I love my dad. I really do. He’s a great man. And yet, there’s always been some distance between us—a metaphorical ravine shaped by our differences in personality, perspective, and objectives. Things have always been pleasant between us, but I wouldn’t characterize us as close. Growing up, I didn’t relate to the girls who just had to check in with their dads before making a major life decision. Or the girls who ran crying to dad when something went terribly wrong.
Looking back, I recognize that my dad made a lot of sacrifices over the years, and I’m grateful to him for working so hard for our family. If I’m being truthful, however, my childhood memories also leave me aching for more quality time with my father—more special moments, more adventures, and more heartfelt conversations just the two of us.
The thing about family is, it’s never too late to change your narrative. There’s no father-daughter relationship beyond repair, and you’re never too old to start forging a stronger bond. That’s why I’m proactively working to improve my relationship with my dad these days. Here are just a few of the ways I’m trying to enhance my connection to the man who’s responsible for 50 percent of my genetic makeup.
1. I’m learning to make time for him.
Instead of instinctively sighing when my dad asks to meet up—because I’m too busy or too tired or overbooked with other (admittedly less important) activities—I’m making a concerted effort to fit him into my schedule. If doing so means that I attend one less gym class or push off drinks with a college friend until the following week, so be it. If you want to grow your relationship with someone, you absolutely have to make time for them. And when we do get together, I never regret it. I can see that we’re building our relationship with each shared laugh over every cup of coffee or stroll through the park. And that matters.
2. I’m asking him thoughtful questions.
Whenever my dad and I Facetime (I had to teach him how to do it recently) or meet up in person, I have a new rule: Ask at least three thoughtful questions. They can be about anything—his past, his hobbies, his opinions on current events, etc. The idea is to drive an meaningful dialogue that will get us talking about more than just the weather and our day-to-day routines. I want to learn more about the man who spawned me, and I’m pretty sure he’s equally interested in learning about me too.
3. I’m listening to him.
It might sound simple, but active listening requires paying close attention—not just to words, but to mannerisms, tone of voice, and personal quirks. I listen closely to my dad lately because I want to absorb as much of him as possible while he’s still around. Now that I’m trying to get closer to my father, I have a newfound appreciation for just how little time we have left together. I understand that he’s older and that our time together has an expiration date. So I’m trying to soak in as much of his wisdom as possible before it’s too late.
4. I’m sharing much more about my own life.
Part of the reason why my dad and I never grew really close is my fault, I now realize. For years, I held back. I didn’t share what I was thinking or feeling. I’m not exactly sure why, but I didn’t open up to my dad emotionally. And if you want a real relationship with someone, it can’t be a one-way thing. You have to give as much as you take. So now, I share. I make it a point to express how I’m feeling about my life in general and the world at large. I don’t skim over the tough stuff. I go deep when it comes to my innermost life. I tell my dad what’s going on in my head because I want him to see me (and love me) for who I am.
5. I’m saying “I love you” as often as possible.
When you’re not all that close to a family member, uttering “I love you” doesn’t always feel natural. But here’s the thing: The more you say it, the easier the words begin to flow. I tell my dad that I love him over text in emojis, over the phone, and in person—every single time we meet up, and every single time we part. When he says it back, a tiny part of my soul always melts. I feel more at ease with myself, and more comfortable in this big, bad world. We still have a long way to go, but our love is growing. And embracing that out loud is powerful.