Appreciating your parents
My father loved spring—with its yellow, red, and white tulips, fresh green leaves, and bright yellow forsythia. He lived in New York City with its long, cold winters. Spring brought new life and the promise of the long, lazy days of summer.
My Dad passed away nine years ago, at the age of 88, after a long winter. He did get to see his final spring, although he was much diminished by the ravages of cancer. I was fortunate. I was able to lend him my support in this last period of his life.
But this season, as it blossoms, I reflect on my 56-year long relationship with my father. I try to remember the good times—moments engraved in memory. I recall going to the bakery on Sunday mornings, buying brightly colored Danish pastries for brunch, with a stop at the local deli to buy bagels, cream cheese, and mounds of smoked salmon and whitefish. I was a little boy, holding my father’s hand, anticipating the feast ahead with my family.
But it’s hard to remember many good times with him. From adolescence on I was disappointed with my Dad. He was an engineer who didn’t have people skills. He was more at home with mathematics and physics than with his children. He was absorbed in his work—his family time was dinner at the end of a long day at work before he retreated into his study. I do remember, as a little boy, hiding under his desk, unseen while he worked. This was how I got close to him.
My father was like many Dads of his generation. But I always felt let down. I wanted more from him than he had to offer. As I look back on my adult life, I realize that my disappointment in him was a veil that prevented me from seeing his strengths and his assets. I was blinded by my frustration and my unmet needs and desires. I wish that I could have seen this sooner! I could have appreciated him more. I was able to connect with him at the very end of his life, when I let go of my needs and focused on meeting his.
How can we forge a better relationship with our parents, especially when they have major limitations?
Accept them for who they are, not as you would like them to be.
I know this is hard because it took me a very long time to get there. But consider—your parents are people just like you and they aren’t perfect. Accept what they have to offer. Look beyond whatever disappointment you may have.
Remember that they are also products of their life experience.
My Dad was an only child who was very lonely as a boy. His parents didn’t have much time for him. His father was very distant and unapproachable. He did not learn how to form close relationships.
Appreciate their strengths.
Don’t let their weaknesses stop you from seeing and appreciating their assets! Consider each parent’s strong points. My Dad was so smart! He was always interested in the world around him.
Let go of your disappointment.
Your parents are not in this world to live up to all of your expectations just as you are not here to live up to all of their hopes and dreams. Of course, we want parental approval. But it is not always available. Our parents want us to hold them in high regard too.
Acknowledge your feelings without dwelling on them.
Suppressing your feelings is unhealthy. Explore your feelings but don’t allow them to obscure your vision. Let them be and focus on the positive.
We grow up with each other.
My parents and I grew and changed as we got older. We came to understand each other more.