From Distant to BFF

Can you imagine going from a distant relationship with your dad to having him as your BFF?

I would say this is the dream of many a boy and man and many a girl and woman. My housemate’s father lives in far-away Hawaii and dreams this dream. Many of the clients I have seen over the years dream this dream or dreamed this dream when they were growing up. My daughter, too.

I was luckier than most. My dad was someone I loved and felt loved by. We used to go skating together, sometimes joining hands and skating like a couple, first a glide on one foot and then the other. He taught me and us skiing and swimming and canoeing.

He believed in me. That was a wonderful thing. I felt loved and seen and heard by him. When I was an adult, we spent an occasional weekend together in NYC. One time, we stayed at a youth hostel and walked to the Imagine memorial to John Lennon in Central Park. There we sat, among many other people, listening to someone play guitar and enjoying the quiet mood of the memorial. We also talked and I shared with him some of my experiences as a social worker. His attentive, interested listening filled me. It made me feel good about myself and my work. That was a gift that has lasted to this day.

This is one of the qualities most people look for from their dads. They want to be seen and heard. They want someone who is interested in them and who will take the time to play with them and understand them.

In my work as a therapist, I hear this over and over again. Mostly I hear people’s disappointment in their dad for not being there for them. Some people are luckier and shared some things with their dad or/and feel great admiration for him. But the vast majority wish for more…contact, more connection.

One client has talked about his father who never talked with him, not even when his mother was dying. They never shared a word about their mutual loss. This father did occasional nice things for his son, like buying him a great bicycle, but they did not go riding together and they certainly did not talk.

Another client talked about how she waited and waited, all day long, for her father to show up for their day together. Her sadness and disappointment were still palatable when she talked.

Another client wishes, to this day, that her father had been interested in who she was.

There is a lot of pain in these recollections.

What I say to my clients is “You can do it differently. You can give your child the love and attention you didn’t get. It is not easy but it can be done….”

A friend of mine was unhappy with his daughter’s near obsession with Disney stories. I suggested that he try to enter her world, without preconceived ideas of good or bad. He did. He reported to me that when he let himself fully enter into her dress-up and storytelling he had a good time.

He actually let her put red nail polish on his fingers and, while he squirmed with discomfort inside, he could see her pleasure in this chance to have fun with him. Her cute smile and her happy sounds…made it worthwhile for him.

He discovered a world of fun and creativity. He got to be with his kid and she got to have him. Who can imagine better than this? Doing this kind of thing is not easy and it brings closeness and connection. It’s a way of becoming your son or daughter’s BFF!