began to open again and so did my heart. Something changed for my Dad too. He left his position as a high profile business executive. He was in a transition period of figuring out what he wanted to do next in life and suddenly he was home a lot. Ironically, I was not.
After a rough freshman year in a large public high school in a conservative town in the 1980’s, I was drowning. Luckily I found out about a wonderful, small, open minded boarding school in Massachusetts and begged my parents to go. There I had the opportunity to reinvent myself, grow and gain the strength I needed to live my truth in this world.
To keep in touch, I would frequently call home. My mother always answered the phone. Always.
On one occasion during the year my father left his job, I called home to catch up and for the first time I can remember, my father actually answered the phone! Gasp! What do I talk about with him?
As we fumbled through our conversation I realized I was so thankful he had answered. This continued to occasionally happen when I would call home. It also continued to surprise me every time.
With practice my Dad and I became more relaxed when talking on the phone. We began to have real conversations. Those conversations began a transformation in my relationship with him.
As an adult, I understand so much more about what his life was like. How it feels to be passionate about work and the pull to become consumed. I appreciate now that he never worked on weekends like many of his colleagues and he always went on family trips with us. I realize that as a man he didn’t see it as his responsibility to be a primary caregiver nor did most men at that time.
Now my father is a vibrant role model for me, a person I can sit and have long conversations with over a glass of wine, take walks with and share about our lives in an open and comfortable way. He adores my partner and our boys and is grandfather of the year in my book.
Happy 75th Dad. Thank you for all you have given and as you know, I love you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shana Hiranandani shares a home with her two boys, her partner of 12 years, a big dog and a small cat in the Pioneer Valley of Western MA. Shana earned a B.A. in Psychology from UMass Amherst and a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Antioch New England College. Shana is a Board Certified Life and Career Coach, offering consultations from her office in Florence, MA. Her monthly column offers parenting perspectives from a Jewish-Indian-American, 2-mommy household.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Omer Wazir]