I used to think that my parents were always right – that their collective moral compass was the only one to follow. This was especially true with my dad. The man is, and always has been, a walking encyclopedia – my go-to for questions about practically anything (anything factual, that is).
I idealized my dad, and in my eyes he was the boss. He was the King Triton in my own Ariel fairytale (we all know the type). Although, I felt like my opinions were often discredited on the basis that I was young, immature, or “unrefined” (what did I know, right?). I felt like I was on my own. It also didn’t help that my dad started to see me as dramatic and rebellious. As I got older, I began to resist his authority with my own independence, becoming exactly who he had already decided I was: dark, disobedient, and headstrong (again, we all know the type).
For the years following that phase, my dad and I silently garnered a shared understanding that we just didn’t work. We tiptoed around each other because the foundation of our relationship was eggshells. We had our altercations, but the aftermath was always a mix of avoidance, acceptance, and (more so on my end) indifference. Maybe it was our way of sidestepping conflict, but it became “our way” nonetheless. That was our relationship, until very recently.
About two months ago, one particularly quarrelsome car ride home from work pushed us over the edge and encouraged me to ask the question: “Would you go to therapy with me?” He agreed.
The only word I can think of to describe our first session is tumultuous. It was an emotional rollercoaster. In that hour-long session there was yelling, crying, resentful looks, and eye rolling.
We cut into each other. Sometimes our digs were uncalled for, and other times they were silently acknowledged by the other. I fully expected us to leave the room with stale air between us, but the therapist somehow calmed us down enough so that by the end of it we left on a good note. I suppose that’s part of her job description.
We released our pent-up anger, hugged it out, and fell into this fuzzy and tired acknowledgement of each other’s efforts. We realized that maybe we were more similar than we thought. We’re both stubborn and slightly egotistical, but we’re also both trying.
I think that was the most pivotal thing we realized that day – that we’re both trying. I don’t think it was the therapy session itself that made the difference in our relationship, but the act of going that changed things. By going together, we replaced our tug of war with mutual effort. We both knew that something needed to change, and since then, things have changed for the better.
To anyone who struggles with family problems, I get it. We all experience it in different ways, but the important thing is that we all experience it. I think we can be reluctant to talk about it because it’s easier to pretend that everything’s fine (it’s ironic that the most intimate relationships in our lives are the ones that get pushed under the rug if they go awry). No matter how difficult it may seem, I encourage you to ask your parents or siblings to go to therapy if you think the relationship is worth repairing. One session might make a world of difference, like it did for me and my dad.
I don’t put my dad on a pedestal anymore. If there’s one thing I’ve realized throughout this process, it’s that parents are human. They have pride, they make mistakes, they are quick to judge, and they speak without thinking. In sum, they’re not always right. I would argue that sometimes, and maybe more often than they would like to admit, we might know a little more than them. In some cases, we might be the ones who need to take the first step in repairing our relationships.
My dad and I are a work in progress, like most things. But the important thing is that we’re progressing away from what was, and I’m really proud of us for that.