Lessons from my father

The question is not what you look at but what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

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By Terry Arzt

Today was my father’s birthday. If he were still alive, he would have been 90 years old. It has been many years since he passed. He died after a very long and brave fight with cancer.

He was a man that was emotionally unavailable to me for most of my growing up years. I mostly felt that he didn’t know I existed. He didn’t know what or how I was doing most of the time, so I grew up thinking that he didn’t really care about me.

It wasn’t until I was an adult with children of my own that I realized how much he really loved me and the family, and how committed he was to us.

I was then able to step back and make sense of our relationship. I could finally accept and love him for who he was and I stopped expecting him to be what I needed and wanted him to be. As an adult, I was able to have a loving and close relationship with my father.

We all do that, don’t we? We all have our challenges with relationships, whether it is with our family, friends or coworkers. We want to feel warmth, love and acceptance. When we don’t, it leaves us feeling unfulfilled, detached and angry.

My connection with my father, and the process I had to go through to become at peace with our relationship, has certainly changed me. I have learned that if we can step back and stop being judgmental, we can grow.

Here are some of the things that I have learned from what began as a very challenging relationship. It wasn’t until I understood my father that I was able to be open up and develop the capacity to have loving and deep connections with others.

Compassion

Something happens to us when we choose compassion and empathy rather than anger and resentment. We realize that there is a reason for how people relate to the world. My father would talk about his own childhood and how it was so unhappy. It affected him deeply and reflected on how he related to others.

As a result, he cut himself off from the world. Should he have gotten past that at some point? Probably. Did he? No. We are better off developing an appreciation for the other person’s story.

We Are All Doing the Best We Can – Really

We are all doing the best we can even when it doesn’t look like it. We all have our experiences, ideologies, belief systems and a way we relate to the world. Most of the time we do things that make us feel good, and we move away from things that cause us pain.

We will be happier if we stop expecting people to act in a certain way or to do what we feel is right according to our standards. It will be better for all of us if we could stop expecting others to be perfect, to agree with us all the time, to understand us or to treat us the way we treat them.

We are all doing the best we can, given whatever tools and resources we have. The moment I realized this, my life changed. I became more forgiving and accepting.

It’s Not Personal

It feels personal, but it isn’t. It is in our nature to always interpret others’ words and actions through our own filters. We see what is wrong and sit in judgement of others, instead of bringing a sense of love and understanding to those who need it.

People are not actively trying to disappoint us. They just do what they know how to do.

It feels personal because we need the relationship to be a certain way. We want to feel the connection to another, and when we don’t get what we need, we feel hurt. We need to remember though, it isn’t personal.

Happy Birthday Dad! I miss you more than words can say.

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