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  • Richard Brydson

Reconnecting With My Father: A Family Mediator’s Personal Experience - Update

Before re-sharing this blog I wrote 3 years ago, I want to add a brief update.

The hope and possibility that was alive in me at that time I wrote the original blog below has quieted significantly, but I am choosing to share it anyway because it honestly shows the ebb and flow of close familial relationships over the years that we experience them. My dad and I did not end up deepening our relationship past the real possibility alive back in 2021 and to the emotional level that I had wanted. However, now I find myself working to accept him as he is and let go of my aspirations with peace of mind. Love found in forgiveness is a real treasure and it is something I have discovered in caring for my father in recent years.

Posted Jan 5, 2021 

The last few months with my father have been more than I could have imagined possible a year and a half ago when I visited him in hospital. There had been much acrimony between us in the distant past, and a smouldering resentment through the in-between years. Neither of us knew how to express strong emotions with care and ended up in a pattern of chronic misunderstanding that engulfed our relationship.

Even though our estrangement lasted more than 20 years, it wasn’t like we didn’t try to make it work a few times. Unacknowledged love, regret, and the many painful memories we tried to bury made it impossible for me to picture how we could come back together.

I’m sharing this story with you to share the insights that led to the flowering of a father–son love that had been in hiding that whole time. When I re-discovered it, it was surprising to realize that it had been desperate to come out, but was carefully concealed for reasons that I will reveal later.

But how did our relationship change from the tug-of-war for rights and acting on our principles of personal freedom? How did we get past all the missed opportunities and the despair to the almost effortlessly expressed care and love we have for each other today?

Coming to Terms with Our Own Feelings

It all starts with the desire to be free of the pain and suffering. But more than that, we have to commit to challenging our past judgements and the beliefs that preserved the separation over so many years.

There are many ways that people cope with feelings of helplessness in their life. As a family mediator and as someone who has lived through it, I’ve come to understand that this feeling is a learned reality. It exists and has strength because we have not learned how to cope with our overwhelming feelings. I had tried to bury the pain of being separated from my father for so long that the terror I felt when it threatened to resurface was something I could no longer ignore if I wanted to live a good life.

Repairing a Relationship Starts with Looking Inwards

Admitting how much the pain of separation was affecting me, and how I had given up on facing it was the first step toward freedom. Looking back though, and considering all I had gained from this effort, it’s clear that it was the most worthwhile thing I could have done.  

My next step was to surrender the need to justify myself in the ways that I did in the past. It had been so long, I had forgotten most of the beliefs. Those that were left  were only vague memories. Sure, I had been hurt, but my pain could no longer be a reason to deny the pain my father had also experienced at the time.

Through bearing witness to the pain and allowing it to overwhelm me as many times as necessary, my old pain became less important. I was eventually able to take responsibility for what was mine in the conflict, and not feel the shame that used to fuel the discord between us.

Reconnecting with Complete Honesty is Essential

The email in which I wrote to him more than a year before we reconnected was a turning point in my road to recovery with my father. In the email,

I said that I loved him.

I shared my regret for what had happened.

I left an open invitation for him to respond.

There were times in the following period when I was almost certain that if we were to meet again, it would have been just before he passed. I would visualize the fabled deathbed outpouring of emotions that happens in the movies when I thought about how our coming together might happen. I’m humbled by this passage I’ve just written out to you, and very grateful to have the trust and connection with my father that I have today.

Dealing with Conflict from a Family Mediator’s Perspective

If there is one thing I need to say to the family members out there who are feeling the pain of separation, it is that at some point one person needs to stop the tug-of-war, put down their end of the rope, and begin to fully feel and acknowledge the pain and love they have inside them. 

If you were moved by what I've shared, I hope that you do not remain locked in the inaction of guilt hidden by anger, or carried away into the churning of resentment that can arrest an otherwise good life. It is possible, with time, patience and earnestness, to find peace with our old thoughts and feelings, and to slowly and unexpectedly accept and be generous in allowing the other to be who they need to be, whether that is with us or not.

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