Why allowing my dad back in to my life to be a granddad to my children has made me a better father
It's not always easy being a parent. And, in many cases, it's not so easy to be a son. It's even harder when you're a parent protecting your children from your own father. At least that's how I saw it for the 7 plus years I chose to keep my dad out of my life and theirs...
“…for almost seven years, I never looked back. We had two beautiful children. And my dad never got to see any of it.”
I don't imagine that a large number of people have ever had to tell their father NOT to come to their wedding. I had to, and it was surprisingly easier than it sounds. Our relationship was strained to begin with and I had not spoken to him for several years. But I was willing to let bygones be bygones after I announced my engagement to my beautiful wife. I wanted to try again to have a relationship with my dad. I wanted him to meet the awesome woman who would be my wife. And even though I was warned against it by my older brothers who had both had good reasons to shut him out of their lives, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to give the man the opportunity to change.
So I invited him to meet my soon-to-be wife. He wanted to meet her parents. I wanted him to meet her first. He went behind my back and set up a meeting with her parents. He bad mouthed me at the meeting. I told him to go to hell and not bother to come to my wedding. He never did end up meeting my wife.
And that's where I left it, for almost seven years. I never looked back. Sure, I heard about the anger my dad had towards me from a brother who still talked to him, but I didn't care. I moved on with my life. My wife and I got married. We bought a house. We had two beautiful children. And my dad never got to see any of it.
Was I stubborn? Yes. But I had good reason to be. And, let's be honest, I wasn't the only one of his sons who had shut him out. We all had the same reasons in fact - we didn't want our kids to endure the same BS (that’s short for bull shit) we felt we had endured by trying to have a relationship with our dad. And 7 years went by. I heard he had inquired about the legalities of getting a court order to see his 6 grandchildren. But I was never served any such papers. Life just went on without him.
Then I hit 40 a few months back. And I can't explain it, but I found myself looking back over my life and some of the mistakes that I had made. Was I hasty in shutting my dad out of my life - maybe? I had given him many opportunities over the years, but maybe not enough; maybe too many? Was I a bad son? Possibly, but not for telling him not to come to my wedding - I was a bad son for not allowing him to meet his grandchildren and for assuming that just because we couldn't make it work, that somehow that meant they couldn't make it work either.
I thought about it. And it wasn't fair of me. I was my own person. My brothers could do what they wanted. And they could explain it however they wanted to their own, older kids, but my kids are still young, and maybe there was still a chance for them to have that relationship that I couldn't have with my dad? And, maybe was good enough for me.
I explained my feelings to my wife. She was in full support, even though she had no idea what to expect as she had never met the man. I told my older brothers, who had mixed emotions about it but all agreed that my kids were still young enough to give it a try. They supported me, even if they were not willing to try it themselves.
And I sent a letter...
Basically it said "you were a bad dad. I was a bad son. But that shouldn't stop you from having an opportunity to develop a relationship with your grandkids."
I waited a few days, unsure as to what his response would be. And then I got the reply...
"We (my dad and my step-mother) would love to have this opportunity. Thank you."
So I set up a play date, in the park, where my aging father and step-mother could sit and watch the kids as they played at a local splash pad. They brought the kids toys and coloring books. They talked to them. They asked questions. They told my wife embarrassing stories about when I was a kid...and we had a good time.
No anger. No mention of the past. No ill will. It was just a nice day in the park.
And I'm glad I did it. Could it still blow up in my face? Sure. But that's a risk I have to take to give my kids the opportunity to learn where they come from, and to have as many people love them as possible.
We went to another park a week later and then went out for ice cream (my dad even bought me one). And, again, it was relaxed with no ill will on either side. We were just there for the kids and to enjoy a nice day.
I won't say it's for everyone. Change is hard and some people WILL repeatedly let you down. But it was worth a try. Maybe it’s the aging dad in me who has changed? The way I see it, you have to at least give people the opportunity to change, or nothing changes, and people may miss out on great opportunities to redeem themselves. And I hate change. But turning 40 changed that.
Maybe I should have just bought a convertible? But I think this makes me a better dad to my children.