FAMILY:

Mondays with the Mamas: Accepting My Dad’s Limitations

me & dad

By Sam Kurtzman-Counter, President, TMC

I always had a very complicated relationship with my dad.  There were many reasons for that, but in the deepest way, I just never felt like I got enough emotionally from him.  I tried (and tried, and tried, and tried):  one Christmas when I was about 14 years old I wrote him a card instead of giving him a present.  In it, I told him that year I was giving him “me” – that all I hoped for was for him to see I was there, that I was his daughter, and that what I really wanted for Christmas was to feel a true, deep connection with him.  But somehow that holiday season remained filled with the usual eggnog and nutcrackers and snowball cookies – and tears on Christmas morning when I went back to my mom’s house.  And man, did I continue to seek that connection with my dad for SO many years.  And man, did I feel disappointed year after year.

me & dad

Until – I made a realization:  my dad didn’t have the tools to show me love in the way I wanted him to, but that didn’t mean he didn’t feel it.  I think my dad felt more love for me and my brother than anyone else in his entire life.  I saw that love in the little moments:  the quick arm around my shoulder now and then, the pride in his eyes at turning points in my life, the tenderness when he held my son the day he was born.  And once I realized he was actually loving me the best he could – and how his way of showing it would likely never change – I got to put the energy I was expending wishing for more from him, into actually enjoying the time we had together, however limited it might have been.

 

dad & jack

My father finally gave me that gift a week or so before he passed away, a few years ago.  He’d been very sick and in the hospital, and I asked him to come stay with us for a while.  He was weak and spent most of the time on the couch, watching “Curious George” with my son.  I fed him matzo-ball soup and watched his strength slowly return.   It was only a few days, but in the act of caring for him – and him allowing me to do so – I finally found the connection I’d been seeking all along.  He softened.  Not a lot of talking, not a lot of emoting.  But we were truly together.  At the end of his stay he still didn’t say much, but he uncharacteristically wrote me a thank you note after he left.   He signed it, “I will love you FOREVER.”  And there is no doubt in my mind that he will.

 

me & dad

Please share your thoughts/anecdotes/musings about this topic below in the comments section.  We love hearing from you!

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Posted in: Family, Parental Wisdom, The Mother Co. Mamas

Comments (21)

  1. Robin Levitt

    I just found this and am so happy. This is so lovely. I know that your dad loved you dearly. I think about our weekend on the coast together and the times he was around. But yes, he clearly had limitations. I am glad to hear that you found some peace.
    Love you mama!
    Robin

  2. Top Articles of the Week

    […] Accepting my Dad’s Limitations a post by Sam Kurtzman-Counter, President of The Mother Company, for TMC In it, she reflects on her complicated relationship with her Dad. It was only when she accepted him for exactly who he was (and wasn’t) when a real connection began. […]

  3. deborah keaton

    I knew your dad a very long time ago. I think he and my dad were cut from the same cloth. They gave at the office. My dad was very distant as well. He was also sick for a very long time. I feel your pain. I know your pain. I lived your pain.

  4. Lynn MacDonald

    Its interesting, I lost both my parents when I was in my 30’s and while I can easily write about my mom, I have a difficult time writing about my dad. I was a daddy’s girl and I know he loved me but he was a complicated man, like your dad sounds.

    You, however, expressed your feelings beautifully. I’m thrilled you had that time near the end. I just wanted to know I had been the best daughter that I could be to the end and I achieved that.

    Sounds like u did too.

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    […] He does it all. He works more than 40 hours a week, and still manages to be a present husband and father. He takes our son to baseball classes, helps make school lunches in the morning, attends teacher […]

  6. Rachel

    This, too, is what I hope for from my children one day. Though my failings will not be the same as those of my parents, my failings and limitations will betray them in a painful and perhaps essential way. We are bound by our own humanity, and each of us can only do the best we can. And hope that we leave the next generation that much better equipped to wrestle their own demons, confront their own fears, and dare to live more honestly. Thank you for sharing.

  7. girls gone child

    Tears. This is so beautiful, Sam. The words, the photos… Reminds me of my grandfather who was very much this way. My mother struggled with this right up to the end. This post is a beautiful and fearless tribute to death and the gifts we can offer each other before we leave this earth…a tribute to love in all its many forms. xoxo

    • Samantha Kurtzman-Counter

      skcounter

      Thanks so much. And I’ve thought a lot about how it was through the act of caring FOR my dad when he was ailing that I finally got to feel that closeness. The gift was truly that he let me do it.

  8. Jodi

    Dear Sam….so beautiful. I know how much he loved you….in his own way. So sorry you doubted it for so many years.

  9. Adrienne

    …crying.

  10. laura

    This is a wonderful article. Love comes in many shapes/forms/sizes. Glad you were able to find your dad’s for you and yours for him.

    • Samantha Kurtzman-Counter

      skcounter

      Indeed. Thanks, Laura.

  11. Heidi

    Beautiful, Sam!

  12. RookieMom Whitney

    Sam, I never really knew what your relationship was with your dad. We really spent our formative years in a mom-centered world, didn’t we? I loved Amy’s response. It’s a tough topic, I think. Should we just accept the emotional abilities of everyone we encounter, or is that level of forgiveness reserved for our family members since we don’t choose them?

    • Samantha Kurtzman-Counter

      skcounter

      I do think it’s particular to family, in that we have such an ideal vision of what kind of closeness we want with family – and we can’t really replace that closeness with anyone else. Obviously it is best to accept our friendships for what they are, too – but the stakes are different. The deep, primordial need for closeness with our parents, especially, is totally unique. Though I will say, I’ve filled a whole lot of emptiness through my amazing friendships — like the one I’ve had with you for so many years!

  13. Amy, Using Our Words

    Beautiful. While my dad was perhaps the opposite, I’ve had other family members I felt this way about. It’s a great reminder that each person loves the only way they know how. And to love them back, means to truly accept all that they have to give. Even when it doesn’t feel like enough.

    • Samantha Kurtzman-Counter

      skcounter

      So true, Amy. There definitely comes a time when wishing for more only leaves you feeling more empty and acceptance can make you feel satisfied.

  14. Christine

    Beautiful, Sam. Thanks for sharing this. xo

    • Samantha Kurtzman-Counter

      skcounter

      So glad you enjoyed it.

  15. caroline

    This is so beautiful! I love these pics.

    • Samantha Kurtzman-Counter

      skcounter

      Thanks so much, Caroline – the one on the swing just slays me.