The 5 Things We Need to Know About Our Fathers While They’re Still Alive
Hidden truths about my dad I didn’t learn until he was gone
During my senior year of high school, one of my teachers told me when I was much older, I would look back and remember three or four days that had been the most important — celebrations, landmark birthdays, accomplishments — all sorts of occasions that would become the major events that would ultimately shape my life.
Having reached that point where I can look back quite a distance, I realize he was right.
There are a few days I remember as significant. Not necessarily because they were full of joy, or discovery, or happiness. But because they were days that changed me — forever.
The one that immediately comes to mind is the morning I received the phone call from my brother-in-law telling me my father had suffered a stroke. Like most young men receiving the initial news of a parent’s failing health, my reaction was predictable: This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Strokes and heart attacks happened to other people. My dad was strong and healthy and, at sixty years of age, he should have had another twenty years to look forward to.
Lots of thoughts ran through my head as I hurriedly packed a suitcase and booked a flight from Denver to Phoenix. At twenty-two, I’d given very little thought to death, and how the loss of a parent would affect me.
Sure, I knew my father wouldn’t live forever. But I’d never considered the possibility he would be missing from my life so soon.
I made that flight over forty years ago.
And yet, I still remember sitting in the aisle seat, turning down the meal offered by the attendant, and trying to shake off the numbing sensation that kept me asking, Is this really happening?
I spent most of that two-hour flight staring at the seat-back in front of me, overwhelmed by a mix of memories, questions and, most of all, regret . . .
I thought about all the times I was going to call him but didn’t – because I told myself I was too busy.
I remembered the countless Saturday mornings I’d slept in instead of getting up early to go to work with him, so we could spend a few hours together.
At the time, I never considered the real value of those decisions, what they meant to him, and what they would mean to me much later. A twelve-year-old doesn’t think that way. I assumed there would be plenty of future Saturdays waiting for us to share.
In my early twenties, I tried to rationalize my one-sided priorities by promising to spend more time with my dad—when I got the chance. I even imagined sitting down with him on some future evening and asking his advice on buying a house, or choosing a wife, or making a career move.
But I think it was more truthful to say I planned to have those father-son talks when I found myself confused, or overwhelmed, or needed his opinion. In other words, when it was beneficial for me.
I’d never given it a second thought that he might not be there to offer suggestions, or listen to me brag about my promotions at work, or my plan to start my own business.
And now I wondered . . . was it too late?
Then came the BIG question — the one I couldn’t answer
Why had I waited?
Why hadn’t I spent more time with him — last year, or last month, or yesterday?
The morning I received the phone call from my brother-in-law was the start of a day that changed me — and altered my future. Because on that day, I lost my champion — a man who always had my best interests at heart. For him, my priorities came before his—always.
The relationship a man has with his father is a mixture of advice, example, and sacrifice.
I learned many things from my father, but surprisingly, the ones that were most important I didn’t recognize until years after he was gone. So on this anniversary of his passing, I’ll offer what has become true for me.
1. He was human. He made mistakes.
2. Sometimes he did the best he could. Sometimes he didn’t. (See number one.)
3. He had also been a child and grew up being influenced by his father. His values and priorities came from another time and place. It’s only natural his goals and aspirations didn’t always perfectly align with mine. But his advice - urging me to be careful with my time, money, and my heart - was timeless.
4. There’s a good chance my presence had more of an impact on his life than he did on mine. Having a child changes everything. I now realize my life was a constant influence on his. At the time, I never wondered what my dad’s life would have been like without me in it — if I’d not been born.
I should have. I should have considered how much more he might have accomplished if he’d not dedicated his time — his life — to me.
And I should have been grateful.
5. If time travel was a reality, and it was possible to go back and change just one thing in the relationship with my father, it would be this:
I’d take more time to listen. Just sit with him and listen.
There are so many things fathers want to tell their sons. But they hold back. Because they know we’re “busy.”
They know we want to spend time with our friends or we have other interests. They were young once, too, and they remember. And so they wait, choosing their moments carefully, until we can spare a few minutes — to talk about what’s important.
Looking back in hindsight, it was all important — especially the parts I missed.
Thanks for reading,
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.