Generation to Generation

Here is a fact for you. I really don’t know my dad. We see each other regularly and we chat. We go out to dinner and he’ll even take me golfing anytime that I want. Both of us, I think, genuinely desire to spend time with each other, but once we are together we don’t really know what to do. Sports talk will only last so long and then I have the same list of questions that I’ll ask him every time. Our relationship has never developed closeness. My dad is not someone who I would seek advice from or share the intimate details with.

In fact, I realized recently that my dad and I frequently don’t talk TO each other. We use my mom as a conduit of communication. I’ll get a call from mom, “Your father wants to know if you can go golfing next weekend.” Just as guilty am I ask I’ll ask mom “Has dad decided if he’s going to retire next year?” Both of us have cell phones and email, yet we rarely use them to communicate with each other.

I’m being a little misleading when I say I just realized this. The blockage in my relationship with my dad has always been something that I’ve noticed. It’s just that it has always been this way. There’s balance. Why rock the boat? And sometimes the thought of addressing him on a deeper level has created almost a feeling of fear in me. It’s almost like handling a log that is on fire – you can’t wait to put it down.

I’ll never forget the time I broached a conversation with him about his relationship with Jesus. It’s not that I’m ashamed to talk about Jesus. Quite the opposite. Yet, it took such a force of will to begin the conversation, that when he affirmed my couple of weak questions, I very gratefully let the conversation turn to what he shot at golf last week.

As I dig deeper into myself and my marriage, the thing that I have come to realize that this issue is not unrelated to how I behave as a husband, father, friend, and pastor. In fact, the relational patterns that my family of origin has are directly related to the one that I have inadvertently created in my own home. It’s a generational pattern. Patterns that are part of the family history reaching back many generations. A way of behavior and of relating to others that most are not even consciously aware of. My eyes are just now becoming open to the affect generational patterns have on all of our relationships.

In what appears on the surface to be a very counterproductive and unrelated move, I realized that improving my marriage (and future pastoral skills) requires that I untangle the mess that is my relationship with my dad (and my mom). Change in me is changing (or has the potential to change) others as well, without their even realizing it.

This knowledge has given me confidence. So, I initiated a conversation with my dad. Asked him to drive me to church. He didn’t attend, but in the 20 minute ride (we’ll start small) I just asked him about his dad. Were they close? Was he a good parent? What was his life like as he grew up?

Turns out my dad and his dad were not close at all. They rarely talked. He was always sick. My dad, being the oldest, started working at 14 to help support a large family. I got a story about the first family car that my dad fixed up (at 14! I was proud of myself today for installing a new oil cap, and I’m 38). Brothers chasing sisters around. Brothers getting the belt on their behind.

Guess I gained some perspective on why my dad and I are not close. It’s what he knows. I understand why my dad put such a high value on providing for me over relating to me, it was how he was assigned value in his family. Clearly, my journey to strength requires that I balance my relationships with my parents and place more emphasis on developing one with my dad. Of course, it will affect my mom – but I’ll be prepared. The reality is that changing that one relationship will change all the others I have. Hopefully for the better.

This first step was brief. But it was a start. I want to know my dad. It’s a little late now, he’s in bed. But tomorrow I’m going to call my dad.

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