Joseph’s eyes teared up. Then he said, “Dr. Ed, I’m really concerned. I’ve got a problem I need help with. It’s my daughter, Haley. It’s the holidays and I don’t know what to get her. It’s almost a year and a half since I left the house, and it’s taken that long for me to try to reestablish a relationship with her. I’m so unsure of myself now that I don’t know whether I’m standing upside-down or right side up. I don’t want to lose her, Dr. Ed, but I don’t want to buy her. She’s sensitive and she’ll see through anything that isn’t authentic. Have you got any ideas?”
Without thinking the words that came out of my mouth were, “ Joseph, the best gift you can give her is you.”
“She’s got me.” he said. “I do everything I can to prove that I’m here for her. I drive her to school and take her shopping. We even have “dates” together. So, when you say ‘give her me’, I think I’ve already done that.”
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “I don’t believe you’ve told her who you are, what you want, what you dream, or what you feel. You’ve probably gone through the motions, but I doubt you were able, until lately, to sufficiently access your emotions to be truly vulnerable.”
“Years ago, I wrote an article called ‘People Tags’, in which I said that if there was one thing you could do to improve your relations with those you love, it would be to write and share a ‘people tag’ with them. One that describes the person you are, and the care and precautions that need to be taken in the course of interacting with you. It might include your fears, insecurities and shortcomings that surface when you’re involved in an intimate relationship. I cautioned that those tags, similar to those on pillows and mattresses, should say ‘Do Not Remove, Under Penalty of Law.’ Maybe you could compose a tag about yourself and give it to her.”
“I wouldn’t even know how to begin”, he said
“Perhaps I can help. In the course of seeing you, I’ve become aware of many of your feelings, so let me give you an example of the type of letter you could write. I don’t necessarily want you to use the same words that I’m using. It’s the thoughts and the method of going about it that’s important. First, I know you lacked positive role models while growing up. They just weren’t there, or were severely lacking. As a result, you never learned how to be genuinely, intimate. So please understand, I’m not criticizing you. I’m just trying to provide you with a guideline you can follow.”
I’m enclosing this small gift that I hope you’ll enjoy (it can be anything.) But there’s a bigger gift I’d like to give you. It’s me, in a way that I have never before been able to share me. When I look back to your formative years, when I should have been there, I was gone too much of the time. I justified it, thinking that providing financial support for you and your mom was sufficient. I now realize I was running from a marriage that wasn’t happy, but I couldn’t talk about that, any more than I could tell you how much I cared for you, or how much you meant to me. I didn’t know how to. I never learned as a child. I thought the way to be a parent was to earn money and physically support someone. Then I’d become disappointed when I didn’t get back appreciation, respect or love for my efforts . I never realized it was because I wasn’t giving any. It took a divorce and estrangement from you to get me into therapy and, you know, I’m just beginning to find me. I’ve discovered I have feelings and emotions that I never faced, dealt with or valued. Even now, I’m a little embarrassed that I feel and care to the degree I do, and more so because I want it back. I’ve also learned that, if you want something, the best way to get it is to give it. That’s what I’m trying to do now, give you the love, honesty, and openness that I want from you. I want to show you that it’s alright to express feelings and the way to deal with them is to be vulnerable, not angry. I’m saying this because, whenever I expressed feelings before, it was anger. So, if you look back at all the times I was angry, you’ll really know how rejected I felt. Instead of showing my feelings, I yelled and complained that no one cared for me. Now, I want you to now I’m here for you. I’m not an expert yet. Sometimes I’m going to say the wrong thing, or the right thing the wrong way, and I’m asking you to cut me some slack. I want to try to give you the father I never gave you before; an emotionally needy, sensitive guy, who has gone through life trying to be a macho man, instead of a macho feeling man, but I’m learning. Haley, I want you to know that I love you and always will.
That’s basically what I think you need to say, but I hope you can expand on it by making it more personal. You see, I know without any doubt, that this honest, transparent picture of you is the most valuable gift you can give to Haley. I also believe giving you will be one of the most rewarding steps you’ve ever taken for her and for yourself. Even more, it’s the giving season, and that should provide an added incentive to try. In fact, I’d have you think it’s that season every day of the year, and that each day is another opportunity to show you and give you to everyone you value and love.”
Those were my words to Joseph, but I believe they’re applicable to every one of you. So, this holiday season, whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas or both, please make the effort to honestly see yourself and share yourself with your children, your spouse, your family and friends, And, to the degree you can express and share you openly, I promise that it will make you feel better than you’ve ever before felt in your life.