A couple of days ago I received an email from a man who’s in agony; last week he had a terrible fight with his father. He’s been working for his dad for years, in the family business. He started over the summers when he was in high school, and went right to work full-time when he graduated from college. He and his dad have always been close. His dad coached him through Little League, cheered him on through high school, and never missed any of his college games. They went camping in the summers, and skiing in the winters.
People have always commented about how close they are, but they’re also both passionate and stubborn, and have had a hard time apologizing to each other over the years. He said once they’d gotten into it, and hadn’t spoken for a month. His mother was miserable, caught in the middle and unable to make headway with either of them. He was playing baseball at this point, and he had the last game of the season this particular weekend. He and his dad had spent another week gruffly and pointedly ignoring each other. He saw his mom and sisters and little brother in the stands at his game, but no dad. His team won, but he said he felt kind of dead inside because his dad hadn’t been there to see it. Except he had. His uncle told him later in the week that his dad had driven with him separately and they had stood next to the snack bar watching. When his team won, his dad had punched the air in victory, turned, and walked off to the car. He told me at that point, he’d gone and found his dad in his office. He said he walked in, and at first his dad just looked at him, kind of guarded, and then he said, “Dad, I’m sorry”, and his old man started crying. Two big guys hugging it out in the middle of the office, and it was forgotten.
Anyway, they hadn’t let that happen again until last week. He’s gotten older, and so has his father, and he’s really tried to work on staying calm when he feels angry. That month they didn’t speak was hard on the whole family, and he’d promised himself he wouldn’t let that happen twice, but it isn’t easy when tempers flare, and working for his dad makes it tougher, still. He said any time he’d try to do things a little differently than his dad had been doing them for years, pops took it like a judgment against himself, as if his son was questioning him, or suggesting he was losing his edge or getting old, or that he was, “not with the times.” So they had a blow up and he said a bunch of things to his dad that he wishes he could un-say, and he stormed off. A few hours later his uncle called and said they were on the way to the hospital. His dad had a heart attack. By the time they got to the hospital, it was already over, and he can’t take it back. He can’t undo the last conversation, he can’t tell his dad he’s sorry, he can’t make things right.
I guarantee you, and I guaranteed him, things are right, they really are. His dad knew he loved him, there’s zero doubt in my mind about that. We all have conversations we’d like to do over again, things we regret saying. This is a tough one, when there’s no way to go and look the person in the eye and say, “I’m sorry for a lot of what I said. I didn’t mean it, and I love you.” It’s hard to bear a last conversation that was heated and full of “you always”, and “you never”, but we’re all human, and we are not going to operate from our highest selves in every moment. Part of him is scared he caused the heart attack by yelling at his father, even though admittedly, his dad had high blood pressure, a diet that wasn’t great, and a habit of sneaking cigarettes at work. He’d often go home and have a glass of bourbon after dinner. All things his doctor had been warning him about for years because there’s a history of heart disease in the family. All things his wife had been worried about, as well, and the reason he smoked at work and not at home.
Sometimes in life, your work is to forgive yourself for being human, which sounds crazy, right? I mean, what else could you be? Not everything is always going to be resolved and perfect with all the people in your life, and we all have a finite time to be here; we all have unknown expiration dates. Of course you want to let that reality seep into your bones, so that as much as possible, you let the people in your life know how you feel. So you don’t allow things to build up or unravel for too long. Ideally, you get to a point where you observe your feelings as they arise without acting on them, but if you have one conversation with someone one day, after a history of love and laughter and joy and being there, and yes, tears and misunderstandings and fights sometimes, (because that’s what most relationships look like over the long haul), believe me, one conversation isn’t going to take all that away. You can trust that the people who love you well and deeply, know your heart. You can trust that they’re standing by the snack bar cheering you on, even when you can’t see them and don’t know they’re there. Some things in life you have to carry, and some things you have to let go. Figuring out which is which is one of the great keys to your own peace.
Wishing that for you, and sending you love,
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