My Dad

1T3A6700My father died earlier this year, and today is his birthday.

In his honor, today’s post is about fathers, a quick tip on how to easily and radically improve your relationship to your father, and a little story about my dad (that has some universal truth about every man’s relationship to his father).

On March 4th, I woke up in the morning and, as went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready to head out to the airport, I realized that the pain in my back was gone.

I had been living with this pain since around the time that my father was diagnosed with cancer 3 year earlier, and it had been getting increasingly worse.

It seemed to be some kind of knot in the muscle. I had been to dozens of massage therapists, acupuncturists, and body workers, but it still kept me up at night. And the spooky thing was– it was in exactly the same place that my father’s lung cancer was giving him the pain that kept him up nights.

The hospice doctors had told me over the phone that he probably had a few months or maybe only weeks left, and so that morning my wife and I were flying down to North Carolina so that we could spend my father’s last days together. We packed heavy because we didn’t know how long we might be down there.

My calendar still has the notation on it, with our flight number from JFK to RDU.

As I stood there looking at myself in the mirror, with no pain in my back for the first time in many months, I thought, damn, I wonder if this means that dad died…

I got the call an hour later, just before our cab came to take us to the airport. I had missed his last moments by mere hours.

I never got to say goodbye. But I have not been obsessing about that fact. I rest easy with it because I got a better completion than most men get with their fathers.

I was a very curious kid, and dad used to love to explain things to me. In fact, we both loved it.

I remember sitting at the dining room table as he roughly sketched out how the internal combustion engine worked on one of mom’s kitchen pads. He showed me how the crankshaft opened one valve for gas to flow in, then closed it just before the spark plug ignited the fuel, sending the piston flying back and opening the exhaust valve as the piston returned and pushed the exhaust out.

Somebody thought of that? Then built it and made it work? Genius! And my dad was the smart guy who could explain it all to a 9 year old.

I remember him floating a metal baking pan in a sink full of water to explain Archimedes’ Principle. He filled the pan with water, slowly showing me how it sank lower, displacing more water– the exact amount of water that was equal in weight to the floating pan and its cargo.

It’s funny because my father was no science geek. He was in sales, and he hated school as a kid. But clearly he must have been curious about how the world worked too, because he picked all this stuff up somewhere along the line.

I can’t wait for the day that my future kid asks me a question like that. I can’t wait until I get to explain the weird ways in which the Universe works, and what we humans have figured out, and see it again through the eyes of a child. How gorgeous and exciting that level of curiosity would be to see in my own child… I am longing for the chance to reward that curiosity the way my dad did.

Unlike my dad, I loved school, and I was a pretty smart kid, and there came an inevitable day when I knew more about how stuff worked than he did.

I don’t mean that I was wiser than him or that he had nothing left to teach me (though I’m sure that’s exactly what I thought as a teenager), I mean that I had filled my head with lots of facts, and that I grew up during a time when textbooks were being re-written with the new things we were learning. Our understandings of how things worked had changed, and my father’s understanding on some of these things was now… wrong.

Not only that, but consciousness itself had evolved. The way we looked at who we are as humans and our place in the Universe had expanded.

It irrevocably harmed our relationship when there were no longer many things in the universe for him to explain to me, when I understood subtleties that he could not grasp, and when he explained things, and I saw the flaws and mistakes he made along the way.

I wanted him to see and acknowledge that I had grown, that I was smart, that I knew things– even things he didn’t know. I wanted his approval for the man I had become. (If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, then you are not a human).

And of course, while it was difficult for me to see, or even conceive as a young man, he wanted me to acknowledge that his world view was wise, that he was a capable father, that he still knew things that I would never know. He wanted my respect as both the father and as the man that he was.

And so we triggered each other and argued, and sometimes even raised our voices and got emotional, because we loved each other and wanted each other’s approval.

My good friend (and profound wise-man), Bryan Franklin, once said to me:

If your father completely understands and agrees with everything that you are doing with your life, then he failed as a father, and you failed as a child to appropriately expand beyond the previous generation’s understanding of the world.

Bryan said to me that he looks forward to the day when his own son exceeds him, and he can no longer fully understand what he’s up to in the world.

So here’s my little tip for dramatically improving your relationship with your father:

Ask his advice about something. To really do it right, make sure it’s something that’s actually important to you and that you are having an internal struggle with dealing with. And then (and this is the key part), truly and deeply consider his words and find what’s valuable in his advice.

I actually gave this advice to a friend of mine before I ever tried it myself…

She was struggling with the fact that her father never gave her approval for anything. There was no amount of success, no victory or accomplishment that would satisfy him. He always ended up telling her how it might have gone better, or how she might have done things more intelligently.

This was extremely painful for her, and it infected other parts of her life as well, leaving her stuck on the “accomplishment treadmill”.

I said: Go ask his advice on something important and really listen to what he has to say, even if he completely disagrees with what you think the answer is.

They had the best conversation of their lives, and she got off the phone beaming and with tears in her eyes.

And yet, somehow, when I took my own medicine, and asked my father for some important advice, we ended up arguing.

His advice to me seemed to suggest that he thought I wouldn’t be able handle things. He advised caution where I thought I could be bold. He wanted me to play small where I wanted to go All In.

I thought his advice reflected a lack of confidence in my abilities. I felt hurt and shamed.

And when I told him this, he felt hurt and shamed that I was calling his fathering skills into question.

The failure in this case was mine. I failed to have the courage to really listen to his advice and then sit with it without judgement, and do the work to find what was valuable inside of it.

Of course my father urging me to caution was simply his way of loving me, of looking out for me.

I didn’t agree with the way he was choosing to love me, but in this life, it is almost always far more important that we are loved than that we get to choose how we are loved.

After dad got cancer I got better at this.

Not perfect. But better.

A few months before my father went into hospice, he said the most emotionally vulnerable thing to me that he had ever said in all of the years that he had been my dad.

We were talking about my future children. My wife is much younger than me, and her parents are much younger than my parents, and dad confided to me that he was worried that his lessons, his priorities, and his culture would fail to be passed on to his grandchildren– because they would be around, and he would not be.

Actually he was talking about Judaism. I was raised marginally jewish, and my wife is nominally Christian. But my father was never a practicing jew, never went to the temple, and didn’t understand any of the Hebrew prayers. (He did like the holiday meals though).

What I understood was that he wasn’t really talking about Judaism at all, but his deeper fears, perhaps secret even to himself, that his influence, his wisdom, his fatherhood wouldn’t be passed down to my children.

He was reflecting that perhaps, in the end, his son didn’t value his lessons about life.

I stood in silence for a moment as I realized what I poor job I had done in receiving my father’s love. How poorly I had communicated to my father how powerful and positive an influence he had been on my life and who I had become as a man.

I suppose there was a part of me that just figured he must know, because, well, he was dad. There was still a part of me, that child that lives in all of us throughout our lives, that simply thought he knew everything.

Didn’t he understand what I meant when I said, “I love you”?

I said, “Dad, your life, your marriage to mom, the way you modeled for me how to love, the way you demonstrated what was truly possible in a life-long and passionate marriage… don’t you see that I’ve based my entire life on it? Everything I am, everything that makes me proud to be me, and everything that I teach to other men, all comes from my careful consideration, analysis, and exploration of who you are as a man.”

And about 3 months before he died, there in the living room, he got it. He nodded, got a tear in his eye, and gave me a long hug.

And that was how I got the great and rare gift of being complete with my father before he died.

It took his moment of vulnerability, and me simply saying exactly what was true. And neither of those things are easy for fathers and sons.

42 Comments
  • Avatar
    Robert
    Reply

    Brought me to tears reading this, Alex. Don’t have much to add except to say I deeply relate, and profess how grateful I am that you’re here on the internet, sharing your insights and experiences.

  • Avatar
    andre
    Reply

    you are one helluva guy to continue doing and saying what u do in all truthfullness. If thats what yr father instilled in you, he has indeed sired one grand and beautifull expression of poignant spiritual manliness, in your own given name…bless him, and you. A

  • Avatar
    Annie
    Reply

    exquisite transparency, brilliant reflections and powerful advice…you are a magnificent meta-father in the making. aho!

  • Avatar
    Derek
    Reply

    Thanks Alex. Simply thank you!

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    Arnie
    Reply

    In my fifty plus years of life, I have learned that it is best to show love and respect to those you love regardless of the circumstances. We are all imperfect people and I believe one can not find true happiness without people in your life whom you love and they love you. Such relationships bring the best out in each of us. I lost my father a month after my third birthday and have no memories of him from the time he spent with me before his death, but I have talked to him in my prayers for as far back as I can remember. At times I get this feeling he is looking out for me. Thanks for your article, it invoked great thoughts on my part..

  • Avatar
    Brian Self
    Reply

    Alex, this made me cry. I really connected with my dad last night before reading this – the irony. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Joe Rosenfield
    Reply

    Hey Alex there are so many things that you have said that express’s how I feel. My own dad died when I was 1 1/2 and his family was Jewish Ordox. I my self am a Christian but, I have had Uncles and a Grandfather that have come close to being my dad. It seems so odd that here I am crying over your words about your dad that ring so true for the dad I missed.We get in a hurry to do things that will get us recognition or some thing that says like you said I am grown up I have figured it out give me my due.When all along our dads were just wanting the same thing but, not wanting us not to burn our fingures or butts.I have some old black and white photos and stories of him and my mom when they traveled with The World of Muir or The Royal Americans.Thses two groups you only hear of them from dads or grandpas and the life facts they have tried to pass on to us for our betterment. My own son who is almost 3oty I feel does not understand just like you, and when I can I hug and kiss him for I never know when My or his life will end. So every chance I get I sneek a kiss or hugg and I can feel he thinks it is a bit too much . But, when were gone You can’t give or receive a bit of love that you value so much. My life rolls as if I have lived in the depression threw WW 2 and forward as I try to convey those same values an afraid I will not be remembered ? Loving threw words and deeds are good for us and the people we love. Love is the only eternal thing that lasts even after we are gone.So Alex type on and love as your typing for just think your dad is watching you and saying keep up the good work, I love you son. I’m 64

  • Avatar
    siafa
    Reply

    Alex,

    Thanks man. God’s blessings upon you and your family always. And we thank God for your father. Be well!

  • Avatar
    Gary
    Reply

    Thanks, Alex. I lost my father some time back, but this still resonates.

  • Avatar
    QK
    Reply

    I second every comment on here and feel blessed to have a great relationship with my father. Thanks for sharing this Alex

  • Avatar
    Iamminime
    Reply

    Not every father deserve this. My father never stop to cheat on my mum in their 30 years of marriage. When I and my siblings confronts him of his adultery, he slaps on my face, fights with my siblings. He is always a lier. When I was small, he scolds me, beats me whenever he is not in good mood. I hate him. I regret having a father like him. I don’t think he deserves I do something to improve our relationship.

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      Perhaps he does not deserve that you improve your relationship with him– but YOU do. And it is also possible that the relationship you improve with him does not include him, but only your relationship to him in your own mind and heart. Perhaps for you it is just a matter of understanding his flaws and humanity, of understanding his pain, his insecurity, and his fear and shame that drove him to these behaviors. Perhaps this will give you peace, greater self-understanding, and help you to become the better person that he could not become.

      • Avatar
        Mick
        Reply

        Hey Alex, tearing up in Chicago, thanks 1,000,000 for a trenchant, really terrific blogpost.

        I can relate somewhat to what lamminime says, didn’t witness the adultery or the degree of lying he describes, but my Dad was much older than me, hadn’t even intended to be a parent, and was lost in many ways. I experienced the gratuitous, excessive beatings, in part because I was the son and in part, I think, because he was venting the rage and frustration that he could never express to his peers, particularly those he deemed more successful or in positions of superior authority. But I knew he needed a lot from me, and in his own ineffectual way he tried. Through grace or more likely extremely fortunate accident (and temperate habits on his part, it should be said) he lived a long life, so I (and my sisters, both younger) got to experience him for a substantial period as adults, and we were able to make peace. And forge a bond, or improve dramatically the sometimes tortured one we had.

        I too missed being with him at the time he deceased, was going through some intense conflict in one of my cases, left him the night before with assurance I’d be back next morning, but I needed to be there pre-dawn. [And this is 20 years AFTER that damned Mike & Mechanics tune Living Years came out, which also makes me cry!]. All the conversations we had before that were so worth it though, for him (even though I don’t think I exactly changed him) and definitely for me.

        Big vote in favor of aspiring to be the better person lamminime’s father could not become.

        Cheers,
        Mick

        • Alex Allman
          Reply

          A lot of wisdom here Mick, thank you.

  • Avatar
    Hemi
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing Alex, its surely wonderful to know this side of you and of your father. We only live once, peace.

  • Avatar
    neophyte
    Reply

    Alex my daughter just linked me to the post-I’m her mother. This is the business, and what makes you a great therapist. All of your work is about us either ‘manning’ or ‘womanning’ up-taking responsibility. Whether that course of action ‘fails’ or ‘succeeds’, we feel better and more powerful because we are no longer victims. Worked through radical compassion is a powerful tool, and we often need to know what it looks like.
    When are you doing some more training seminars?

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      Lot’s more seminars coming soon. I’ll be speaking at David DeAngelo’s seminar live in Phoenix on December 3-7, and I’m trying to put together a live seminar on masculinity and living as a complete man for late January. There will be several online programs in between.

  • Avatar
    David Niry
    Reply

    Hmmmm… If anyone reading this works for Kleenex, consider advertising on this blog ! 😀 Joking aside, thank you for sharing this Alex. Tears in my eyes as well.

    My father, non practicing (Israeli) Jew as well, was 56 when I was born, had survived tuberculosis – twice – in his youth but was then sick all his life, eventually dying from emphysema, plugged to a CO2 extractor 16 hours a day. I was gone from the house at age 17, leaving France to study and then work in the US and that is what he wanted for me. I returned at age 26 to spend the last year of his life with him, despite his protestations, and take care of him after my mom abandoned him for another man after 27 years of marriage. I knew the end was near and so I got as much as I could out of him during that 1 year. More than I had in the previous 25 years. At age 82, he learned from me how to browse the web on a Mac. I learned from him what it was like to have to fight for your health and to stay alive, day after day. One of the hardest but best times of my life. The day he died, I knew in the morning he would pass away that same night, and he did. Every species can smell death approaching. I miss him. I don’t think about him every day, but when I do, I sure hope he is proud of me.

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      I have no doubt that he is. Thank you so much for sharing my friend.

  • Avatar
    Alice
    Reply

    Fantastic, Alex. Moving, vulnerable, authentic, beautiful. As always, your wisdom explodes from the page. What you are teaching are some of the most important things in life. Good on ya and Thank You!

  • Avatar
    Jason
    Reply

    I found this piece to be very powerful and insightful; despite the fact that I never knew my father and that he has already passed, It enabled me to see the perfection in the unfolding of my life so far and heal energetically. I sent out a message of thanks, forgiveness and love to his spirit. Thank you Alex, Blessed be.

  • Avatar
    Dick
    Reply

    Alex
    Your comments left me with tears streaming down my face. Having lost my father many years ago while I was not able to be at his side I relate very strongly to your words. Then too, I am the father of two adult sons (I am 72 years old) and see history repeating itself with them.

    As fathers we strive to nurture and teach our sons to take on this world on their own, to become men. When we succeed in gradually freeing them from parental control we hope that we have given them enough to navigate on their own. Frequently I have found that the words, thoughts and ideas I received from my father come back to me after many years. Miraculously these concepts have given me the strength and wisdom to make my own way through the trials and tribulations of my own life. Without this legacy, far less would have been possible in my own life. This, beyond all else, is the power of the father-son relationship.

    As always, Alex, you bring to the fore some of the great truths of life. For this I am forever grateful. Thank you!
    Dick

  • Avatar
    Christian
    Reply

    I needed this in so many ways. My dad and I are not close, we spend more time arguing and I spend a lot of my time dismissing his help. I know I hurt him but at the same time I’m young and I feel as though I need to prove to him that I don’t need his help. That I can do it on my own. Probably comes from my vivid childhood memories of him saying things like “are you stupid!??” when I’d make mistakes. Anyways…. I didn’t know how to go about this relationship with my father because we do indeed love each other so much. I’m his only son of 3 children. I look forward to reading this again and having a new outlook on my relationship with my father. I seriously hope to develop connection.. Before its too late. Thanks again.

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      Christian, take a read on what Lisa did with her father and my response to her.

      The crazy thing about your father saying things like, “are you stupid?” is that, counter-intuitive as it sounds, that was as close as he could get in the moment to saying: I love you.

      Annie Lalla, one of my most brilliant friends, one of the greatest living philosophers on love, and one of the greatest defenders and advocates for love, says this:

      Everything a parent says to a child (everything!) is some disguised form of, “I love you.”

      And when you receive it as anything else but love, it basically confuses them.

      I believe she’s right.

      Because you already feel the love between you and your father, you have a wonderful opportunity here to lead. And eventually you will likely be frustrated when you hit the wall of his capacity for HOW he can love you. He may never be able to love you the way you want him to. He will have limitations that you do not have. And that’s how you know he succeeded as a father.

  • Avatar
    Kirk
    Reply

    Thank u for putting such heart felt words to so many things I’ve taken for granted.

  • Avatar
    Lisa
    Reply

    Thank you Alex. You have once again proposed that we look at the truths we know are there but often don’t stop to see. My taking the time and consideration to keep loving my father no matter what through the years helped us to have at least some kind of relationship. He is kind toward me when we are together and we have even progressed to up to 10 minutes sometimes on the phone. That’s a big deal when relating with him. I can chuckle at his flaws and appreciate his efforts to connect or at least not shut down. The turn in the road toward a decent relationship happened when I was able through lots of reflection and self-work, to forgive him for his actions, abandonment and hurt of the past, accept him as he was instead of being upset that he didn’t fit into a preconceived “dad” box, and appreciate what we had and build on that. I have made my peace with my “dad reality” vs my “dad expectations” of my younger years. I feel lucky to have done the work, realize this and have a relationship which is a process and journey with him. Just some words for those who are working on it but are feeling frustrated.

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      Powerful and gutsy, Lisa. I think that what holds so many people back from that acceptance of their dad not fitting their “preconceived ‘dad’ box,” is that they feel HE SHOULD GO FIRST… because he’s the adult. He’s the father. He’s the one who should be wise, mature, reflective, and be the one to lead.

      The jiu-jitsu here is to realize that you are the one who, standing upon all that he taught you, has the ability to transcend his model of the universe. You are the one who can access the new ideas, the expanded thought of your generation– you are the living embodiment of “what’s next”.

      And so you can lead.

      As you have done.

  • Avatar
    Jeff and Monica Silhan
    Reply

    My wife and I love your emails Alex.
    Thank You for what you do.
    ThankYou for THIS email.
    Jeff

  • Avatar
    Frank
    Reply

    Excellent and very moving post. Great to read you had a chance to express your dad’s influence on the man you had become.

    My dad died almost 20 years ago, and we rarely expressed how we felt about each other, but nonetheless KNEW it, and came to develop a great deal of mutual respect. I respected how my dad grew intellectually, and became MORE open-minded in his later years. Dad respected the way I dealt with health issues with a very disciplined holistic and dietary approach, which he said “takes real guts.”

    I won’t ask anyone to believe this, but the last wisdom my dad had for me was AFTER he died of a stroke. I had a very definite sense of his spirit, free of the body that had not been serving him well as of late, telling me: “Don’t worry about me, I’m OK, you go and do YOUR thing.” I’ve taken that to heart, and have never felt quite the same about death since then. And from his evolution to the very end, I am convinced, that, whatever the next station in the journey of his spirit, it is EXCEPTIONAL.

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      Beautiful share. Thank you, Frank.

  • Avatar
    Ryan
    Reply

    Outstanding, thank you!

  • Avatar
    Jose
    Reply

    Dear Alex,
    My respect and deep thanks for sharing this incredible story. I am a person who has struggled in the past with the topic of having the approval of my father. In fact, one of the most important decisions I have made in my life, to move away from my country, he disapproved at first. I have adapted in many ways and from my “testing” I even did the exercise you recommended in the past. I asked for his advice where normally I would not (about 2 years ago), and really listened and considered his view. It incremented the trust we have in each other. It is an amazing tool, it is not an end, but it sure takes us very fast in the right direction.
    Thanks a lot, all the best to you & your family.

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      Thanks Jose, and good to hear from you on the blog.

      Of course, you know what I’ll say about the fact that you are a person who struggled in the past with having the approval of your father: It’s because you’re a person. It’s universal. So universal in fact, that even those who grow up without a father in their lives get caught up in it.

  • Alex Allman
    Reply

    TO ALL OF YOU who I did not individually thank for your kind words on this post:

    THANK YOU.

    I am profoundly humbled by the outpouring of love.

  • Avatar
    Bib
    Reply

    Wow. All I can say is that is just an amazing piece of writing. Thanks so much for putting the wisdom into words for others to learn from.

  • Avatar
    Allen
    Reply

    There is a real problem with my father and i’s relationship simply because Religion is the main factor! He is very much self righteous, but of course he doesn’t think so. Religion has hurt and killed more people than anything, therefore i hate it with a passion! He believes that Jesus is going to come back any day now and save him and or whoever may be right with him, which means saved i guess! It’s a total fucking crock and there is no Jesus coming back to save anyone! It’s one of the biggest lies that has ever been perpetrated upon mankind! And the sad part about it is he will go to his death bed believing such nonsense!

  • Avatar
    Knut
    Reply

    This was such an vulnerable and true article, that it brought tears to my eyes. It might be kind of an off-topic article (not much “sex-stuff” in it); but I think it’s one of the most meaningful articles you’ve ever written. It’s one of those topics that hits deep within… So thank you so much for sharing this intimate story from your own life! The father-son relationship sure is a highly sensitive and special thing…

  • Avatar
    Gideon
    Reply

    Profound. I’m glad you wrote that, and I’m glad I read it.

  • Avatar
    Dilan
    Reply

    This really moved me Alex. Almost to tears. My relationship with my father is very challenging, but I can see how important it is for me to acknowledge and work to find the lesson, the appreciation, the beauty in what he is and has done for me.

    • Alex Allman
      Reply

      About the way your dad fathered you Dilan: It worked.

  • Avatar
    Jeff
    Reply

    Alex, through you your fathers legacy lives on, he had nothing to worry about, what a son you are. I never had a father figure – ever. At the age of 40 for the first time I have received a fathers/mans advice on how to be a man in this world through your work. I thank you and your farther what a great blessing you had to have such a man in your life.

    • Alex Allman
      Alex Allman
      Reply

      Jeff, I just don’t have the words to express the humble gratitude I have for men like you. Having had the advantages of so much luck in the father and mentors department, I honestly don’t know that I’d have the courage of a man like you, who boot-straps himself and goes far beyond what birth and circumstance gave him through chance, to build a better life for himself and those he loves. You are the man in the arena, brother.

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