(For my husband and my father-in-law, Mark Jr. and Mark Sr.)
On a beautiful Friday in September, my husband (Mark), my father-in-law (Mark Sr.), and I decided to play hooky for the day and go fishing. We usually make it out fishing together once or twice a year, but we were unable to go last year due to the pandemic. My husband has a job that required him to work through the worst of it, and we couldn’t risk him picking up the virus and passing it to his father. So we did what many responsible people did and stayed away for his safety. It was nice to reconnect and spend some time together this summer.
My own father passed away ten years ago. Not that anyone is ever ready to lose a parent, but at the time he died, I needed him. My brother and sister needed him. My mom needed him. We just weren’t ready to navigate life without someone who was the center of our family. It was more challenging to process because my father and I had a very strained relationship for many years, and we were finding our way with each other again. We just adapted to life without him and forged a path forward as a family. But his absence is still felt some ten years on. I miss him. And I would give anything to have the months and years we wasted not talking to each other back.
My father-in-law and I clicked from the very first time we met. We have similar interests and similar viewpoints on some things. I love hearing his stories about his life. There is a lot to learn there. We help each other when it comes to yardwork and gardening. He is always willing to step in and help us when he can. It’s always a fun time when we are together. It’s also hard for me just because it is a glaring reminder that mine is gone.
Father and son relationships are tricky at times, and I have never been more aware of that now that I have adult children of my own. My husband’s relationship with his father is no different. They have had times where they were at odds for extended lengths of time, just like my father and I have had. Since I have been in the picture, they have mended their relationship. It has been a fantastic thing to witness.
Mark Sr. picked us up in the morning, and we loaded up the truck and headed off to a new area to fish, one that we had never been to. As I sat in the back seat and listened to the two of them talking, I had flashbacks of times my father and I would just take off in his pick-up to go fishing. Some of our best conversations happened during those drives.
We laughed and joked around until we found our first fishing spot. We unloaded and set out to catch the biggest fish of the day. A competition between Jr. and Sr. to see who caught the most fish started. It was as if I could see that little boy come out in my husband and saw Mark Sr. as a younger father. The most remarkable thing to watch was each one of them showing the other one what they caught. At one point, Mark Sr. helped me with w new technique. I was reminded of every time my dad would show me how to do something fishing-wise or tell me to use this bait in that spot. Then it reminded me of the countless times I showed my boys how to tie a knot that would hold, how to bait their hooks, and how to cast.
We drove from spot to spot, trying a few different fishing holes throughout the hills south of where we live. We laughed, joked, told stories, and just enjoyed each other’s company. We stopped and had some lunch and then tried one last spot. It was at this spot where this writing came to me.
Fathers get used to being the provider, the teacher, and the protector. But fathers are human and can and will make mistakes. After all, dads are just people trying to figure out this crazy world like we are. But fathers can change. As I have gotten older, I have acknowledged my mistakes with my kids and made amends for what I could. My father did the same thing to me the year before he passed. We left nothing unsaid. Each one of us said our piece, apologized to each other for the years of a dysfunctional relationship. I think that is an important step in maintaining a relationship with your kids and helping them heal as well. It doesn’t have to be a deathbed reconciliation. It can happen right now. Fathers, take that step. You may not have ever done anything intentional, but we don’t get through this life without scratches. Make amends, and you will see a beautiful friendship develop between fathers and sons in adulthood.
Sons hit a certain age where they are testing the boundaries of adulthood, trying to come into their own. There is this awkward time between teenage years and adulthood. Sons are going to make mistakes. Sons may take a wrong path a time or two or even get into some trouble. They are trying to navigate coming into adulthood and will feel the need to assert their manhood. As an adult, they have to take responsibilities for their actions and choices. When that doesn’t happen, it causes the father to feel hurt, angry, and maybe even a little confused about where they went wrong. So the father pushes, corrects, and argues. The son, trying to navigate becoming an adult, pushes back. Then inevitably, the relationship falls apart. But this is temporary. Just as fathers have to make amends for their mistakes, sons need to take responsibility for their actions. Stop blaming your parents for the negative in your life. They gave you life. When you become an adult, what you do with that is on you.
The most heartbreaking thing to me is when the relationship breaks down so much that there are lengths of time when there is no contact. No conversations. No phone calls. As a father, I can assure you that even if you aren’t speaking, a father will worry and think about you.
So dads, cut your son some slack. If they have changed and are on a good path, stop bringing up past sins. Sons, realize your father will always care about you and what is going on in your life. Include him in it. One of the most hurtful things as a father is feeling like he isn’t needed anymore. He may criticize, tell you that you are wrong, and say you should have done it this way. It comes from a place of love. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that you needed your father.
I hope that Mark Jr. and Mark Sr. stay close. I hope they realize how great what they have is and understand just how important it is. I hope they continue to work through their difference with communication. One day, our fathers will be gone.
After a great day fishing, Mark Sr. dropped us off at home. We unloaded our gear, and before he got back in his truck, he hugged Mark and told him he loved him. He hugged me and said, “Love ya, Jimbo.” That is what my father used to call me. “Love you too, Pops,” I replied.
As he pulled down our dirt driveway and drove away in a cloud of dust, I felt incredibly grateful for having him in my life and having a dad again. And I love that I got to witness the two of them finding their relationship. So sons, go call your father. He would love to hear from you. And dads, tell your son you are proud of him. It goes a long way.
By the way, Mark Sr. won the day with most fish caught.
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